Time-critical crowdsourcing during crises

Posted on 22nd May 2013 in Homeland Security, Internet of Things

Even though I’m concentrating on the Internet of Things these days, I try to keep a hand in one of my enduring passions: using a combination of social media and mobile devices during disasters/terrorist attacks — what I call “networked homeland security.” After all, as John Arquilla has argued, we are in an era of netwars in which the enemy isn’t organized hierarchically but is networked (and, by extension natural disasters are similar: they are chaotic, opportunistic, and anything but orderly), so it takes a flexible, networked response to deal with them effectively (and, to tie in my work with the IoT, I expect that the IoT will radically increase our ability to share data and collaborate!).

Sooo, I was terribly excited to read this blog post by the brilliant Patrick Meier on how “time-critical crowdsourcing” could be used to verify critical information in near real-time during a disaster (or debunk it, in the case of erroneous information). The Patriots’ Day bombings in the Hub of the Universe underscored both the value of social media and its pitfalls, as in the case of erroneous identification of the bombers on Reddit.

Meier’s new project, Verily, will take a two-pronged approach to speed verification of data in disasters/terror attacks:

  1. time-critical mobilization & crowdsourcing. The logic is that these incidents are geographically bounded, so that people who actually are on the scene could be quickly identified through their social networks, and could use their smart-phone cameras to actually document the situation (I predicted this kind of verification in a now-laughably dated YouTube video six years ago when these cameras were first becoming widespread).
  2. the novel part is to also  crowdsource critical thinking. Meier says that Pinterest is the model for this process. “…. with each piece of content (text, image, video), users are required to add a sentence or two to explain why they think or know that piece of evidence is authentic or not. Others can comment on said evidence accordingly. This workflow prompts users to think critically rather than blindly share/RT content on Twitter without much thought, context or explanation. Indeed, we hope that with Verily more people will share links back to Verily pages rather than to out of context and unsubstantiated links of images/videos/claims, etc.”

Meier says the Verily project will try to foster this kind of critical thinking (hey, we aren’t going to do it without some guidance: my gripe with vacuous sloganeering such as DHS’ “If you see something, say something” campaign — exactly what is it that they think we might see???? Tell us, please, Sec. Napolitano, what to look for).   It will include mini-guides on information forensicsavailable to users — drawn in part from old friend Andy Carvin.

So bravo for Verily — it fascinates me that every time our mobile devices gain some new powers or some new social medium is created, bright people come up with innovative ways to crowdsource information in disasters. Verily, by adding in the important factor of critical thinking, should radically improve the quality of this information.

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If you’re in Boston, hope you’ll come to EntreTech Tuesday!

Posted on 17th May 2013 in Internet of Things, management

Just got off a conference call with the participants in what’s shaping up to be a great panel on the Internet of Things at Northeastern University’s EntreTech Forum series, Tuesday night in Waltham.

EntreTech Forum

In addition to moi, the participants will be:

  • old friend Chris Rezendes, my partner-in-crime with the IoT Meetup series and CEO of INEX Advisors, THE IoT strategy consultants
  • Josh Siegel, who was one of the stars of the first IoT Meetup with his presentation on the MIT CloudThink car project! Josh is also founder of CarKnow.
  • Richard Pietravalle, a principal at MITRE Corporation.
  • Hans Scharler, co-founder of ioBridge, which creates gatesways that “make it easy for professionals and enthusiasts to monitor and control nearly anything via their smart phone or web app.”

I’ll provide an overview of the IoT for those who aren’t familiar with it, and the other panelists will give an insider’s perspective on the entrepreneurial opportunities for both old and new companies created by the IoT.

The EntreTech Forum consists of moderated monthly panel discussions on emerging academic research and the commercialization of this technology.  It was designed for those interested in technology innovation and marketing collaboration and networking with fellow entrepreneurs, business and government executives, investors, and technology researchers.

Registration costs $25, reduced to $10 for students and active military. The event begins at 6:30 with networking and snacks, and will be held at the Foley Hoag’s Emerging Enterprise Center at the Bay Colony Corporate Center, 1000 Winter Street, Suite 4000 (North Entrance), in Waltham.

See you there!

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Xively: LogMeIn launches first Internet of Things public cloud

Posted on 14th May 2013 in Internet of Things

At last week’s 2nd Boston/New England IoT Meetup, LogMeIn officials hinted at a big announcement today.

No kidding! The news was that they’ve teamed with ARM, the mobile chip giant, to launch the “Xively  (Xively? Where, pray tell, do they come up with these names ??) Jumpstart Kit” to accelerate the launch of commercial projects on the IoT:

“…a rapid prototyping-to-production bundle that significantly reduces the cost, complexity and learning curve required to bring IoT-based connected products and solutions to market.”

The kit combines:

  • the first public cloud for the Internet of Things
  • ARM mbed™, “a platform for rapidly building connected devices using ARM-based microcontrollers.”

