Brexit and the IoT: Let’s Capitalize on the Opportunity, Not Wallow in Despair

Wow: as the old Dinah Washington ditty went, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Since last Thursday, I doubt even the most diehard IoT zealots have thought about anything but Brexit and its implications.  Now that we’ve had a little time to reflect and digest exactly how dire the possible problems are, I’d like to suggest we look at the bright side, and think the IoT could play a major role in improving everyone’s life in the future — not just the economic elites.

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

Wei ji: crisis combines danger and opportunity

I used to be a corporate crisis manager, called in when major corporations had done amazingly stupid things and their reputations and sometimes even their survival was in question. For those occasions, I kept a battered greeting card in my briefcase with the calligraphy for wei ji, the Chinese ideogram for crisis. I’d point out that it c0mbined danger — that was obvious! — with the less-obvious one for opportunity. I still believe that, even in the global confusion and concern resulting from Brexit, and I think there’s a role for the IoT in the new world order.

Above all, this should be a wake-up call for the global economic and political elites that, going forth, change must benefit everyone, not just them.

When it comes to the IoT, that means that it can’t be yet another excuse for automating jobs out of existence, but must instead be a way of empowering workers and creating new opportunities:

  • One that occurred to me is near & dear to my heart, because I thought of a primitive version 25 years ago: creating 30″ high 4′ x 8′ garden “boxes” planted using Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” methods, that would allow people worldwide to grow their own veggies in very small spaces.  Add in IoT water sensors so that the beds could be watered precisely when and in the amount needed, and people everywhere could become self-sufficient (e-mail me if you’re interested in commercializing the approach)!  It would be the cheapie’s variation on the neat, but costly, Grove Labs home ag solution.
  • smart asthma inhaler

    smart asthma inhaler

    Increasingly, global populations will be centered in cities, so the whole smart cities approach will improve everyone’s quality of living by cutting down traffic, reducing municipal operating costs, and improving public health. Even fat cats get upset when their limos are stuck in traffic, so this is a win-win.
    One of my favorite examples of the smart city approach is the asthma inhaler cum GPS that automatically alerts public health authorities when a user — most frequently, sadly, a low-come minority person — uses the inhaler, allowing them to identify dirty air “hot spots” where cleanup efforts need to be focused.

  • I’ve always been impressed about the outside-the-box mobile device apps coming out of Africa that make their lack of conventional infrastructure into an advantage. One of the coolest examples of that when it comes to the IoT is the example INEX’s Chris Rezendes told me about: how Grundfos, the world’s leading pump company, releases the data from senors on its pumps for village water supplies in Africa and some smart guys have come up with an app that allows the village women to check in advance whether the village well is working before they trudge miles to get the watch (which, BTW, I hope they’re carrying back in these way-cool appropriate technology rolling water carriers, the “Hippo”).

  • Also, the IoT could empower assembly-line workers and others if smart managers realize that they too should be among those sharing real-time IoT data: yes, a lot of IoT data can be used on a M2M basis so one machine’s status will regulate another’s, but there’s also a potential role for workers, with their years of experience and horse-sense, using that data to fine-tune processes themselves to optimize efficiency. Artificial Intelligence is great, but I still think there’s a role for enlightened humans, even if they don’t have a lot of education and prestige within the corporation.

Those are just a few ideas on how the IoT might be used to improve everyone’s lot in the coming years and undermine the current status quo that benefits only a few.  Let me know if you have ideas on how to foster this revolution and make Brexit the catalyst for positive change.

 

 

My IoT Day Interview With Sudha Jamthe

Oops: I’ve been preoccupied with all sorts of dreck since returning from my SAP event, so I haven’t been able to post.

Did want to call your attention to a long IoT Day interview I did with the estimable Sudha Jamthe, author of The Internet of Things Business Primer.  We covered a range of topics, including the state of the IoT in Boston (and my enthusiasm about GE’s move here, because of their track record of working with IoT startups and even individuals), how I got involved in my IoT-based “SmartAging” crusade, and how the IoT may make possible “circular enterprises” orbiting around real-time IoT data.  Enjoy!

Internet of Things Can Pay Off for Small & Medium Businesses Too

Think again, if you’re a small and medium-sized business (SMB) that is holding back on Internet of Things projects until the price of software and components such as sensors came down and the technology is more robust!

