Amazon Echo: is it the smart home Trojan Horse?

Could Amazon’s Echo be the Trojan Horse that gets the smart home and IoT inside our homes — and consciousness?

Typical Amazon Echo commands

I’ve always suspected Amazon was critical to corporate adoption of e-commerce in the ’90s because so many C-level executives were introduced to the concept by doing online holiday shopping for their families.  Just a hunch …

Fast forward to this holiday, and I suspect Amazon’s Echo will have a similar impact for the IoT and, in particular, smart homes (aided, no doubt, by the redoubtable Oprah, who gave it her imprimatur as one of her Favorite Things — which now, conveniently, has its own page on Amazon — for this year!).

In case you’ve been hibernating for the past few months, during which time the Echo has taken off, it’s the slim (9.25″ x 3.27″) cylinder that sits on your counter, and, after starting out largely to access Amazon’s streaming music service by voice, seems to take on new functions every week.

I suspect it’s the voice input that’s most important about Echo: because voice doesn’t require any technical skills.  I can’t think of any dedicated device (Apple’s Siri, a service on almost all its devices but the computers, is right up there, but a service, not a device. Again, obligatory disclaimer that I work part-time at The Apple Store but am not privy to any inside secrets) that better embodies the dictum of IoT “father” Mark Weiser, that:

The most profound technologies are those that disappear.
They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life
until they are indistinguishable from it.

Alexa shopping list "recipe" on IFTTT

Alexa shopping list “recipe” on IFTTT

For me, the critical step was when Echo was added to my fav IoT site, IFTTT, which makes the IoT’s benefits proliferate by allowing you and me to create “recipes” to trigger devices without requiring any programming skills.

The number of new recipes allowing Alexa to “trigger” an action by a device, including Hue lights and the Nest thermostat, is constantly growing (you’ll notice that many of them relate to actions such as adding to shopping lists, a clever way of making it easier for users to shop at a certain online behemoth..).

An indication of exactly how far-reaching Echo could be as a hub?  It now even interfaces with the Automatic device, to help manage your car more effectively: “Alexa, how much gas is left in my tank?”

I’m also excited about Echo’s potential role as a hub for my “SmartAging” concept: granny starts out listening to Guy Lombardo’s “Managua Nicaragua” streaming on Amazon Prime, and the next thing you know, she’s saying “Alexa, turn down the thermostat 3 degrees.”  What could be easier? Haven’t seen any Echo links to Quantified Self devices yet, but I suspect that’s only a matter of time, and others are now enthused about its benefits to the disabled.


 

PS: You can track new developments with Echo on its Twitter feed, as well as one from Dave Isbitski, the Echo’s chief evangelist.

Saving Lives With the Internet of Things: school lockdowns

Continuing with the meme of this morning’s post, that the real test of the IoT will be if it allows us to do something that we couldn’t do before, how about saving children’s lives as a good example of a new paradigm courtesy of the IoT?

I don’t believe in the NRA’s bizarre position that the way to avoid more school tragedies is to arm teachers (come to think of it, I don’t believe in anything the NRA proposes — if you do, sue me, I guess…) so it’s great to see that the Internet of Things (even better, a Massachusetts firm!) has stepped in with a non-violent solution allowing teachers to act immediately, without waiting for police, to protect their children.

This kind of solution is a particular passion of mine, since long-time readers of this blog know that I pioneered (as in October, 2001) using mobile devices for personal preparation for, and response to, terrorism and disaster situation.

According to Fast Company, Elerts has created Lock It Down™ and ELERTS Campus™, which allow teachers to trigger a lockdown from a smart phone or iPad app.

Among other features, Lock It Down™ includes great features for these high-pressure, instant-reaction situations:

  • Sharing: Transmits bi-directional information in seconds
  • Action: Can initiate a Lockdown with the press of a button
  • Options: Also offers Shelter in Place and Evacuate commands
  • Reporting: Text message, photos, and GPS map add context
  • Speed: Police see reports on their devices and can respond faster
  • Status: App includes “SkyWriter” for personal safety updates

Sweet!

