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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Is the Internet of Things Really a Thing?

Many developers want to get started  with IoT, the "Internet of Things" development even at this early stage. Today it is mostly hype for consumer goods and a limited ecosystem. Even so developers can learn a lot from dabbling in the technology that is available on the market today. They can build small start-ups in a growing market niche.  But before going into "how to" for reality I will  get on my soap box and go into "why not" the hype as warning for those that think that IoT will be a panacea where machines automate thousands of mundane tasks we do in our everyday lives.

The Reasons for the Hype

Is the internet of things is not a thing but an excuse for the next phase of push consumerism? A hype machine being used  to  convince the public to replace objects based on the fact that they might become obsolete in a future that does not exist.

Consumerism as a social and economic order and ideology encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.  It also refers to economic policies and influences of the corporate placing emphasis on consumption.

In this world where we are throwing away technology because of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence has been assumed a necessity when it comes to stimulating consumption, however, this practice has come into question. In the 21st century, the arrival of economic and environmental crisis has made a change in people's consciousness. The need to maintain a minimum product renewal date does not mean that abuses have to be accepted such as the tons of waste that could be avoided.

Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete, that is, unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time. The rationale behind the strategy is to generate short-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases (referred to as "shortening the replacement cycle"), until customers catch on and move to another product platform.

People are starting to catch on and sharing the burden of cost on large ticket items or slowing down  their individually purchased retail goods. Looking for higher quality and longevity not just in hardware but in software also. Software companies are sometimes thought to deliberately drop support for older technologies as a calculated attempt to force users to purchase new products to replace those made obsolete. Most proprietary software will ultimately reach an end-of-life point, at which the supplier will cease updates and support. As open source software can always be updated and maintained by somebody else, the user is not at the sole mercy of a proprietary vendor. Software which is abandoned by the manufacturer support-wise is sometimes called abandonware.

Before introducing a planned obsolescence, the producer has to know that the consumer is at least somewhat likely to buy a replacement from them. In these cases of planned obsolescence, there is an information asymmetry between the producer – who has evidence of the actual limits of the products design – and the consumer, who does not.

 The hype of  the internet of things is without a doubt an attack on  the changing trend of the availability of products with real quality and open longevity information.  It is a continued  push to planned obsolescence through  empty promises of direct connectivity making something better. What better way to ensure artificial limits on useful life of products than to actively tell consumers that a previous product version has reached the end of life? Or in a worse case scenario actually seize control of products.

In some cases, notification may be combined with the deliberate disabling of a product to prevent it from working, thus requiring the buyer to purchase a replacement. Example: inkjet printer manufacturers who employ smart chips in their ink cartridges to prevent them from being used after a certain measurement such as a number of pages, time, etc. even though the cartridge may still contain usable ink or could be refilled with ink toners. In most cases up to 50% of the toner is  still full. This constitutes programmed obsolescence, in that there is no random component to the decline in function.

IoT hype that is a reason for writing about consumer products in an effort to spark consumer interest in a  waning  market  demand.

Conversations about the IoT are (and have been for several years) taking place all over the world as we seek to understand how this will impact our lives.  We are also trying to understand what the many opportunities and challenges are going to be as more and more devices start to join the IoT.  For now the best thing that we can do is educate ourselves about what the IoT is and the potential impacts that can be seen on how we work and live.

Is the world ready to hand over control of their lives to computers corporations and governments on a level never before seen in history or even conceived of in science fiction?

The Future is Not Now

The video shows exactly how this type of media hype can work itself into something totally unfeasible. The "internet of things"? not a thing. If it were it'd be a horrible one at this point. There is no infrastructure or standard mechanisms for the kind of predictions being made by pundits. There probably will not be anything close to it for another 25 to 30 years. But no one wants to be wrong in case it happens a little sooner.  And the hype gets consumers into show rooms and on the sales floor asking questions.

Again, The "internet of things"? not really a thing. The "interconnection of objects" ? yeah that's a thing. But it does not sound as cool or cause as much curiosity as "the internet of things".

So What's IoT Really and How Do I Develop for it?

If you want to be a pioneer in IoT you'll have to resign yourself to a few things. Getting into IoT is not something that will come easy at the present stage of the available technology. This will be the key to a change of mindset. One that is almost a throwback to the early days of RadioShack.  The reason that RadioShack became popular when it did was the hobbyist hardware for learning computer science.  Here's a list of things that you'll need.