INEX Advisors’ IoT Impact LABS, an accelerator program in New Bedford, MA brings together IoT startups, top technology and industrial suppliers such as Analog Devices, Dell, and PTC/ ThingWORX, plus legal and policy experts to use the IoT help innovative, sustainable small and medium-sized businesses in the region in fields such as “smart cities,” food and agriculture, water and maritime, and energy and transportation.

One is particularly noteworthy because it is bringing fishing into the 21st century.

Island Creek Oysters of Duxbury MA, was plagued by the need to do a five-step, paper-based food safety inspection reporting on variables such as water temperature and pH, that had to be recorded precisely during the two-hour window after low tide when it had to harvest the oysters.  It’s difficult to do both.

The Mass. Department of Fisheries Management brought together INEX and Island Creek to develop a real-time digital program to both monitor the oysters and do the data collection. Chris Rezendes, partner at Inex Advisors, said the department contacted IoT Impact Labs to figure out a digital traceability program for shellfish farmers in Massachusetts, which includes Island Creek’s farm in Duxbury Mass., just a half-hour south of Boston.

IoT Impact Labs put together a solution to enable monitoring of conditions in real time, wirelessly.

“There are just dozens of instrumentation opportunities. That means dozens of opportunities for sensors, and firmware, and connectivity, and analytics vendors,” Rezendes told CRN.

The project included replacing time-consuming human monitoring of more than 60 water pumps with wireless sensors.

The LABS will release more information about the other projects in coming months, and will host one of our Boston/New England IoT Meetups on February 29 in New Bedford (6 PM, 1213 Purchase Street), with speakers including:

  • Dave Wiley, PhD. NOAA, Research Director, Stellwagon National Marine Sanctuary. He has led the development and deployment of sensor buoys and marine mammal tracking, including supporting a recreational marine application based on his team’s work.
  • Dave Duquette, Founder and CEO, Littoral Power Systems which recently closed its Seed Round, including a prestigious ARPA-E grant. Their kinetic energy harvesting systems are breaking ground in tidal energy capture.
  • Brian Coffey, environmental sensing and instrumentation lead at Analog Devices.

 

3 Steps to Make Your City a World Leader in the IoT

I don’t know about you, but, in the face of grim news globally, I’m determined to make this an incredible year of change and growth.

Happy New Year!

I took a longer than normal time off, to pick up our youngest in Hong Kong after a semester abroad in Thailand, then vacation in Bali.

Hong Kong Internet of Things Association

I started the trip with a speech to the Hong Kong Internet of Things Association, in which I laid out my vision of radical change in corporate management and organization made possible by the IoT, away from the increasingly-obsolete hierarchical and linear forms that made perfect sense in an early 20th-century setting when data was hard to gather and share, but doesn’t when the IoT can allow instant sharing of real-time data by all who need it.

But the most interesting issue came up in the following q & a, when someone asked whether Hong Kong could become a global leader in the IoT.

I told them yes, and followed up with an op-ed in today’s South China Morning Post laying out the steps.

I believe the same steps can help your city become an IoT leader, and that this is a case of the-more-the-merrier: the more cities become IoT leaders the quicker widespread innovation and IoT adoption will become, and the more liveable and efficient our cities — the necessary focus of global growth in this century, especially to meet the challenge of global warming — will become.  So here goes!

  1. Create an IoT community.The one in Boston that I founded is now three years old, and numbers almost 2,000 members. My reason for doing it was that I’d run into many people working in the IoT here (Boston is listed as having the 4th largest concentration of IoT headquarters) but they were largely working in isolation, without a forum to bring them together.

    Forming an IoT network is a crucial step, because the IoT is inherently collaborative: as I’ve written many times before, “network effects” make each individual IoT device or service more valuable if they can be combined with others (for example, Apple’s HomeKit now allows someone to simply say “Siri, it’s time for bed,” and that voice command can trigger collaborative action by a variety of devices from different manufacturers, such as turning down the thermostat, locking the front door, and turning off the lights, which makes each of these IoT devices more valuable than they would be in isolation). Equally important, face-to-face contact may spark ideas that even the most talented IoT practitioner wouldn’t have thought of, huddled alone in his or her garret (or kewl cow0rking space…).

