Why Am I Not Surprised? GE Does It Again As IoT Innovator

POST-SCRIPT : LATE-BREAKING NEWS: GE WILL ANNOUNCE TOMORROW THAT THEY’RE MOVING THEIR WORLD HEADQUARTERS TO BOSTON.  EVEN THOUGH THE HEART OF THE COMPANY’S INDUSTRIAL INTERNET STRATEGY WILL REMAIN ITS SOFTWARE CENTER IN SILICON VALLEY, THIS SHOULD INEVITABLY BOOST BOSTON’S STATURE IN THE IoT: WE’RE ALREADY RANKED 4TH IN THE WORLD.


PROMINENT DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT ON THE GENERAL ELECTRIC PAYROLL, AS AMAZING AS THAT MAY SEEM CONSIDERING ALL THE NICE THINGS I SAY ABOUT THEM.

C by GE smart bulbs

Whether it’s their incredible Durathon battery plant or the 220-ton computer-on-wheels Evolution loco, I don’t think there’s any major company that gets it more about the IoT, or, as they brand it, the Industrial Internet. As I’ve said before, it’s not just IoT products, but also “IoT Thinking” (collaboration, closing the loop, etc.) on their part. So why am I not surprised that they’ve gone back to their roots and come up with the most practical smart bulb so far, the “C by GE” bulbs?

Surely the Wizard of Menlo Park is smiling down on them for this one!

This is not to take away from the pioneering Philips Hue bulbs (16 million colors? You kidding?), or the neat Playbulb ones that double as speakers, but it seems to me these are the ones so far (possible exception, the $15 Cree ones — although I’ve not been happy with short life-span of my earlier Cree LEDs….) but these seem to me to combine some kewl new features that weren’t available before smart bulbs with affordability: a kit of 4 will be priced at $50 if you order online.

So what’s the big deal? Unlike the HUEs and GE’s earlier Link LED, these won’t require linking to a hub to control them: they link to your phone directly, using Bluetooth.

The bulbs will come in two flavors, to start with: a plain-vanilla dimmable one for most rooms of the house, and the spiffy “C Sleeps” for the bedroom, which will allow you to choose three different color hues, including a bright white to energize yourself on waking, a middling one for most of the day, and a yellowish one that research has shown to be more sleep-inducing, for night time (for you wonks, here’s the science).

Equally important, according to C|NET, they’ll also be more affordable than other multi-hue bulbs:

“The C Sleep LEDs won’t be the first color-tunable smart LEDs on the market, but they’ll certainly be some of the most affordable. The Osram Lightify Starter Kit comes with just a single bulb and costs $60, while the Lifx White 800 LED costs $40. With two color-tunable bulbs plus two standard smart bulbs for $50, C by GE definitely looks like the better value. What’s more, GE is promising limited early-bird pricing that will bring the cost of a starter pack down to $40 for those willing to buy in at launch.”

Because it’s Bluetooth controlled you won’t be able to control it from outside the house, so I’m gonna have to stick with my WeMo sockets to make my wife happy, but supposedly it will work with the Apple HomeKit (“Siri, it’s time for bed”) or if you already have a Wink hub.

Once again, Thanks, Jeff Immelt!

PS: $1.92 a yr. in electric costs: they’ll help save the planet as well

 

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!

 

 

SmartHomeDB: Invaluable Resource to Keep on Top of New Smart Home Devices

You can’t tell the players without a program!

smarthomeDBAs the speed of introducing new and increasingly varied smart home devices picks up, SmartHomeDB is more and more valuable as a way to find what you’re looking for and to keep on top of new products from an objective source.

Whether you’re a homeowner, make a competing product or are looking for market niches to exploit, I guarantee you’ll find it helpful!

At last count, they have 84 — count ’em — different categories of devices, from egg trays to pet doors, and, best of all, it offers a variety of easy ways to search, including the product categories, price, reviews, and — all important for smart home devices — compatibilities.

One thing that jumped out — see the screen grab — there are already almost 25,000 reviews of Amazon’s Echo (hmm, I’d better do one soon!), despite the short time it’s been on the market!  Haven’t seen the sales figures yet, but I suspect Echo is quickly becoming the smart home killer device (see Stacey Higginbotham’s very positive review).