The combination of services will allow developers of any size to quickly move from prototypes to IoT commercial services.

According to LogMeIn CEO Michael Simon:

“The Internet of Things signifies the next major wave of the Internet, one that we believe could even eclipse both the web and mobile waves combined, and presents a massive opportunity for businesses that want to create a new generation of compelling connected products.  In order to make this happen, they need a simple, affordable way to experiment and innovate through a platform that will enable them to seamlessly move from prototype to commercial product, and then scale as demand grows. By working together with leading vendors like ARM, a company that’s been a driving force in the enablement of the IoT, we can deliver a powerful, easy way for companies to jumpstart their IoT-based connected products and turn them into reality.”

Analyst Glenn Allmendinger, CEO of Harbor Research, said the service is one of three factors that will accelerate growth of the IoT:

“We are seeing real traction in the Internet of Things market. Three forces are converging: connectivity, innovative new device designs and a new generation of technology tools that let manufacturers focus on their core product innovation instead of on building Internet of Things infrastructure from scratch. This can be a hundreds of billions of dollars opportunity.  Xively Cloud Services organizes a true end-to-end chain of tools, support, partners, and infrastructure for smart systems on the IoT.”

Xively is the latest evolution in what began as Usman Haque‘s pioneering Pachube platform.


$6 billion market for wearable computers

Posted on 13th May 2013 in health, Internet of Things

One of the most fascinating branches of the Internet of Things is wearable computers, because they will have such an effect on our personal lives.

From the increasingly ubiquitous Fitbit, Fuelband, and Jawbone UP fitness monitors to potential lifesavers such as the Peeko onesie to ward off SIDS or slippers that detect a change in a senior’s gait in time to notify caregivers and avoid a fall, they are

Jawbone UP

likely to become woven into the fabric of daily living. Juniper Research predicts that sales of wearable devices may be near 70 million by 2017.


Bloomberg News did a wrap-up on the potentially $6 billion market today.

Companies already making apps for smartphones and tablets may find capitalizing on the new market will basically be found money:

“For many companies already making apps for smartphones and tablets, the cost of developing wearable apps would be incremental. Modifying an existing smartphone app to run on a device like a watch might only take ‘a couple of hours,’ said David Kincaid, founder of San Diego-based Mobile Software Design LLC, the maker of the FreeCaddie golfing app.”


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Want to help plan how Internet of Things will transform government? Join my new GovLoop group!

Have no doubt about it: the Internet of Things will transform government, affecting public security, defense, environmental protection, transport, and health.  If you’d like to be part of the community planning how to help government capitalize on the IoT, please join my new GovLoop community on the topic!

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MQTT: important Internet of Things facilitator?

Posted on 9th May 2013 in automotive, Internet of Things, M2M, manufacturing

As I mentioned at the time, part of the news when IBM announced its new heavy-duty MessageSight appliance to handle the vast quantity of real-time data sharing between sensors on the Internet of Things was that MessageSight would use the MQTT protocol to communicate the data.

MQTT, or Message Queue Telemetry Transport (whew!), is an existing protocol for sharing telemetry-style data which OASIS recently proposed as a standard for M2M data sharing. According to IBM, its primary virtues are “low power consumption, high performance and reliability (which) allow real time updates that can be acted upon immediately,” — important because of the need to reduce sensors’ drain on their batteries. Other types of pervasive devices that might use the protocol include “mobile phones, embedded systems on vehicles, or laptops and full scale computers.”

According to GigaOm, “..it’s already in use for satellite transmissions and in medical and industrial settings where low-bandwidth communications are essential. ” In addition to IBM, it’s already supported by Kaazing, Red Hat, TIBCO, and Cisco.

According to The New York Times, MQTT advocates say it could be the M2M equivalent of the Web’s HTTP protocol.  Co-inventor Andy Stanford-Clark of IBM is one of my fav IoT experimenters (you’ve got to see his TedX talk about how he’s automated his home on the Isle of Wight — and didn’t stop there, making the whole island a laboratory for the IoT!). He and co-inventor Arlen Nipper wrote the first version of MQTT in 1998 for oil platform sensors.

As in several of my recent posts, the automotive industry was singled out by the NYT as one field where MQTT might be applied:

“Vijay Sankaran, director of application development for Ford, said improved message-handling technology will be vital to the company’s plans for automated diagnostics and new consumer services.

“Mr. Sankaran pointed to two examples. In the Focus Electric car, he said, Ford wants to get continual, detailed sensor data on the state and performance of the vehicle’s electric battery, then feed that information into product development.

“And drivers, Mr. Sankaran said, seek to do more things while in their cars. A stock trader, for example, might want to continue trading from the road. If the trader sent in an order to sell 30,000 shares of Apple, he said, that transaction must be reliably and securely communicated.

“’You need an advanced messaging engine for these kinds of services,’ Mr. Sankaran said.”

