IoT isn’t about smart things. It’s about smart interactions.
I often read “visionary” articles of the Internet of Things where the author focuses on the “things” that will change our lives. On the lightbulbs, the doorposts and the bikes that are suddenly made “smart” by adding a (micro)processor and some wireless tech to it, and then magically enrich our lives. And while those innovations are great, they’re not even half the story.
Just making a thing “smart” (I use “smart” here for lack of a better term; a thing would need much more than just data and processing power to be truly considered smart) can be very valuable by itself of course. Tracking the location of your cat (already quite a smart thing) for example can be a lot of fun, and very important as well if he ever decides to get stuck in someone’s garage. And to see that a parking spot down the street is empty on Google Maps can be useful as well when telling your friends to come over to help you move. These are great product ideas and are decent examples of the direction in which we’re heading, with the advent of Internet of Things technologies such as LoRa and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). But they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
What we’re moving towards is a world where things are not just smart, but able to interact with each other autonomously and intelligently. They will be able to understand each other, perhaps not on the level of natural language, but on the level of needs and intents, of supply and demand. We will get things that are marketeers, things that are producers and things that are consumers. I do hope we won’t get door-to-door salesmen, but I’m afraid that even that belongs to the possibilities.
Let’s consider the device that tracks the location of your cat again, and think about it in the context of smart interactions. Cats are notorious for not being able to decide whether they want to be inside or outside, so this cat tracker is also outfitted with a system to broadcast the need of the cat; I want to go through this door. Furthermore, imagine that the garage in which he got stuck has a cat door, programmed to only satisfy the need of the house cat to enter, but to allow any cat to leave. Your cat would have no problem getting back out again.
Does this seem like far-fetched futurology speak? I hope not, because even that’s far from where we’re going to end up I believe. I mentioned supply and demand, and if I say supply and demand, you say money, right? So let’s talk money.
Let’s go back to that empty parking spot in your street from before, let’s call it Premium Spot 24. It’s a few houses down the street, but all other spots in the street are taken. It can analyze the supply in the street so it knows this however, and consequently raises its parking rate. Bad news for your friends? Well, as it turns out there’s a nice calm street behind your house. It’s almost empty, with Tranquil Spot 13 being right behind your house. Your friends’ demand is merely to park nearby one of the doors of your house, so their car will check the supply and find the cheaper spot behind the house.
Now for the kicker though. Your car broadcasts its demand for a parking spot near your house in a public marketplace, and will receive at least two offers, one for Premium Spot 24 and one for Tranquil Spot 13. As Premium Spot 24 sees the lower bid of Tranquil Spot 13, it will be able to lower its price autonomously to attract your friends’ car. It does this because perhaps it’s always busy at this time but people start leaving in half an hour, or because the parking spot operator of this street has opted for an aggressive marketing strategy. Whatever the reason, your friends now have a much nicer offer than they started off with.
While smart things will push developments in the right direction, smart interactions are the future of the Internet of Things, and will be the true radical change that everybody is talking about. With more and more things being connected, the possibilities for interactions will rise exponentially. There are still a lot of hurdles to get there however; interoperability is a huge challenge in many fields, and we’ll need proper standards to be able to write software to handle these complex interactions. But that’s why companies like ours exist.
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