In addition to the search options, the site features a neat intro to IoT devices, the QuickGuide, with two options: the simple one consists of your existing router, plus 242 (as of 9/111/15) Wi-Fi enabled products to choose among, plus 377 stand-alone smart home products such as Roombas.  The other, more diverse but trickier to configure, adds in routers using Z-Wave, Zigbee, and other frequencies, with 443 products using those frequencies.

Now they’ve added a new category, “Playbooks,” highlighting users’ hoped for or actual combinations of devices, which may help guide your choices, especially if they describe actual systems that are already in use.

There’s also an area for iOS, Android and Windows apps,  a handy listing of the top 100 devices based on the site’s ratings (which can sorted by compatibility, ranking, price, name, or number of reviews).

All in all, this is not only an important tool in its own right to help you create your own smart home network, but also symbolically, because it demonstrates the rapid growth of smart home products. Nice job!

 

 

McKinsey IoT Report Nails It: Interoperability is Key!

I’ll be posting on various aspects of McKinsey’s new “The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype” report for quite some time.

First of all, it’s big: 148 pages in the online edition, making it the longest IoT analysis I’ve seen! Second, it’s exhaustive and insightful. Third, as with several other IoT landmarks, such as Google’s purchase of Nest and GE’s divestiture of its non-industrial internet division, the fact that a leading consulting firm would put such an emphasis on the IoT has tremendous symbolic importance.

McKinsey report — The IoT: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype

My favorite finding:

“Interoperability is critical to maximizing the value of the Internet of Things. On average, 40 percent of the total value that can be unlocked requires different IoT systems to work together. Without these benefits, the maximum value of the applications we size would be only about $7 trillion per year in 2025, rather than $11.1 trillion.” (my emphasis)

This goes along with my most basic IoT Essential Truth, “share data.”  I’ve been preaching this mantra since my 2011 book, Data Dynamite (which, if I may toot my own horn, I believe remains the only book to focus on the sweeping benefits of a paradigm shift from hoarding data to sharing it).

I was excited to see that the specific example they zeroed in on was offshore oil rigs, which I focused on in my op-ed on “real-time regulations,” because sharing the data from the rig’s sensors could both boost operating efficiency and reduce the chance of catastrophic failure. The paper points out that there can be 30,000 sensors on an rig, but most of them function in isolation, to monitor a single machine or system:

“Interoperability would significantly improve performance by combining sensor data from different machines and systems to provide decision makers with an integrated view of performance across an entire factory or oil rig. Our research shows that more than half of the potential issues that can be identified by predictive analysis in such environments require data from multiple IoT systems. Oil and gas experts interviewed for this research estimate that interoperability could improve the effectiveness of equipment maintenance in their industry by 100 to 200 percent.”

Yet, the researchers found that only about 1% of the rig data was being used, because it rarely was shared off the rig with other in the company and its ecosystem!

The section on interoperability goes on to talk about the benefits — and challenges — of linking sensor systems in examples such as urban traffic regulation, that could link not only data from stationary sensors and cameras, but also thousands of real-time feeds from individual cars and trucks, parking meters — and even non-traffic data that could have a huge impact on performance, such as weather forecasts.  

While more work needs to be done on the technical side to increase the ease of interoperability, either through the growing number of interface standards or middleware, it seems to me that a shift in management mindset is as critical as sensor and analysis technology to take advantage of this huge increase in data:

“A critical challenge is to use the flood of big data generated by IoT devices for prediction and optimization. Where IoT data are being used, they are often used only for anomaly detection or real-time control, rather than for optimization or prediction, which we know from our study of big data is where much additional value can be derived. For example, in manufacturing, an increasing number of machines are ‘wired,’ but this instrumentation is used primarily to control the tools or to send alarms when it detects something out of tolerance. The data from these tools are often not analyzed (or even collected in a place where they could be analyzed), even though the data could be used to optimize processes and head off disruptions.”

I urge you to download the whole report. I’ll blog more about it in coming weeks.

Every IoT office needs this graphic on privacy and security

Long-time readers know that I frequently rant that privacy and security are Job 1 when it comes to the IoT.  

No apologies: it’s because I spent many years in corporate crisis management, and I learned the hard way that public trust is hard to earn, easy to lose, and, once lost, difficult or impossible to regain.

That’s why I was so glad to see this really informative, attractive, and scary infographic from Zora Lopez at Computer Science Zone, because it lays everything out so vividly.  Among the key points:

  1. (seen this before, but it still astounds me) In 2011, 20 typical households generated as much data as the entire Internet did as recently as 2008.
  2. the number of really-large (on scale of e-Bay, Target, etc.) data thefts grow annually.
  3. the bad guys particularly go after extremely sensitive data such as health, identity and financial.