ELERTS Campus™ is designed for colleges and larger campuses, and offers:

  • Reporting: Drop-down menu makes Report Type selection easy
  • Crowd-Sourcing: Message, photo, GPS map inform Security Dispatchers
  • Broadcast: Warnings can be broadcast to all students who use the app
  • Administration: The ELERTS EPICenter web console manages Reports
  • Alerts: ELERTS EPICenter allows 2-way chat with sender of original report
  • Virtual Monitoring: Users can activate “Escort Me” by pressing a button

These are just the kinds of tools that I dreamed of creating ten years ago, when all we had were the early Palm Pilots. What a great use of smart phones and the IoT!

The two programs are meant to be used in conjunction with the ALICE Training, as in Alert, Lock-down, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.

Download the apps:

ELERTS Campus™ for iOS
ELERTS Campus™ for Android

 

 

 

Could Information Silos Kill the Internet of Things?

I missed this when it came out in July, but thought it was worthy of notice!

In an Information Age article, Maurizio Pilu, a European leader in development of the IoT, throws cold water on those of us who believe the IoT may be as big an innovation as the Industrial Age. Pilu, who runs the UK’s Connected Digital Economy Catapult, which was established by the Technology Strategy Board to growth the UK’s digital economy, says that the IoT is an “..evolution, not a revolution.”

He should know: after all, his prior job was running the TSB’s “Internet of things” program.

“He believes the Internet of things will (sic) gradualy follow analyst company Gartner’s much-cited hype cycle – a peak of inflated expectations, followed by a trough of disillusionment, followed by enlightenment and mainsteam adoption.

“If that’s true, then the trough is surely on its way. Last year, Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies had the Internet of things approaching its peak.

“One risk factor that jeopardises the Internet of things’ potential is siloed thinking, Pilu believes. Every industry projects its own demands on the Internet of things, and the result may be disjointed – and therefore less powerful – systems.”

I don’t buy Pilu’s argument, but I do agree that “siloed thinking” is a threat to full development of the IoT. You’ll remember that my first “Essential Truth” about the IoT is that we must begin asking a fundamentally new question that is at odds with the old way of treating knowledge — hoarding proprietary information:

Who else could use this data?

In part, Pilu’s skepticism stems from the results of a program last year:

.. the TSB oversaw a significant research programme to study the potential impact of the Internet of things.

“It brought together over 400 business and public sector organisations to develop proof-of-concept projects for potential Internet of things applications. These ranged from a mobile fitness app that could sell aggregated data to retailers to an assisted living system to monitor patients in their homes.

“Ten study groups examined these projects, conducting interviews and focus groups, to assess their technical, social and ethical impact.

“’One thing we found across all the studies was uncertainty about how to unlock the value from the Internet of things,’ says Pilu.  ‘But another common theme was the use of data.’

Pilu argues that making data openly available will be the key to unlocking the Internet of things’ real potential.

But, as many of the TSB’s projects found, this is not always possible. One study looked at the public infrastructure on city streets, for example, and found that the associated data is often held in closed systems or discarded quickly after being gathered. 

“’There are few incentives to make data available, owing to a combination of actual or perceived liabilities, unclear returns and costs,’ it concludes.”

So sharing information won’t come easily. It’s an issue to which I plan to devote much of my efforts in the field. I’ll keep you posted!

Essential Truth of the IoT: empowering individuals!

I am still euphoric after last night’s IoT Meetup in Providence (such a meeting of the minds!) and it inspired me to write another of my posts about what I see as “Essential Truths” of the IoT!

In fact, I dare say this is the most profound — and perhaps least understood — way in which the IoT will bring about fundamental transformation of our lives.

When we talk about IoT components such as automated Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication, it tends to obscure the human aspect of the IoT.

I think that’s going to be a HUGE component of the change, and one that we won’t be able to fully appreciate or exploit until the IoT is an omni-present part of our daily lives.

