New IoT industry group dreams of IP addresses for thermostats, pills, plywood
The typical sci-fi rhetoric surrounding the notion of the Internet of Things features home appliances, vehicles and power tools being endowed with more microprocessors and Wi-Fi. If devices had more intelligent purposes, the rhetoric goes, they might have more important things to say to you than "On/Off," and those things might be useful if kept secure in a database somewhere. (It's the last part which is perhaps the most fantastic and least probable.)
But more serious thinkers are pondering the possibilities of endowing trillions of everyday things with simple sensors and logic circuits, not to give any one of these things intelligence but rather to enable a kind of collective artificial intelligence to be derived from the accumulation of them, like with ants or bacteria or members of Congress.
Thursday, five very well-known U.S. industrial giants that have done business together before without the aid of AI--AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel--announced their formation of an Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC). Rather than investing $2 billion in an overblown facemask and declaring it the future, the companies will spark discussions about the potential benefits to be gained by endowing everyday things with logic.
It's not a bad discussion to be having, and it may help us filter out those things that would be better off without logic. But one clear permutation comes to mind, and will certainly be on the discussion table: Manufacturing facilities could be more highly automated if individual parts and components, along with the tools that assemble them, were in communication with one another in real-time. Imagine if the parts of a roof, for instance, could tell you whether they're being buffeted by the wind.
"New steering instruments will interlink millions of things to ensure that everything runs as planned across the entire value chain," reads the new Consortium's marketing site. "Changes in one part of the chain, automatically trigger adjustments on the factory floor."
The enabling of a smart grid is also on the table, and here will certainly be one of the more controversial aspects of the discussion: Smart thermostats may actually become "demand response providers" in an IoT model, giving power customers options to shift demand or even, as an executive with one of the smaller electricity providers once suggested in 2013, to choose between power providers in a democratized delivery model.
Consider it a potential hard-wiring of the value chain at the most granular level imaginable. Such resolution into the status of everyday things undoubtedly leads to the types of "what-if" conjectures destined to be kept under glass by collectors of old Popular Science magazines. You might think such conjectures a bit hard to swallow, but that's only if someone leaves off the enteric coating.
"Sensor-embedded medicine such as pills are being introduced to time-stamp and report the effects of medicine, smart sutures that detect infection, etc.," reads another portion of the site.
If you're wondering what good actually comes from these industry consortiums, let's take a look at recent history for a moment. When a new industry reaches the embryonic stages of its development, the first order of business is for the many players in that industry's predecessors to form battle lines. New industries can easily give rise to new leading players, each of which is capable of capturing the momentum and running with it. With the trench patterns drawn in advance and with major corporations manning those trenches with defenses such as intellectual property protections, it's a little more difficult for new entrants to cross these minefields.
Cloud computing was an embryonic industry itself just five years ago, and it was at that time that IBM led a movement toward the founding of something called the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum, whose initial members also included Cisco and Intel... and most notably excluded Microsoft. The stated goal of this forum included something similar to the stated goal of this new IoT consortium: to guarantee interoperability and guard against the formation of proprietary, single-vendor platforms.
Another of that Forum's early members was the Object Management Group, which during the '90s led the movement toward CORBA--a method for inter-application communication that competed head-on against the OLE/COM standard that Microsoft developed for Windows. It's worth noting that OMG announced Thursday (it's hard to type that acronym today without LOL just a little) that it has been named the manager of the new IIC.
It's also worth noting that, now that the cloud computing industry is in full swing and no longer a mesh of pipe dreams, every effort to reach the old CCIF Web site is met with a 404.