It concludes with a particularly sobering reminder (you may remember my comment on the enthusiastic guys who presented at Wearables + Things and cheerfully commented that they would eventually get around to privacy and security — NOT!):

The barrier to entry in tech has never been lower, leaving many new organizations to later grapple with unsatisfactory security.” (my emphasis)

So: print a copy of the following for every employee and new hire, and put it on the cube’s wall immediately (here’s the original URL: http://www.computersciencezone.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Security-and-the-Internet-of-Things.jpg#sthash.c6u2POMr.dpuf)

IoT Privacy and Security, from Computer Science Zone

Apple & IBM partnership in Japan to serve seniors a major step toward “Smart Aging”

As Bob Seger and I prepare to turn 70 (alas, no typo) on Wednesday (as long as he’s still singing “Against the Wind” I know I’m still rockin’) my thoughts turn to my “Smart Aging” paradigm, which combines Quantified Self devices that can change our relationships with doctors into a partnership and give us encouragement to do more fitness activities and smart home devices that make it easier for seniors to run their homes and avoid institutionalization.

That’s why I was delighted to read this week about Apple (obligatory disclaimer: I work part-time at The Apple Store, especially with “those of a certain age,” but am not privy to any of their strategy, and my opinions are solely my own) and IBM teaming with Japan Post (hmm: that’s one postal service that seems to think creatively. Suspect that if one B. Franklin still ran ours, as he did in colonial days, we’d be more creative as well…) to provide iPads to Japan’s seniors as part of Japan Post’s “integrated lifestyle support group” (the agency will actually go public later this year, and the health services will be a key part of its services).

Apple and IBM announced, as part of their “enterprise mobility” partnership that will also increase iPads’ adoption by businesses, that they will provide 5 million iPads with senior-friendly apps to Japanese seniors by 2020.  IBM’s role will be to develop app analytics and cloud services and “apps that IBM built specifically for elderly people .. for medication adherence … exercise and diet, and … that provide users with access to community activities and supporting services, including grocery shopping and job matching.”

The overall goal is to use the iPads and apps to connect seniors with healthcare services and their families.  I can imagine that FaceTime and the iPads’ accessibility options will play a critical role, and that current apps such as Lumosity that help us geezers stay mentally sharp will also be a model.

According to Mobile Health News, the partnership will offer some pretty robust services from the get-go:

“If seniors or their caregivers choose, they can take advantage of one of Japan Post Groups’ post office services, called Watch Over where, for a fee, the mail carriers will check in on elderly customers and then provide the elderly person’s family with an update. 

“In the second half of this year, customers can upgrade the service to include iPad monitoring as well.After Japan Post Group pilots the iPads and software with 1,000 seniors for six months, the company will expand the service in stages.”

Lest we forget, Japan is THE harbinger of what lies ahead for all nations as their populations age. 20% of the population was already over 65 in 2006,  38% will be in 2055.  As I’ve said before in speeches, the current status quo in aging is simply unsustainable: we must find ways for seniors to remain healthy and cut the governmental costs of caring for them as they grow as a percentage of the population.  As Japan Post CEO Taizo Nishimuro (who looks as if he’s a candidate for the new services — y0u go, guy!) said, the issue is “most acute in Japan — we need real solutions.”

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said her company will take on a 3-part mission:

“First, they’ll be working on ‘quality of life apps,’ both by building some themselves and by integrating others, all of which will be aimed at accessibility first. The key target will be iOS, since it’s a mobile-first strategy in keeping with our changed computing habits. Second, they’re working on developing additional accessibility features not yet available, and third they’re helping Japan Post with the service layer required to deliver this to the elderly.”

Sweet! — and it reminds me of the other recently announced IBM/Apple announcement, in that case with J & J, to build a robust support structure for Apple’s new open-source ResearchKit and HealthKit platform to democratize medical research.  The IoT ain’t nothin’ without collaboration, after all.

Cook, according to TechCrunch, put the initiative in a global context (not unlike his environmental initiatives, where, IMHO, he’s become THE leading corporate change agent regarding global warming):

“Tim Cook called the initiative ‘groundbreaking,’ saying that it is ‘not only important for Japan, but [also] has global implications. Together, the three of us and all the teams that work so diligently behind us will dramatically improve the lives of millions of people.’

