SyncHerts and The Internet Of Things

Last week saw SyncHerts’ Internet Of Things event. Organised via Meetup.com, the free evening featured three companies talking about a new direction in technology that you will hear more and more of in the next few years.

The Internet Of Things describes the hyper-connectivity and objectification of all devices online. This essentially means just about anything, whether an electronic device or not, could have a presence on the web.

It’s early days. So early in fact, that a consortium of electronic companies are working together to define some working standards for it. Initially, these are aimed at the home market, for connecting things like TVs and audio systems with your mobile devices. But this is just the thin end of the wedge; there is a lot to be excited about.

At SyncHerts, the session kicked off with an interesting piece from Christopher Livermore, Head of Technology and Operations at British Gas Connected Homes. British Gas are pushing their Hive home energy management product, that uses sensors to help control heating and hot water around your house. It also sends up sensor data to British Gas to help predict boiler failure, for instance. Up to 30% of all engineer call-outs require a second visit due to incorrect parts, but using boiler sensor data taken ahead of or pre-empting failure, an engineer can call the homeowner to arrange a visit and arrive with the correct parts.

The architecture of the Internet Of Things is therefore the software, the sensors, the internet and the data is produced. Machine-to-machine connectivity is the driver of IoT technology; the tech it uses already exists. Christopher talked the participants through the basic architecture of Hive, which could eventually manage up to 53 million systems in the UK alone.

After some pizza and drink, SyncHerts moved on to a more jovial look at what IoT can do for us, with a presentation and videos from the evening’s sponsor, Cyber-Duck. They showed off some fascinating experiments as the result of two hackathons. This included a cuckoo clock that responds to tweets, and a remote controlled video conferencing robot (dressed as a duck!). Crazy yes, but it does illustrate how the IoT architecture works together.

The opportunities are exciting. Jonathon Palmer from BlueLeaf then took us through a strategic view of IoT, including what it means for the consumer and the digital world. The tech promises life value-adds such as your fridge being able to reorder food for you automatically, your wristwatch monitoring your health and your car being able to book its own service.

The session ended with some questions, and many of these were centred around security. Indeed, just in the news a few days ago, a Smart Fridge was hacked to send lots of spam email, and there is an interesting story of a father who stumbled upon his daughter’s baby monitor broadcasting a “wake-up baby!” message into the room. Apparently, when the Dad entered the room, the monitor’s webcam rotated to get a look at him.

The immediate lack of standards could hinder mainstream development, as software houses in particular may wait for this to be agreed, lest their programmers are left reinventing the wheel. But with greater connectivity comes greater (perceived) risk. If the IoT gets a bad name in the public eye, new developments or products will be shunned, and certainly the debate at SyncHerts got livelier as this was explored.

So two takeaways from last Thursday; one, that SyncHerts is a terrific network well worth tapping into, and two, that the Internet Of Things is very much in its infancy. A huge opportunity for us all.

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