That’s because we have labored under such fundamental restrictions on communicating about data in the past that we can’t really visualize what things will be like when those restrictions are removed and data flows freely.

Here’s where something truly magical comes in!

It is no knock on even the most creative organization or its staff to say that it doesn’t have a strangle-hold on the truth: there’s simply no way that any organization or any individual can think of all the ways that certain data could create value. But when you make that information readily available, someone who has a particular interest (OK, maybe we’re talking about obsession!) or feels particular pain about that thing can come forward with a creative new product or service to capitalize on that information. I can visualize mutually beneficial partnerships that we can’t conceive of today between major corporations and tiny startups (i.e., GE/Quirky/Electric Imp  — or perhaps even individuals  (that’s the kind of thing that Innocentive has successfully pioneered with its challenges, where many of the profitable solutions have come from rank amateurs who may have no professional credentials but personal zeal and insights).

I realize that senior managers may be uncomfortable talking about the role “magic” can play in development of profitable new goods and services, but I humbly suggest that with the birth of the IoT it’s something they should add to their vocabulary.

What a future!

 

My presentation tonight on human communication and the IoT

I just uploaded my presentation to tonight’s Boston/New England IoT Meetup, which will be held in Providence beginning at 5:30.

I’ll be speaking about what’s often overlooked in the introduction of exciting new technologies — and the IoT is no exception: the human communication possibilities and challenges that it introduces.

In the case of the IoT, all of the attention on automatic, non-human mediated  machine-to-machine communication obscures the fact that the IoT will have profound implications for human communications as well.

More than anything, it’s the fact that, for the first time, we’ll be able to share critical data on a real-time basis among co-workers, our supply chains, our distribution networks, and our customers. IMHO, that changes everything: workers will be able to do their jobs better because they’ll know exactly what’s happening at the time, and we’ll be able to make better decisions because everyone with a valuable perspective will be able to chime in at the same time: reducing the chance that some critical aspect of the issue will go ignored. That’s going to be amazing!

I’ll also talk about Chris Rezendes’ concept of “ground truth,” i.e., that one of the things we’ll be able to share in making those better decisions is “device intelligence,” real-time data from “smart things.” Hopefully this will lead to fact-based decision making (OK, maybe I’m a Pollyanna!) .

I conclude with my argument that, to fully take advantage of this real-time data flow, we need new management styles, including a “Buckyball Management” organizational chart in which every member of the organization is an important, value-creating “node” and every member can communicate with every other member when its relevant.

Hope you can make it tonight!

Hallelujah! The Internet of People launches

Most readers of this blog probably already know Rob van Kranenburg, arguably THE leading European Internet of Things theorist. What you may not  know is that, for the past year, he and a core group of IoT leaders have been planning creation of a UK-based global IoT consultancy, “The Internet of People.”

Unfortunately, one of the victims of that effort was a planned collaborationinternet_of_people_small
between Rob and me on an article about the IoT for the Harvard Business Review, but now I’ve got Dave Evans of Cisco as a writing partner, so I ain’t complainin’!

At any rate, there’s glorious news today: The Internet of People has officially launched, and there are more than 100 of us consultants who are already in the fold!

This is going to be an all-star team, so if you’re in need of IoT strategy and other consulting services, I hope you’ll contact us!

I’ll speak on human communication aspect of IoT on 18th

Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors continues to push me to create some thought capital around the issue of human communication and the Internet of Things.

He’s asked me to speak at the next  IoT Boston/New England Meetup, on June 18th, when we’ll move south to Providence (at the offices of Betaspring, 95 Chestnut Street, 3rd floor).

I’ll talk about a number of communication issues that I think will have a major impact on whether we really take full advantage of the IoT:

  • my 1st “Essential Truth,” that we must begin to ask “who else could use this data.” 
  • let’s not use the IoT as an excuse to fully-automate processes and procedures (the subject of my next blog post): instead, let’s use it as the means to fine-tuning and customizing.
  • turning monologues into dialogues: I think that’s going to be particularly vital in medicine, where the potential for two-way communication on a real-time basis between doctor and patient should empower the patient.
  • improving discussions of operations and strategy by basing them on what Chris Rezendes calls “ground truth.”
  • the need for a whole new management style that’s based on empowering every employee, every supplier, every distributor and every customer.