“…. The Apple CEO talked about how the company aims to ‘help people that are marginalized in some way, and empower them to do the things everyone else can do.” He cited a UC Irvine study which details how remote monitoring and connection with loved ones via iPad help instill a sense of confidence and independence in seniors. He added that he believes what the companies are doing in Japan is also scalable around the world.”

It will be interesting to see exactly how the partnership addresses the challenge of creating those senior-friendly “quality of life” apps: as someone who’s on the front-lines of explaining even Apple’s intuitive devices to older customers, I can tell you that many seniors begin are really frightened by these technologies, and it will take a combination of great apps and calm, patient hand-holding to put them at ease.

As I enter my 7th decade, I’m pumped!

FTC report provides good checklist to design in IoT security and privacy

FTC report on IoT

FTC report on IoT

SEC Chair Edith Ramirez has been pretty clear that the FTC plans to look closely at the IoT and takes IoT security and privacy seriously: most famously by fining IoT marketer TrendNet for non-existent security with its nanny cam.

Companies that want to avoid such actions — and avoid undermining fragile public trust in their products and the IoT as a whole — would do well to clip and refer to this checklist that I’ve prepared based on the recent FTC Report, Privacy and Security in a Connected World, compiled based on a workshop they held in 2013, and highlighting best practices that were shared at the workshop.

  1. Most important, “companies should build security into their devices at the outset, rather than as an afterthought.” I’ve referred before to the bright young things at the Wearables + Things conference who used their startup status as an excuse for deferring security and privacy until a later date. WRONG: both must be a priority from Day One.

  2. Conduct a privacy or security risk assessment during design phase.

  3. Minimize the data you collect and retain.  This is a tough one, because there’s always that chance that some retained data may be mashed up with some other data in future, yielding a dazzling insight that could help company and customer alike, BUT the more data just floating out there in “data lake” the more chance it will be misused.

  4. Test your security measures before launching your products. … then test them again…

  5. “..train all employees about good security, and ensure that security issues are addressed at the appropriate level of responsibility within the organization.” This one is sooo important and so often overlooked: how many times have we found that someone far down the corporate ladder has been at fault in a data breach because s/he wasn’t adequately trained and/or empowered?  Privacy and security are everyone’s job.

  6. “.. retain service providers that are capable of maintaining reasonable security and provide reasonable oversight for these service providers.”

  7. ‘… when companies identify significant risks within their systems, they should implement a defense-in -depth approach, in which they consider implementing security measures at several levels.”

  8. “… consider implementing reasonable access control measures to limit the ability of an unauthorized person to access a consumer’s device, data, or even the consumer’s network.” Don’t forget: with the Target data breach, the bad guys got access to the corporate data through a local HVAC dealer. Everything’s linked — for better or worse!

  9. “.. companies should continue to monitor products throughout the life cycle and, to the extent feasible, patch known vulnerabilities.”  Privacy and security are moving targets, and require constant vigilance.

  10. Avoid enabling unauthorized access and misuse of personal information.

  11. Don’t facilitate attacks on other systems. The very strength of the IoT in creating linkages and synergies between various data sources can also allow backdoor attacks if one source has poor security.

  12. Don’t create risks to personal safety. If you doubt that’s an issue, look at Ed Markey’s recent report on connected car safety.

  13. Avoid creating a situation where companies might use this data to make credit, insurance, and employment decisions.  That’s the downside of cool tools like Progressive’s “Snapshot,” which can save us safe drivers on premiums: the same data on your actual driving behavior might some day be used become compulsory, and might be used to deny you coverage or increase your premium).

  14. Realize that FTC Fair Information Practice Principles will be extended to IoT. These “FIPPs, ” including “notice, choice, access, accuracy, data minimization, security, and accountability,” have been around for a long time, so it’s understandable the FTC will apply them to the IoT.  Most important ones?  Security, data minimization, notice, and choice.

Not all of these issues will apply to all companies, but it’s better to keep all of them in mind, because your situation may change. I hope you’ll share these guidelines with your entire workforce: they’re all part of the solution — or the problem.

I Have Seen the Future of Agriculture & It is the IoT (Grove Labs)

Agriculture is a passion of mine, partially because of environmental concerns, and also because I love veggie gardening. There has been an encouraging trend in the US recently, with the advent of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and the localvore movement. However, that’s counterbalanced by the terrible continuing California drought, and the sobering realization that, worldwide, there are more than 805 million who are undernourished. Clearly, we need to produce more food — and do it much more efficiently and in line with natural principles.