    An association that brings together all of your IoT practitioners will create synergistic benefits for all of them.

  2. Embrace the “smart city” vision. 

    This has the biggest potential payoff for your city, whether or not it becomes a big IoT commercial hub.Traditionally, cities have been laggards in technology adoption, but that’s no longer the case, starting in 2008, when I had the extreme privilege of being a consultant to DC CTO Vivek Kundra (who later became the first US CIO, specifically because of his achievements in DC) when he launched the DC Open Data initiative and the Apps [remember, this was 2008: what the heck are these “apps”???] for America contest to design apps to capitalize on this real-time data.  Hundreds of cities worldwide have embraced the concept, and because it stresses that the solutions be open source, cities that are late to the game can quickly benefit by adopting and adapting creative solutions that others have pioneered.

    When the IoT came along, many of these cities and their entrepreneurial residents were quick to realize their real-time data could lead to IoT apps and services that would deal with many of the prime concerns of cities: traffic control, mass transit, electricity, public health, environmental quality, and water and sewage (Credit where credit is due: IBM’s pioneering Smarter Planet service started working with many of the early adopters even before the smart city movement had a name).

    Cities that have launched comprehensive smart city programs, especially Barcelona’s, which includes projects ranging from free wi-fi to health monitoring for seniors to an app to find parking spaces, have realized tangible benefits while cutting operating costs and that will be the case for newcomers as well.

    Sometimes these initiatives tap the collaborative nature of the IoT to produce a public benefit that would be hideously expensive if they were carried out by municipal workers. For example, in Boston the “Street Bump” smartphone app uses the phone’s sensors to detect if the user’s car hits a pothole, then instantly reports the exact location to the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW). In essence, every driver becomes a de facto DPW employee!

  3. Finally,  join in the worldwide “Things Network” movement.As I’ve written before, this will create citywide, free networks for IoT data exchange, in essence turning an entire city into an IoT laboratory for experimentation and mutual benefit.

    This campaign, which was crowdsourced by only 10 technology enthusiasts in Amsterdam last August, successfully created a citywide data network there in less than a month, using 10 $1200 (USD) “LoRaWan gateways.”  LoRanWan is particularly suited to the IoT because it demands little power, has long range (up to 11 km) and low bandwidth. It wouldn’t require passwords, mobile subscription and zero setup costs.

    There are already 27 cities pursuing Things Networks, and the parent organization is making the concept even easier to deploy through a successful Kickstarter campaign last Fall to raise money to build a new LoRaWan gateway that would only cost $200.

    Unlike the full involvement of city government in initiatives such as opening city data bases, a Things Network is best done by volunteers, so that it will not be co-opted by official government agencies or powerful commercial interests: it is most powerful if it’s open to absolutely anyone who wants to try out a smart Internet of Things idea, while also potentially saving the city the cost of administering an expensive program that could instead be run by volunteers at little cost.

So there you have it: 3 practical steps to make your city a world leader in the Internet of Things that will improve urban life and make the city more efficient even if you don’t make the top 10.  Let’s get cracking!

Why Global Warming Must Be IoT Focus for Everyone

Thanksgiving 2015I want to offer you six great reasons — five of them are seated with my wife and me in this photo — why we all should make global warming a primary focus of IoT projects for the foreseeable future.

There simply is no way to sugar-coat the grim news coming out of the Paris climate talks: even with the most dramatic limits that might be negotiated there, scientists warn we will fall short of the limits in temperature rises needed to avoid global devastation for my grandchildren — and yours.

Fortunately, the Internet of Things can and must be the centerpiece of the drastic changes that we will have to make collectively and individually to cope with this challenge:

“Perhaps one of the most ambitious projects that employ big data to study the environment is Microsoft’s Madingley, which is being developed with the intention of creating a simulation of all life on Earth. The project already provides a working simulation of the global carbon cycle, and it is hoped that, eventually, everything from deforestation to animal migration, pollution, and overfishing will be modeled in a real-time “virtual biosphere.” Just a few years ago, the idea of a simulation of the entire planet’s ecosphere would have seemed like ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky thinking. But today it’s something into which one of the world’s biggest companies is pouring serious money.”

