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'The Internet of Things is already here'

In an email interaction, Roberto Saracco, President and Node Director of European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) Italy, explains how the Internet of Things is already a part of our lives.

Nandagopal Rajan        Last Updated: May 10, 2013  | 22:17 IST

In an email interaction, Roberto Saracco, President and Node Director of European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) Italy, explains how the Internet of Things is already a part of our lives.

Q: Is the internet of things already here, or are we just at the beginning of a revolution?

A: The Internet of Things is already here. Take for example, the Cosm platform, which connects and data and devices, and is really bringing the Internet of Things to life.  Or consider car keys that talk to car systems; for example, BMW cars use the car keys to store information for maintenance purposes. The Internet of Things has just begun. Most of this network will be invisible to us, so in a sense, it won't seem like a revolution, rather a smooth transition into the next chapter.

Q: Will all devices be connected in future? And will that connectivity be in the conventional way as we perceive it now?

A: Yes, everything will be connected. But connectivity will not necessarily mean what we typically assume connectivity to mean. For example, consider the BMW key previously mentioned - the keys are "connected", but the connectivity does not take place via a network in the usual sense. The key talks to the car via RF when in the vicinity of the car. Then the data stored in the keys are transferred to the maintenance center by the car owner when they take their vehicle in for maintenance checks - the auto clerk transfers the data from the key to their computer, which is then transferred to the BMW world centre via Internet.  We will have no longer a communications infrastructure (with a specific owner) but a communications fabric with a variety of (often unknown) owners.

Q: How are devices going to talk to each other in this connected world? Do we already have good, feasible example of the same?

A: See previous point with the example of the BMW car key. There are of course plenty of other examples. My iPad talks via Bluetooth to my PowerBook. They both talk to the AppleTV and the latter talk to the television, which in turns talks to the satellite receiver and so on. Data about my viewing and purchasing habits are sent to advertisers (whenever I buy a song or a movie my credit card is charged and my bank notified). At the same time, the song I purchased ends up in my Cloud and all my devices seamlessly synchronise so that I can listen to the song from any place on any device. My friends might also be notified if I subscribe to a sharing service, my Facebook space can be updated and so on. It is a communication fabric.

Q: For devices to be connected, will all of them have to stick to one standard? Or will there be multiple ecosystems with standards of their own?

A: Absolutely not. In the examples I gave, communications takes place using different channels, each one with its own "rules", some proprietary some standard. Software will play the role of inter-mediator, making sure that different systems may exchange information with one another. It is, in many cases, already like this today. I will access a service (same goes for my car or my camera) and that service will contain what is required to make communications possible with the necessary devices.

Q: Won't connected devices be vulnerable to security threats, considering that most people would not be bothered about securing these devices?

A: Absolutely, as they are and we are today. And it will be a continuous game of catch up. As more and more wealth and business moves into the digital space, more and more attempts will be made to steal this wealth, and as a result, more and more countermeasures will be taken: a never ending story. That will apply to both secure devices and non-secure devices. It will obviously be easier to hack non-secure devices. But typically, secure devices are the ones that will contain more "wealth" so they will be subject to more sophisticated attacks.

Q: Do you think the car is next place technology is going to make a big impact in? How?

A: As you saw from the examples I gave, yes the car is a good "next step". The car in many ways resembles our home. It has some personal features, and can learn our habits and leverage these to make our driving experience easier. It already has plenty of processing power and in many cases, communications links (both internal and external) that it can piggy back on for extra communications capabilities, for example passengers' cell phones. Safety considerations are pushing towards car to car and car to infrastructure (roads) communications. It is becoming an open platform accepting third party services.

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