Grove Labs Aquaponics system

That’s why I’m so excited about the new Grove Labs system being developed in, of all places, Somerville MA (which has become a start-up haven for ag-related companies through the Greentown Labs incubator. They include Freight Farms [ I will blog about them later..], which is pursuing a similar closed-loop approach on a larger scale, and Apitronics, which presented at one of our Boston IoT Meetups last year.).

It was developed by two young MIT grads, Jamie Byron (who became “obsessed” with the problems of current worldwide agriculture while on an internship) and Gabe Blanchet, who created the primitive precursor of the aquaponics system in their frat house. Now, in its beta testing form (sign up ASAP if you live in the Hub to buy a prototype!), the “Grove” is an integrated ecosystem attractive enough to be placed in your kitchen.

According to The Verge  (which pointed out that dope growers’ experience with hydroponics may have helped Byron and Blanchet, LOL!):

“The Grove system looks like a 6-foot-tall wood cabinet with four LED-lit boxes for plants. Three are smaller, for leafy greens and herbs, and one is larger, for things like tomatoes or peas. On the bottom left is an aquarium whose fish provide fertilizer for the plants. The fish are what make the system ‘aquaponic,’ a particularly organic variant on traditional hydroponics.

….” ‘Essentially we took the philosophy and biology of an actual ecosystem and shrunk it down and put it in a bookshelf tower,’ Blanchet says. The fish produce ammonia in their waste, which gets pumped to the plants, where bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrate. The plants consume the nitrate, filtering the water, which gets returned to the fish. ‘If you keep the system running optimally you can grow plants faster than you can outside,’ says Blanchet.”

A critical component that qualifies the system as an IoT one is the “Grove” app, which will tell owners important information about lighting schedules, when to add nutrients, etc. The all-important sensors will provide critical real-time data about growing conditions and what’s needed.

The Grove isn’t a panacea for world hunger: for one thing, it’s pricey ($2600), although economies of scale when the company is in full swing may bring that down. It also requires involvement by the owner: you can’t just sit there and admire how things grow. You’ll need to actively monitor the app and do routine maintenance. The LED lighting system, as efficient as it may be, won’t work in remote, poor areas where there’s no electricity (but that might come from an nearby PV panel!

Nonetheless, I can see the grove playing a growing (groan, sorry for the pun..) role in meeting the world’s food needs, and, best of all, doing so in a way that capitalizes on one of my key beliefs about the IoT, that it will bring about an era of unprecented precision in use of raw materials, manufacturing, whatever, because of real-time monitoring, and, increasingly, M2M systems where a sensor reading on one device will trigger operation of another. Large-scale farming is also getting more precise due to systems such as John Deere’s FarmSight, so count agriculture as yet another industry that will be revolutionized through the IoT.


The Grove Labs approach really resonated with me because I’ve been using two 8′ x 4′ 30″ high modules for my own veggies for the last twenty years, planted according to engineer/gardener Mel Bartholomew’s great “Square Foot Gardening” system, with varying levels of success. I had grand visions of manufacturing modules from recycled plastics and adding greenhouse-fabric domes to extend the season, and an app to remind owners of when to plant and fertilize but never followed through, so I really admire those who did, and the way they’re incorporating IoT technology.

New Alchemy’s Institute’s “Ark” (in rear)

When I contacted the co-founders, they were unaware that they stand on the shoulders of giants who have developed a natural systems-based approach to agriculture right here in the Bay State, especially John Todd, who (I believe) pioneered the approach with his wonderful New Alchemy Institute on the Cape, where he methodically added new elements — plexiglas water storage, tilapia, etc. — to the passive-solar “Ark” until he had a balanced, self-sustaining system.  John, who has since gone on to develop great natural-systems based wastewater treatment facilities, had a young apprentice, Greg Watson, who went on to become the Commonwealth’s incredibly innovative ag commissioner.

Oh well, it appears these guys have more than reinvented the wheel! Good luck to them.

“Enchanted Objects” — adding delight to the IoT formula

Posted on 21st January 2015 in design, Essential Truths, Internet of Things, marketing, smart home

For good reason, most discussions of opportunities with the Internet of Things focus on the potential to improve businesses’ operating efficiency or creating new revenue streams.