Let me leave you with a laundry list of potential IoT uses to reduce global warming compiled by Cisco’s Dr. Rick Huijbregts:

  • Urban mobility “apps” predict how we can move from A to B in a city in the most environmental friendly manner. Real time data is collected from all modes of city transportation.
  • Using solar energy to power IT networks that in turn power heating, cooling and lighting. Consequently, reduce AC/DC conversions and avoid 70% electricity loss.
  • IP­based, and POE (Power of Ethernet) LED lighting in buildings reduced energy by 50% because of LED and another 50% because of control and automation.
  • Sensors (Internet of Things) record environmental highs and lows, as well as energy consumption. Data analytics allow us to respond in real­time and curtail consumption.
  • Real time insight in energy behaviour and consumption can turn into actionable reduction. 10% of energy reduction can be achieved by behavioural change triggered by simple awareness and education.
  • Working from home while being connected as if one were in the office (TelePresence, Cisco Spark, WebEx, just to name a few networked collaboration tools) takes cars off the road.
  • Grid modernization by adding communication networks to the electrical grid to allow for capacity and demand management.
  • Planning, optimizing, and redirecting transportation logistics based on algorithms, real­time weather and traffic data, and streamlined and JIT shipment and delivery schedules.

These are all great challenges and offer the potential for highly profitable IoT solutions.  For the sake of my six grandchildren, let’s get going!

I’ll Speak Twice at Internet of Things Global Summit Next Week

I always love the Internet of Things Global Summit in DC because it’s the only IoT conference I know of that places equal emphasis on both IoT technology and public policy, especially on issues such as security and privacy.

At this year’s conference, on the  26th and 27th, I’ll speak twice, on “Smart Aging” and on the IoT in retailing.

2015_IoT_SummitIn the past, the event was used to launch major IoT regulatory initiatives by the FTC, the only branch of the federal government that seems to really take the IoT seriously, and understand the need to protect personal privacy and security. My other fav component of last year’s summit was Camgian’s introduction of its Egburt, which combines “fog computing,” to analyze IoT data at “the edge,” and low power consumption. Camgian’s Gary Butler will be on the retail panel with me and with Rob van Kranenburg, one of the IoT’s real thought leaders.

This year’s program again combines a heady mix of IoT innovations and regulatory concerns. Some of the topics are:

  • The Internet of Things in Financial Services and the Insurance sector (panel includes my buddy Chris Rezendes of INEX).
  • Monetizing the Internet of Things and a look at what the new business models will be
  • The Connected Car
  • Connected living – at home and in the city
  • IoT as an enabler for industrial growth and competition
  • Privacy in a Connected World – a continuing balancing act

The speakers are a great cross-section of technology and policy leaders.

There’s still time to register.  Hope to see you there!

 

 

IoT for Gamechangers: Talkin’ Smart Cities

Pope Francis wasn’t the only one speaking truth to power at 10 AM this morning: I was a guest again on SAP’s “Coffee Break With Game Changers” (you can catch a rebroadcast in a few hours), talking with hostess Bonnie Graham and SAP’s Ira Berk about smart cities.

Having just read the great bio of Elon Musk, I contrasted the top-down, I-gotta-sign-off-on-every-purchase-over-$10,000 style of Musk (and Steve Jobs, for that matter) with the out-of-control (in the best sense of the term!), bottoms-up approach needed in gigantic, complex, ever-changing cities (blogged on this earlier this week) to make them “smart.” IMHO, smart cities will evolve from a wide range of small, incremental changes, both public and private.

One of my favorite examples that I mentioned was announced today by Mayor Marty Walsh here in the Home of the Bean and the Cod.  The city has already been partnering with Waze for months: it informs Waze of any planned road work and detours, and, in return, Waze gives the city its real-time data to respond to traffic jams. Today the mayor announced that bike-riding Traffic Enforcement Officers will be able to swoop in on double-parking miscreants using Waze data.  Oh yeah, there’s another party to this collaboration: you and I, who make Waze work by reporting traffic and obstacles that we encounter while driving the city’s streets. Perfect example of my IoT “Essential Truth” that we must share data.

There was a lot more on the show: hope you can tune in!