The Times article points out that for MQTT to achieve its full potential it must be adopted not only by IT companies such as IBM and Cisco, but also by “…industrial technology heavyweights including General Electric, Honeywell, Siemens and United Technologies.

These companies make many of the sensor-equipped big things in the so-called Internet of Things — like jet engines, power turbines and oil field equipment.”

MQTT looks like it will play a major role in allowing harvesting of data from sensor networks, but we’ll have to see how much of an IoT lingua franca it really becomes!

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Major changes for car industry due to Internet of Things

Posted on 8th May 2013 in automotive, environmental, Internet of Things

I just blogged on the Huffington Post about how the Internet of Things will mean major changes for the auto industry.

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London will have first Internet of Things airport!

Posted on 6th May 2013 in cities, Internet of Things, transportation

I’ve been arguing for airports as ideal laboratories for advanced, free wireless communications ever since a 2002 op-ed in the Boston Business Journal in which I chided Logan Airport for charging for wi-fi. It seems to me that airports, with such a high percentage of sophisticated users with advanced mobile devices combined with complex logistics, are perfect places to apply the latest innovations.

That’s why I was delighted to see that London City Airport, the city’s downtown, business-oriented one, will offer the first Internet of Things enabled services.

The services will be developed by Living PlanIt (“technology for sustainable cities”) and retail developer Milligan  (“..creates places where people like to shop”) in cooperation with the UK’s Technology Strategy Board.

According to Robin Daniels, Living PlanIt’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, the project’s goal is all-encompassing:

“Everything that’s uncomfortable, inconvenient or just a pain in the neck about traveling, we’re trying to turn into a more pleasurable experience,”

Among other services, the “The Living PlanIT Urban Operating System™” will:

  • track passengers through facial recognition and crowd-sourcing software plus GPS
  • automatically deliver food to people who pre-order food online or through their smartphone
  • let someone who pre-booked a taxi step right into it
  • track luggage in real-time (if someone misses their flight, their bag won’t be loaded).
  • retailers in the terminal  “will use a combination of cameras and sensors to monitor buyer behavior and to get a better sense of what types of displays work. They will also be able to offer shoppers customized offers based on previous purchases.”

The system will observe privacy concerns by making the services opt-in.  However, Evangeis Ouzounis, the head of the secure infrastructure and services unit at the European Network and Information Security Agency, worries about possible vulnerability to hackers:

“They might jam a smart device to make systems not available in the airport, or play with the bar code of flight tickets, so that you can have access to a space you shouldn’t have access to.”

I don’t know about you, but I find flying post 9/11 to be the most stressful activity imaginable. If there are adequate security and privacy protections in place, I’d gladly opt-in for IoT services!

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Woot! You can finally buy my books directly from my site!

Posted on 3rd May 2013 in Uncategorized

I just found a WordPress plug-in (Buy This Book — thank you!) that allows a direct link to Amazon, iBooks, etc. so that you can now buy both my books, SmartStuff: an introduction to the Internet of Things, and Data Dynamite: how liberating data will transform our world, directly from this site.

Buy away!

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Meeting Usman Haque: a shared vision for the IoT

Posted on 3rd May 2013 in cities, government, Internet of Things

We had our second successful Boston/New England IoT Meetup last night, with some great speakers (more about them later). Thanks to my co-organizer, Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors, for putting together a great program!

For me, the high point was getting to meet one of the IoT’s real pioneers: Usman Haque, who created Pachube, now Cosm, Ltd. By creating this

Usman Haque

easy-to-use, affordable platform to connect devices and apps to securely store and exchange data, he made it possible for solo IoT innovators and start-up companies to offer viable IoT services without major investments in infrastructure. Bravo!

Haque told me that he is now concentrating on “urban projects” for Cosm. While he wouldn’t be more specific at this point, he did say that he’s working with New York City Digital on some new services.

Since the time when I worked with former US CIO Vivek Kundra when he was pioneering urban data access as the CTO for the District of Columbia, I’ve been a huge fan of the work going on in cities such as New York, Washington, San Francisco, Vancouver, and right here in the Hub, with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. It seems to me that the way these cities are not only creating their own digital services, but also making their data freely available to citizen-hackers using open standards and engaging in both collaboration and friendly competition building upon each other’s innovations is in many ways ahead of what the private sector is doing (I wrote upon this phenomenon at length in my book Data Dynamite).

Our chat revealed that we share a vision for the future of “smart cities”: while companies such as IBM are doing some important work, what makes great cities isn’t just making things such as transportation function more efficiently. What really makes great cities is the way they bring together innovators who bump into each other, talk, and cross-fertilize each other’s ideas. This bottoms-up fermentation, facilitated by sharing mechanisms such as Cosm, leads to real progress and innovation. Let 1,000 apps bloom!

Thanks, Usman, for both the inspiration and the tools to make great cities.

PS: His girlfriend, Natalie Jeremijenko, is doing some pretty cool environmental stuff — my other passion, especially when it is base on “citizen science”

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