But what if the IoT could also bring out the hidden 6-yr. old in each of us? What if it could allow us to invent — enchanted objects?

That’s the premise of IoT polymath David Rose’s Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things.

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things

Rose is both a stalwart of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneering, serial IoT entrepreneur. Oh, and he’s got an impish grin that shows you he is still as delighted at tinkering with things as he was as a little boy in his grandfather’s workshop:

“Grandfather’s tools were constructed and used with a respect for human capabilities and preferences. They fit human bodies and minds. They were a pleasure to work with and to display. They made us feel powerful, more skilled and capable than we were without them. They hung or nestled quietly, each in its place, and never made us feel stupid or overwhelmed. They were, in a word, enchanting.”

Rose fears that’s not the path we’re heading down with most current techno-products, dismissing them as “cold, black slabs … [resulting in a ] colder, more isolated, less humane world. Perhaps it is more efficient, but we are less happy.”  Yea!

By contrast, enchanted objects resonate with our deepest desires:

“The experiences that do enchant us reach into our hearts and souls. They come from the exotic place of  ‘once upon a time.’ They help us realize fundamental human desires. The fantastic technologies we have invented over the centuries , the ones of ancient tales and science fiction, enable us to do things that human beings earnestly want to do but cannot do without a little (or a lot) of help from technology. They make it possible to fly, communicate without words, be invisible, live forever, withstand powerful forces, protect ourselves from any harm, see farther and travel faster than the greatest athletes. They are tools that make us incredible, supercapable versions of ourselves. These are the visions and stories of our most beloved authors of fiction and fantasy — Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling and the Grimms — and the realities of fantastic characters such as Cinderella, Dick Tracy, James Bond, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The designers creating enchanted objects must, therefore, think of themselves as something more than manipulators of materials and masters of form. They must think beyond pixels, connectivity, miniaturization , and the cloud. Our training may be as engineers and scientists, but we must also see ourselves as wizards and artists, enchanters and storytellers, psychologists and behaviorists.”(my emphasis).

Rose discusses a number of the products he’s designed, such as the Ambient Orb, which can be hacked to unobtrusively (the physiological phenomenon that makes them work is called “pre-attentive processing” in case you’re looking for a term to throw around at a cocktail party…) display all sorts of information, from stock market trends to energy consumption and the Ambient Umbrella, whose handle glows if rain is predicted (that one hasn’t been a big success, which I predicted — it’s as easy to lose an expensive, “smart” umbrella as a $10 one. I prefer the IFTTT recipe that has your HUE lights blink blue if rain is predicted, reminding you to take your utterly conventional, cheap umbrella…), as well as one of my favorites, the Vitality Glow Cap, which can reduce the billions in wasted medical spending attributable to people not taking their prescriptions.

Skype Cabinet

And then there’s one that every child or grandparent will love, the Skype Cabinet, a square that sits in your living room, and, when the door is opened, shazaam, there is your grandchild or grandparent, instantly connected with you via Skype. Enchantment indeed!

However, the real meat of the book is his methodology for those of us to whom enchantment doesn’t come as naturally. First, Rose lists seven basic human drives that designers should try to satisfy: omniscience, telepathy (human-to-human communication), safekeeping, immortality, teleportation (that’s high on my personal list after my recent up-close-and-personal encounters with rogue deer.), and expression.

Then Rose explains how technology, especially sensors, will allow meeting these desires through products that sense their surroundings and can interact with us.  In terms of my IoT “Essential Truths,” I’d classify enchanted objects as exemplifying “What Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before,” because we really couldn’t interact with products in the past.  Other examples in this category that I’ve cited before range from the WeMo switches that helped me make peace with my wife and the life-saving Tell-Spec that lets you find food allergies.

Other thought-provoking sections of the book include “Seven Abilities of Enchantment,  “Five Steps on the Ladder of Enchantment,” and “Six Future Fantasies,” the latter of which is must reading for product designers and would-be entrepreneurs who want to come up with fundamentally new products that will exploit the IoT’s full potential for transformation.

The other day I finally met with Mahira Kalim, the SAP IoT marketing director who whipped my thinking into shape for the “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution” i-guide.  She asked me for examples of the kind of radical transformation through the IoT that are already in existence.  I suspect that some of Rose’s inventions fall into that category, but, more important, Enchanted Objects provides the roadmap and checklist for those who want to create the next ones!  Get it, devour it, and profit from it!