BTW: when Bonnie asked at the end of the show if we’d dust off our crystal balls and predict how the IoT will make smart cities by 2020 — I stuck my neck out and said it would much quicker for the reasons I cited in the above-mentioned post on smart cities, especially the free citywide IoT data network movement spearheaded by Amsterdam.  If you’re in Greater Boston and would like to be in the vanguard of this movement, meet us next Wednesday night at the kewl new InTeahouse space in Cambridge, to plan our strategy to launch the free, citywide (including neighborhoods!) Boston IoT Data Network!

 

Free Citywide IoT Data Networks Will Catapult IoT Spread to Hyperspeed!

One of the truly exciting things about viral digital phenomena is how rapidly they can take hold, outstripping the slow, methodical spread of innovations in the pre-digital era.  I suspect we may be on the verge of that happening again, with an unlikely impetus: the crowdsourced global movement to create free citywide IoT data networks.

We’re been there before, with the movement to open real-time public access to city data bases, beginning when CTO (and later US CIO) Vivek Kundra did it in DC in 2008, then sponsored the Apps for Democracy competition to spark creation of open-source apps using the data (bear in mind this was at a time when you had to explain to many people what an “app” was, since they, and smart phones, were so new).  From the beginning, Kundra insisted that the apps be open source, so that hackers in other cities could copy and improve on them, as they have — worldwide.

I was doing consulting for him at the time, and remember how incredibly electric the early days of the open data movement were — it inspired my book Data Dynamite, and led to similar efforts in cities worldwide, which in turn set the stage for the “smart city” movement as the IoT emerged.

As detailed in my last post, we’re now launching a crowdsourced campaign to make Boston the first US city, and second worldwide (following Amsterdam) to have a free citywide IoT data network — and plan to up the ante by setting of goal to cover the neighborhoods too — not just the downtown.

The Things Network guys plan to build on their accomplishments, announcing this week that they will advise similar crowdfunded networks on five continents (including our Boston project). They place a major emphasis on grassroots development, to avoid subscription-based infrastructures that could be controlled from above and which would limit l0w-cost innovations, especially on the neighborhood scale.  According to founder Wienke Giezeman:

““If we leave this task up to big telcos, a subscription model will be enforced and we will exclude 99% of the cool use cases. Instead, let’s make it a publicly owned and free network so businesses and use cases will flourish on top of it.”

I’ve been a fan of mesh networks back to my days doing disaster and terrorism because they’re self-organizing and aren’t vulnerable because there isn’t a single point of failure. But it’s as much philosophical as technological, because you don’t have to wait for some massive central authority to install the entire system: it evolves through the decisions of individuals (we’re already finding that in Boston: it turns out that our system will be able to tap a number of LoRaWAN gateways that several companies had already installed for their own uses!) The Amsterdam guys share that perspective. Tech lead Johan Stokking says:

“We make sure the network is always controlled by its users and it cannot break at a single point. This is embedded in our network architecture and in our governance.”

Takes me back to my callow youth in the 6o’s: let a thousand apps bloom! (and, BTW, the great Kevin Kelly made this point in his wonderful Out of Control, back in the mid 90’s, especially with his New Rules for the New Economy (I’m going to take the liberty of posting all the rules here, because they are so important, especially now that we have technology such as LoRaWAN that foster them!):

1) Embrace the Swarm. As power flows away from the center, the competitive advantage belongs to those who learn how to embrace decentralized points of control.

2) Increasing Returns. As the number of connections between people and things add up, the consequences of those connections multiply out even faster, so that initial successes aren’t self-limiting, but self-feeding.

3) Plentitude, Not Scarcity. As manufacturing techniques perfect the art of making copies plentiful, value is carried by abundance, rather than scarcity, inverting traditional business propositions.

4) Follow the Free. As resource scarcity gives way to abundance, generosity begets wealth. Following the free rehearses the inevitable fall of prices, and takes advantage of the only true scarcity: human attention.

5) Feed the Web First. As networks entangle all commerce, a firm’s primary focus shifts from maximizing the firm’s value to maximizing the network’s value. Unless the net survives, the firm perishes.

6) Let Go at the Top. As innovation accelerates, abandoning the highly successful in order to escape from its eventual obsolescence becomes the most difficult and yet most essential task.

