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The Internet of Things Revisited

RFID is not really about connecting objects to the Internet; it's about capturing data needed to manage things that aren't being managed today.
By Mark Roberti
May 31, 2010I had the privilege of joining an illustrious panel on May 19 to discuss the so-called "Internet of Things" at the 2010 MIT CIO Symposium. The session was great—it was one of those rare panels that was both entertaining and informative. But I think the idea of the Internet of Things might have outlived its usefulness.

The panelists were Robert LeFort, CEO of Ember, a company that manufactures RFID sensors used to form mesh networks; Sanjay Sarma, a professor and co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT; Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor and founder of 3Com, who is now a partner at Polaris Ventures; and me. The panel was moderated brilliantly by Michael Chui, a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute.

Sarma, a great speaker and an all-around smart guy, opened by explaining how he and David Brock came up with the original concept of putting low-cost RFID tags on everything and linking them to data stored in Internet databases. He said Kevin Ashton, the Auto-ID Center's director, coined the term the Internet of Things.

Metcalfe was funny, charismatic and intelligent. He pointed out that 10 billion to 15 billion microcontrollers are shipped every year (chips used in everything from cars to coffeemakers). "These are not tags," he stated. "Most are not networked. The value of these devices would increase exponentially if they were networked. There's a law about that," he said, referring humorously to Metcalfe's Law.

LeFort made the point that we shouldn't underestimate "the unbelievable power of convenience." He said his RFID sensors could be used to adjust the temperature in different areas of a room or facility automatically, to maximize energy efficiency. People wouldn't have to do anything.

We were all in agreement that RFID is a powerful technology that will deliver significant benefits for both business and consumers. I made the point, however, that while the Internet of Things is a useful term in that it helps people grasp the concept of being able to connect objects to the network, it probably has outlived its usefulness.


Steve Halliday 2010-06-10 06:45:49 AM
Internet of Things Dear Mark: I read the editorial on “The Internet of Things Revisited” with some interest. Your statement that the “Internet of Things might have outlived its usefulness” seems very premature and very US centric. Instead of asking your readers to come up with a new name, perhaps you should be examining what the rest of the world is doing on this subject and helping to bring the US up to speed. We have just finished the kick-off meeting for CASAGRAS 2 (Coordination And Support Action for Global RFID-related Activities and Standardisation), the sequel to CASAGRAS, an EU funded project that was featured in RFID Journal in November 2008 (http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/4461/1/1/). This project is based on the Internet of Things and includes all of the technologies (including RFID) that will enable a connected future. The web site for the original CASAGRAS project can be seen at http://www.iot.eu.com. Sponsored by the European Commission, with representatives from several organizations, members of many European countries, and international partners in countries like China, India, Brazil, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Russia, and the USA, CASAGRAS 2 will pick up where the original project ended. During the kick-off meeting we heard presentations from the IoT-I (Internet of Things – Initiative) and the IERC (European Research Cluster on the Internet of Things) that detailed how the European Union has newly funded IoT projects (budget 43 Mil €, funding 28 Mil €) and has worked on approximately 40 projects associated with the Internet of Things in recent years. Countries like China, Japan, and Korea have government participation to make their projects based on IoT (such as Smart homes, Smart transportation, Smart supply chain, Smart industry and others) world class as we move towards the “Future Internet”. Definitions of the Future Internet call upon “ Any Network, Any Service, Anyplace, Anytime, Anything, and Anyone”. The Internet of Things will be a major part of our future lives. CASAGRAS defined the Internet of Things as: A global network infrastructure, linking physical and virtual objects through the exploitation of data capture and communication capabilities. This infrastructure includes existing and evolving Internet and network developments. It will offer specific object-identification, sensor and connection capability as the basis for the development of independent federated services and applications. These will be characterised by a high degree of autonomous data capture, event transfer, network connectivity and interoperability. Companies such as IBM, HP, and CISCO see it as the next step in our connected future. The amount of work being done on IoT is too much to list in this letter, but I invite you to review the sessions at the ICT 2010 Conference in September 2010 in Brussels dedicated to IoT, or the 2nd Annual Internet of Things 2010 conference (http://www.eu-ems.com/summary.asp?event_id=55&page_id=342) and to consider including a track on IoT in the next RFID Journal Live. I would be happy to help you with getting the information you need as well as moderating a track or even a day at Live in 2011 on the IoT. An upcoming meeting of CASAGRAS 2 will be held in the Americas, and we are open to meeting in conjunction with Live 2011. The CASAGRAS 2 project will soon be launching its new web site and will be making available for publication various white papers and informational pieces. Please let me know what I can do to help educate you and your readers about IoT. It is not just “every chair, shirt, pallet of Tide and so forth” connected to the internet, and it is not 30 years away, it is now. We don’t need a new name, we need a new understanding. Best wishes Steve Halliday President, High Tech Aid US member of CASAGRAS 2 steve@hightechaid.com
Nigel Rix 2010-06-27 04:03:20 PM
The Internet of Things - not an end point I have sympathy for Mark in his resistance to the use of the term Interent of Things in relation to RFID. When it was orginally coined RFID systems were primarily closed, single customer solutions. Tags were "expensive" and solutions were proprietary. Standards addressed tag structures and air interfaces not how data was to be used. The barcode numbering schemes used in retail (EAN or UCC) did not have equivalents in the RFID world. In the multi-supplier, multi-customer world of the retail supply chain there had to be a universially applied solution to enable mass deployment. For me the original MIT work was about changing the perception of tagging. It tok the stance of "If we put a tag on everything what would be the impact? Firstly volumes would be huge - so tag prices would come down based on the normal manufacturing curves. Secondly tags would have to have the minimum amount of internal data (it would not be possible to programme tags for specific numbers) so licence plate tags were required - this also reduced cost of implementation. Thirdly the knowledge of what item the tag was attached to had to be kept in the network not on the tag - so we needed naming conventions. This last point lead to mirroring the way computers were accessed on the internet - hence the term an "Internet of Things". Whether Kevin was talking about putting all the data onto the internet or not is immaterial - the term "Internet of Things" has been adopted by the EC to describe the next generation internets. My major point would be that for the range of "Smart" applications that are the focus of current work - Smart Homes, Smart Grids etc RFID tags have much less importance than Sensors and Actuators. In general the systems are going to make a decision based on some real world parameter (a temperature, a electricty load, the numebr of cars) rather than an RFID tag - and havign decided to do something (and there has to be an output to get a benefit!) it is going to make somethign happen using an actuator. Although RFID tags can contain sensors - they represent the least popular solution. I am giving a presentation at Incheon in July and will use the term "Internet of Knowledge" for the true end goal of the Future Internet work. Given that most solutions will move to low power radio solutions (not RFID standards), the data will be a real world parameter (not a fixed RFID licence plate) and the addressing scheme may be iPv6 the link between RFID and the Internet of Things is becoming increasingly tenuous. The RFID industry gave birth to the term but it now has little to do with RFID technologies. It is starting to cause confusion and perceived complexity to our customers and we should drop the term. The befits of Future Internet will depend on Knowledge derived for sensor data - not RFID tags. Nigel Rix, Technology Business Manager nigel.rix@espktn.org

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