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!

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!

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.”

LOL: The Boston Olympics that Will Not Be: How the IoT MIGHT Have Pulled It Off!

Well, there go the billions my wife and I were going to make from renting our house through Airbnb for the Boston 2024 Olympics….   The US Olympic Committee pulled their support for the bid several hours ago based on the lack of public support for the proposal, which comes as NO surprise to those of us who know and (sometimes) love the local sport of choice in Boston: not the modern pentathalon, but debating any issue ad nauseum and eating our own.

Oh well!  I’d been planning a special meeting of our Boston IoT MeetUp for September about how the IoT really might make it possible that we could both build the Olympic infrastructure on time and on budget through creative use of the IoT AND also build a positive legacy that would endure after the games were over.

I’d also just written an op-ed on the subject. Since the chances of getting one of the local rags to publish that now are also zero, I thought I’d post it here, in hopes that it may inspire the other cities still bidding for the Games to adopt this approach, and that Boston and Massachusetts will also make the IoT a critical part of any major construction projects and smart city strategies.


 

What if a single approach could meet both of Boston 2024’s main challenges: building the venues on-time and under budget, AND assuring a positive legacy for the city, region and state?

There is: the Internet of Things (IoT), the concept of linking not just people, but also devices, via the Internet so they can be coordinated and activated automatically and in real time.  The IoT is already a reality, as demonstrated by examples ranging from “smart” thermostats you can adjust from your smartphone to fitness devices that let you track your vital signs.

While most are still unaware of the IoT, Boston was recently ranked as the world’s fourth-leading city in terms of numbers of IoT companies, and the Boston IoT MeetUp that I co-chair has grown to 1400 members in less than two years.

Every Olympics faces serious questions because of the history of cost overruns and construction delays, but our bid faces the extra burden of the botched Big Dig.

Construction sites are inherently chaotic because of so much equipment and so many subcontractors, resulting in an astounding 70-80% idle time, but the IoT changes that.  My client, SAP, and SK Solutions have collaborated in Dubai (which is on a construction binge dwarfing anything the Olympics might bring), putting sensors on all of the construction equipment, trucks, etc., so that the managers can visualize, in real-time, who is where, and make sure the right ones are in place and ready to go exactly when needed. Everyone who needs it, from operators to maintenance, shares the same data at the same time, building collaboration and efficiency.

The IoT can also make the games run smoothly and efficiently. After last Winter, we know how poorly the MBTA operates currently. The IoT can dramatically improve operations because sensors will report real-time data about the condition of every piece of rolling stock, so issues can be dealt with quickly and cheaply ( “predictive maintenance”) before they become critical. Ports and airports, such as Logan, are also inherently chaotic, but the Port of Hamburg has increased its operating efficiency through IoT coordination of every vehicle.  Clever IoT transportation projects already underway by the Mayor’s Office of the New Urban Mechanics can also help the games operate efficiently.

Believe it or not, even the most prosaic parts of our urban landscape can and must be reinvented to make the games run smoothly.  You’ve already seen the ultra-modern Big Belly Solar trash compactors (from Needham) that now dot downtown, which compact trash and collect recycling to make our streets cleaner. But did you know that each of them also houses a wireless system that creates a free “mesh network” that gives us free wi-fi access on the streets as well (and, in a post-Olympics disaster, could provide real-time response information)? Why not deploy them region-wide? Or, why have conventional streetlights when there are ones that not only cut electric use with LED bulbs, but also have banner-like LED panels that could have constantly-changing panels about that day’s events and would switch instantly to showing real-time detours because of data about traffic jams just ahead?

The Olympics will also stress our electricity infrastructure, and the IoT can help there as well. Two-way real-time data flow will allow a electric “smart grid” to dispatch power exactly when, where, and in the amount needed. What if we also had the world’s best network of neighborhood electric car chargers, and if Zip Car, one of our home-bred IoT innovations, became the preferred way of getting around not just downtown, but also the whole region?

A smart grid and efficient, reliable mass transit wouldn’t be the only positive legacy from the IoT.  If the Olympic Village to house the athletes was made up of “smart buildings” with built-in sensors, after the Olympics they would become economical, user-friendly and affordable apartments.

You may not have heard much about the Internet of Things so far, but the technology is already here, and the cost is plummeting.  Major orders for sensors, operating software and other components for the Olympics would create more jobs in our local IoT industry and further drive down the IoT’s cost.

Experts agree that the IoT will bring about as radical a transformation in our lives and economy as the Internet did, and making it the centerpiece of Boston’s Olympics construction, operations and legacy planning could make us again the Hub of the (Internet of Things) Universe.


 

Oh well!

The 2013 World Series Champs: Boston Strong!

Posted on 31st October 2013 in et. al., Uncategorized

 

Three basic facts to remember:

  1. All literary men are Red Sox fans.” — John Cheever
  2. The Boston Red Sox are the World’s Champions.
  3. The Hub of the Universe is the best city in the world. Boston Strong!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming!

Meeting Usman Haque: a shared vision for the IoT

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

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

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

Usman Haque

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

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

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

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

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

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