  • The first is you'll have to learn hardware and software development which will mean learning to program or learning to hire a programmer.
  • The second is significant investment in hardware like micro-controller's  and computers. Arduino's raspberry pi's, sensors .  You can go with a more commercial ready made kit  
  • The third is that it will be a limited hobby that you'll probably never make a dime in the job market  for the time being.

One of the key learning platforms for IoT is the Raspberry Pi. The RaspberryPi is a popular platform because it offers a complete Linux server in a tiny platform for a very low cost. In fact, one of the most difficult parts of using Raspberry Pi for learning about IoT is picking the right projects with which to begin. But there are other alternatives like the BeagleBoard and Arduino. But the basic fact is if you want to get started from scratch then you'll be making and investment in hardware.

    We can purchase an affordable basic IoT device in the market today for few bucks. Internet connection is almost everywhere. A webserver will be the difficult part for learners/beginners or hobbyist who tries to do some level of home automation or a basic IoT project. So, this article will also explain how to use Google Drive for your IoT device as a data backend and also, will cover how to write a .NET webservice if you can afford a web server. Note that, you can configure and program your IoT device as your web server as well, but, that is not covered in this article.


    The journey from Hobby to Home

    Real world  use of  IoT  is going to take more than everyone talking about it.  The above information only brings a developer in to a single aspect of a multi-layer infrastructure. An infrastructure that has yet to be built. But IoT for the Home is very possible and does bring with it some areas for innovation by developers.

    Just like in the new PC market of the 1990's where technicians were building custom PC's out of their garages and running profitable businesses. IoT presents a new opportunity to do the same. The dropping costs of hardware and the lack of software is creating a niche market that cannot immediately be filled by commercial luxury goods manufacturers.

    Entreprenuers and Start-ups willing to risk being  first to jump into the shallow end. Some of the areas ripe and open for innovation and can be taken advantage of today.

    • Secure home networks used for object connectivity without  the  internet cloud.
    • Software service company's created to use and build upon home networks and the objects contained.
    • Developer's creating specialty hardware and software for private persons, groups and proprietary companies
    • Open source development  of connectivity software and frameworks.
    • Cloud service websites built with specific tasks lists and dashboards.

    Using the possibilities indicated in the above list. There is nothing stopping an ambitious developer from  starting a custom Smart Home business using what is available on the market. It is my expectation that this will be the first stage of bringing IoT to the general public. There are already a few Start-ups for hardware, software frameworks and data storage based on open source.

    It's here that the potential for jobs increases with  small businesses hiring developers, marketing and sales professionals to grow in their market niche. If being a pioneer is not your forte then you can find a position working for one and possibly build a long career. 

    Getting the jump on the Corporations

    Because of the complexities of large scale use IoT that has yet to be worked out by large corporations.  Individuals and small businesses can take advantage by skipping a few steps to go to market sooner.

    The starting point for Internet of Things applications are the things themselves. These edge devices typically have no screen (although that's not always the case), a low-power processor, some sort of embedded operating system and a way of communicating.  Usually via a wireless network using one or more communication protocols. The things may connect directly to the Internet, to neighboring things or to an Internet gateway device – typically a plastic box with blinking lights.

    The next tier of the system, an ingestion tier, is software and infrastructure that runs in a corporate data center or in the cloud and receives and organizes the streams of data coming from the things. Software running in the ingestion tier is usually also responsible for managing things and updating their firmware when necessary.
    After this comes the analytical tier; this takes the organized data and processes it. Finally, there's the end-user tier, the application that the end user actually sees and interacts with. This may be an enterprise application, a Web app or, perhaps, a mobile app.

    If you're looking to build an Internet of Things application, the last two tiers are the ones you're most likely to have to work on. As a developer, you're unlikely to have the tools for dealing with the edge devices or gateways, or capabilities suitable for the ingestion tier anyway.

    That's why it usually makes more sense to build an application on top of a ready-made "Internet of Things" platforms like the Arduino. These platforms usually include an ingestion tier that carries out time-series archiving for incoming data, as well as an analytical tier, thin provisioning, activation and management capabilities, a real-time message bus, and an API to allow communication between the platform and applications built on top of it.

    Though there are marketplaces for software both commercial and open source. The clients and consumers for them does not seem to be very clear.   This is where the smaller  niche companies can  sneak in with clients that are interested in being the first to access IoT devices and conveniences.


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