7) From Places to Spaces. As physical proximity (place) is replaced by multiple interactions with anything, anytime, anywhere (space), the opportunities for intermediaries, middlemen, and mid-size niches expand greatly.

8) No Harmony, All Flux. As turbulence and instability become the norm in business, the most effective survival stance is a constant but highly selective disruption that we call innovation.

9) Relationship Tech. As the soft trumps the hard, the most powerful technologies are those that enhance, amplify, extend, augment, distill, recall, expand, and develop soft relationships of all types.

10) Opportunities Before Efficiencies. As fortunes are made by training machines to be ever more efficient, there is yet far greater wealth to be had by unleashing the inefficient discovery and creation of new opportunities.”

If you really want to exploit the IoT’s full potential, you gotta read the whole book.

Equally important, the Obama Administration announced it will boost smart city app development with a new $160 million smart cities initiative:

“Among the initiative’s goals are helping local communities tackle key challenge such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services. As part of the initiative, the National Science Foundation will make more than $35 million in new grants and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest more than $10 million to help build a research infrastructure to develop applications and technology that ‘smart cities’ can use.”

The LoRaWan gateways used in the Amsterdam project are already low cost: only 10 of the $1,200 units covered the downtown area. However, The Things Network hopes to crowdsource an even cheaper, $200 version through a Kickstarter campaign.  If that happens, even small cities will be able to have their own free citywide IoT data networks, and when that happens, I’m confident the IoT will shift into hyperdrive worldwide!

Are you on board?


 

Oh yeah, did you say what about the risks of privacy and security violations with such a large and open system? The Amsterdam lads have thought of that as well, reaching out to Deloitte from the get-go to design in security:

“To make this initiative grow exponentially, we have to take cyber security and privacy into account from the start of the development. Therefore, we have partnered with Deloitte, who is not only contributing to the network with a Gateway, but will also be the advisor on the security and privacy of the network.

“’We translate technology developments in the field of Digital, Data and Cyber Security into opportunities and solutions for our clients. We are therefore happy to support the Things Network as Security & Privacy advisor’ Marko van Zwam, Head of Deloitte Cyber Risk Services.”

Boston Crowdsourced Campaign to Give City 1st Citywide Free IoT Data Network in US

You’ll remember I got quite excited while blogging the new citywide free IoT data network in Amsterdam, and decided on the spot to make Boston the first US city with such a network.  Here’s our release!

Crowdsourced Campaign to Create Free Citywide IoT-Data Network in Boston
would be first city in US to share Internet of Things’ benefits citywide

(Boston, September 21, 2018) — A crowdsourced campaign will make Boston the first US city with a free, citywide Internet of Things (IoT) data network, facilitating entrepreneurial, municipal, and neighborhood innovations in everything from traffic reduction to public health.

The Boston campaign is based on one in Amsterdam that built a similar network in a month (although not penetrating all neighborho0ds), and activists there are helping the Boston effort. While being built, the Amsterdam system already spawned uses such as a water detector to canal boat owner a text that a boat is filling with water and a system for the Port of Amsterdam using sensors to create real-time information to help manage boat traffic more efficiently. The campaign complements opening of the INEX IoT Impact Lab in New Bedford, President Obama’s $160 million fund for “smart cities” projects, and the Amsterdam group’s effort to spread the approach to 5 continents.

The network will use new LoRaWAN gateways, which  let things exchange data without 3G or Wi-Fi, and feature low battery usage and a range of up to 7 miles.  Several companies have already donated units to the Boston campaign before the launch.

According to IoT thought leader W. David Stephenson of Stephenson Strategies, who also founded the 1,500 member Boston IoT Meetup (which will form the core of the crowd-sourced campaign), “We hope to gain wide public and private support because this will not only spark profitable innovation, but also other efforts that will make Boston, especially the neighborhoods, a better place to live. Think of what your companies — and the city as a whole — could do if we had such a network: the entire city of Boston would become an IoT lab/sandbox, encouraging incredible innovation in use of IoT. But we must move quickly if we are to be the first US city with such a network.”

IoT entrepreneur Chris Rezendes of INEX Advisors, co-chair of the IoT Meetup and creator of the New Bedford IoT Impact Lab, said “the IoT will prove its real value when people and companies can see the tangible results improving their daily lives and corporate efficiency. From New Bedford to Boston, we’re a world leader in making the IoT a tangible reality for companies and cities alike.”

