Emerging standards, and questions, about the Internet of Things

Challenges to IoT include the need for more robust standards and more power to devices, as well as security and privacy concerns.

The "Internet of Things" is great in theory -- sensors and applications across a range of systems and devices communicate in real time, providing telemetry to track everything from jet aircraft engines to mailed documents. The potential is limitless, but it's going to take some footwork to make it all come together. 

Sewing machines - Photo by Alyssa McKendrick
Photo: Alyssa McKendrick

Those are some of the thoughts expressed at an IoT Festival held at MIT -- attended by systems developers, security experts, data scientists, and artists from across a spectrum of industries. While the event took place earlier this year, it raised an abundance of points worth resurfacing. Andy Oram, writing in O'Reilly Radar, provides a nice overview of the issues discussed, ranging from architecture to standards to privacy.

There are two technical problems with IoT right now, industry speakers pointed out. First, there was the use of proprietary standards that result in data silos. Second, there are issues with power consumption by small devices. Oram quotes Bill Curtis of ARM, who said IoT technology is already in place and is well developed. However, it's time to start addressing architecture and open standards in a more comprehensive way.

The goal, Curtis said, should be to "turn each layer of the system into a platform on which others are free to innovate." And that's what it's all about -- encouraging innovation across this new frontier of computing.

Curtis was joined at the conference by Thomas Almholt of Texas Instruments. Many Internet protocols are current not suitable for IoT, the speakers said.

Some emerging protocols discussed at the conference include the following, as outlined by Oram:

Connectivity protocols were also discussed. Curtis also mentioned that existing cellular networks are potentially too expensive, and require additional power within devices. Instead, WiFi, employing strategically placed wireless routers, would be more effective and cheaper.

Security and privacy also are important themes impacting IoT. In his post, Oram explored many of the questions that need to be asked as we move into an IoT world:

  • "What effects will all this data collection, and the injection of intelligence into devices, have on privacy and personal autonomy?"
  • "How much privacy and personal autonomy are we willing to risk to reap the IoT’s potential for improving life, saving resources, and lowering costs?"
  • "How do we persuade manufacturers to build standard communication protocols into everyday objects?"
  • "What data do we really want?"
  • "How much can we trust the IoT? How much can we take humans out of the loop?" 
  • What role should governments play in all this?
  • What impact will the IoT have on jobs, and how can we prepare the workforce?