What's in a name? According to the Technology Partnership (TTP), a Cambridge, England-based tech firm, quite a lot.
Last week, the TTP issued a report, which I can only assume was meant to stir the collective pot that is the Internet of Things (IoT).
TTP claimed that we should really be referring the IoT as the Internet of Sensors or IoS. Why? Because it describes the IoT as nothing more than myriad sensors that feed data back over the Internet. As Steve Taylor, a senior consultant at TTP, described it, the IoT is largely "a solution looking for a problem, rather than the other way round.”
“There’s simply no point in objects talking to each other just for the sake of it and the IoT only provides the communications backbone. An Internet of Sensors looks more like the roots of a tree, with sensors of all types at the extremities, capturing and feeding data upwards to the main trunk – the Internet.”
TTP is no slouch in the tech sector: the firm has been at it for 25 years developing tech in sectors ranging from consumer products to aerospace, so one would assume it has a solid grasp on the larger picture.
That all being said, I think TTP is selling the Internet of Things far short of its potential — or, at the very least, are looking at this with tunnel vision.
Just Part of the Whole
While no one would argue that sensors and the data they produce play are key components of the IoT, it’s only part of the total ecosystem. To think of all nodes on the IoT as sensors sells short what they really are, and overlooks how we interact with them as part of that total ecosystem.
Here's the reality: Many devices that are part of the IoT are sensors of some kind, but not all of them.
Some might be actuators or notification devices. In many instances, for example, our smartphones become nodes on the IoT. Are they sensors? In some respect, yes. But it’s hard to argue that they are just that.
Many of us live in smart homes fueled by numerous sensors and devices. Do we look at these as just individual parts or are they greater than their sum?
Focus on the Data
In my perspective, the smart home is its own system, its own network on the IoT as are many other collections of sensors as well as the data they gather and produce.
Body area networks, connected cars, smart buildings and smart cities are all collections of devices that equal something greater than their individual pieces. This is what really makes up the IoT.
The data — the sweet, sweet data that is the pot-of-gold at the end of the IoT rainbow — is the byproduct not just of data collected from sensors but from interactions with them, interactions by users and other nodes in the IoT.
We have had sensor data for a long time, long before the concept of IoT took off. The IoT is primarily defined by its interactions: how users are able to interact with devices, nodes, sensors and whole systems made up of the culmination of all those things.
As all of that data moves to the cloud, it can be brought together to be processed and analyzed churning out valuable, actionable information.
It can be used to drive relevant marketing decisions, save millions of dollars for a city in the way it routes its garbage trucks, help whole neighborhoods reduce their energy consumption … and I'm just getting started. There are endless examples.
If you look at the IoT as a culmination of all of these aspects, then you'll agree that TTP missed the mark by insisting that the IoT is nothing more than a collection of sensors.
Those sensors, along with other nodes, make up more complex systems, which make up the IoT much in the same way that many networks make up the Internet itself.
As users interact with those nodes and whole systems through various means, data is created. That data is paired with additional information that is monitored by other sensors.
All that data then moves onto the cloud where it produces information that is then used for any number of applications.
At the end of the day, the world we live in is much more data driven then it was a decade ago. The Internet of Things is a large part of that and it’s a part that’s not getting any smaller.
To think of it as just a collection of sensors is selling it short.