Wish us luck: if we’re successful, look forward to working with The Things Network to spread the concept worldwide — the sooner the better!

Share It (Data) and They Will Come: Crowdsourced Citywide IoT Network

I haven’t been as excited about anything for a long time as I am about a global revolution that began last week in Amsterdam!

Cities are rapidly becoming the very visible and innovative laboratories for IoT innovation, which is logical, because they’ve been in the forefront of open data — as I saw first-hand when I was consulting for Vivek Kundra when he opened up vast amounts of real-time data as CTO for the District of Columbia as part of its Apps for Democracy initiative in 2008 that was part of the larger democratizing data movement.

Now there’s an exciting new development in Amsterdam, that really is bringing power to the people: The Things Network, the first crowdsourced free citywide IoT district. Astonishingly, volunteers brought the whole system to launch in only four weeks!

So far, the creators are visualizing a wide range of uses, but I particularly liked a particularly local one for a city synonymous with canals:

“A pilot project to demonstrate the Things Network’s potential will see boat owners in the city (there are many, thanks to its network of canals) able to place a small bowl in the base of their vessel. If the boat develops a leak and starts taking on water, the bowl will use the network to send an SMS alert to a boat maintenance company that will come along and fix the problem.”

How cool is that?  It also illustrates what I think is one of the key intangibles about the IoT: when you empower everyone (and I mean that literally!) by opening up data, people will find more and more innovative IoT devices and services, stimulated by their own particular needs, desires — and sometimes, even pain (that’s why I think even the most optimistic views of the IoT’s impact will be dwarfed as it becomes ubiquitous!).

Even more exciting, the group’s goal is to bring the technology to every city in the world! That, my friends, will be an incredible global game-changer. Think of it: EVERY city will become an open laboratory for change.

The Things Network uses low-power, low-bandwidth LoRaWAN technology to create the network: ten $1,200 hubs covered the whole city!  Having been hiding under a rock, I must admit I’d never heard of LoRaWan. Here are the benefits:

  • don’t need 3G or WiFi to connect with the Internet — no WiFi passwords, mobile subscriptions
  • no setup costs
  • low battery usage
  • long range
  • low bandwidth.

The whole scheme reminds me of the old Andy-Hardy-it’s-crazy-enough-it-might-work thinking:

“Dutch entrepreneur Wienke Giezeman came up with the idea for the Things Network just six weeks ago when he came across a €1,000 ($1,100) LoRaWAN gateway device and realized that with 10 such devices, the whole of Amsterdam could be covered. He pitched his idea at an Internet of Things meetup in the city and received a positive response.

“Work then began to create a community-owned data network that developers could build on top of without any proprietary restrictions. Companies including The Next Web and accountancy giant KPMG have agreed to host gateway devices at their premises, and the City of Amsterdam local authority is enthusiastic about the idea.”

How’s this for a vision?

“Because the costs are very low, we do not have to rely on large telco corporations to build such a network. Instead, we can crowdsource the network and make it public without any form of subscription. Our mission is to enable a network by the users for the users.” (my emphasis)

Most important from a democratizing data standpoint, it will all be open source:

“Our goal is to make the network architecture as decentralized as possible. And avoid any points of failure or control. We already have a community of 10 developers writing network software and equipment firmware.”

Giezeman wants to cut the cost before launching his plan of making the concept worldwide. He will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a smaller, €200 ($220) LoRaWan (vs. the $1,200 current ones). He may offer consulting services to capitalize on the idea, but that’s not the current priority.

That kind of openness and lack of strings attached, IMHO, is going to really lead to incredible innovation!  We’re holding a Boston IoT MeetUp hackathon next month to try to bring similar innovation to The Hub, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if cities everywhere launched a virtuous competition to speed smart cities’ adoption (and, don’t forget: this has huge implications for companies as well: there’s nothing to stop smart companies from creating new products and services to capitalize on the shared data!).

I note Amsterdam is 84 square miles, and The Hub of the Universe is 89 sq. miles, so I suspect the costs would be similar here.  I’m throwing down the gauntlet: let’s make Boston the second IoT city!

Let a thousand neighborhoods bloom!