The later point harkens back to a long piece I wrote in 1995 for Network World (sorry, it’s no longer available online. When I get a chance I’ll add abuckyball-1-small section to this blog that will include access to my speeches and articles going back to 1990…) that I think is even more relevant today: that we need to scrap hierarchical, linear management styles and instead substitute what I call “Buckyball Management,” in which conventional organizational charts are replaced by spherical ones in which every person is an important node in the organization and there is no longer any up or down: anyone can reach out to anyone else. THAT, my friends, will be a real revolution!

Hope you can make it to The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (The longest official state name is a great trivia question … ) on the 18th!

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Essential #IoT Truths: who else could use this data?

Two weeks ago at the EntreTech seminar on the Internet of Things, good buddy Chris Rezendes told an anecdote that blew me away, both because it was such a powerful demonstration of the IoT’s potential to transform our world and because it reminded me of one of the IoT’s “Essential Truths.”

Chris mentioned that Grundfos, the world’s largest pump manufacturer, now includes sensors that report on the operating status of pumps at remote wells that dot Africa. They did it so that monitoring the wells would allow customers to improve maintenance of the wells and do it more economically, dispatching repair crews only when needed.

Nice, but not the cool, transformational part!

As you may know, Africans (primarily the women) often walk hours each day to-and-from their villages in order to get vital water — often carrying big jugs on their shoulders for many miles. Some dear soul at Grundfos realized that the same data that helped their customers improve management of the wells could also let the women know when there was adequate water flow at the well to make it worthwhile to make the trek (rather than having to walk to several wells before actually finding water — an all-too-frequent occurence).  So Grundfos made the data available to designers who were able to create an app that the women could read on their phones before leaving their village to determine where to go.  It cut the average amount of time the women spend per day hunting for water from 8 hours to 3 — a dramatic savings that allows them to spend their time on more productive and less tiring activities!  Isn’t that wonderful?

The second lesson I drew from the Grundfos data story was one that I first detailed two years ago in my book Data Dynamite: I argued that in the new era of “democratizing data,” that managers need to learn to routinely ask a new question when they examine a data set:

“WHO ELSE COULD USE THIS DATA?”

With the vast quantities of data that will be created by the IoT, the question is more relevant than ever!

This question doesn’t come easily to many managers. For so long, the secret to economic success was proprietary information that I had and you didn’t (for those with long memories, proprietary operating systems were the secret to the “Massachusetts Miracle” of the 1980s, when companies such as DEC and Prime created entire ecosystems around their proprietary systems).

Now, however, the future lies with open standards and shared data, that will actually create more wealth by sharing information because other people with a particular insight or critical need will realize that your data can be combined in mashups with other data sets to create whole new insights and valuable information.

Asking this question can also be a powerful tool to get rid of information silos within organizations, on the realization that many people in many departments can now potentially share the same near-real-time data at the same time, both improving coordination of activities such as supply-chain management and improving decision-making.

It’s time to wipe away the last vestiges of the old way of creating wealth and instead ask ourselves “who else could use this data?” The chances are that, whether inside your organization or — more daringly — outside it, you’ll be able to find other potential users who can cooperate to create new services and revenue streams as well as increasing operating efficiency.

So who else could use your Internet of Things data?

PS: I’ll be offering more of these “Essential #IoT Truths” on an occasional basis in the future, prodded by Chris Rezendes, who finally hammered it into my thick skull that all of my years in consulting on communications in a wide range of field meant that my unique contribution to the IoT can and should be to help  companies with the human communication aspects of the IoT that often tend to get obscured by our emphasis on machine-2-machine communication. Thanks, Chris (I plan to develop consulting services in this area to be offered in conjunction with INEX Advisors)! I’ll be speaking on this topic at a Meetup in Providence later this month — details to follow.