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Mobility

Expanding the playing field of the Internet of Things

myDevices conducted a recent survey with insights into the Internet of Things. Learn more about what they found and what they deliver on topics including Star Wars, automation and connected devices.

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Image: iStock/shutter_m

Since I write about IoT quite frequently, I came across a solutions company called myDevices which seeks to further the realm of connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Their aim is to offer platforms and solutions based on the concept of connectivity by developing "enterprise tools to analyze business data, create marketing opportunities, and provide enhanced customer support."

myDevices released some interesting IoT-related statistics based upon an online survey last November. The survey sought input from over 2,000 adults (18 and over) based on their opinions of IoT and connectivity technologies, as well as some fun and interesting views on automation, presidential candidates and Star Wars gadgets. Since I'm a huge fan of two out of the three topics surveyed (I'll leave it to you to guess which ones those may be) I wanted to share them to look at current trends in the IoT landscape and get a feel for what myDevices is doing in that space.

The future of automation

Let's start with automation, another concept which has been covered extensively here on TechRepublic:

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Image: myDevices.com

Obviously, automation is a powerful concept: more than four out of five U.S. adults would like to automate some aspect of their daily lives. House cleaning is at the top of the list (especially among women), and is followed by yard maintenance and the commute to work.

There are some noteworthy elements here which are up for debate. Personally, caring for my kids is not a task I'd choose to outsource to an automation agent (Rosie the Robot?) but I can definitely appreciate the possibilities offered by offloading coffee brewing and gift sending. That last item, well, it hints of "Blade Runner," and I'll leave it at that.

Connected devices

Next, myDevices looked at the current status of connected devices in and around the house. They found that more than half of Americans (51%) currently have some smart devices connected in their homes, including these categories:

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Image: myDevices.com

Most of the elements here represent entertainment, health and infrastructural components. Connected televisions were in place in more than a third of homes, followed by streaming media players, which makes sense since the two are often linked.

"Smart TVs are an easy and obvious entry point into IoT, especially for those unfamiliar with what it is and promises to do," said Kevin Bromber, CEO of myDevices. "But soon Americans' households and workplaces will be full of smart devices that make their lives easier: thermostats that intuitively control a home's temperature - people get that - but devices that also report on the functionality of their HVAC systems, that automatically contact a repair man when the system breaks and reports back to the manufacturer about why it broke and how it's been performing. That's just one simple example. We're on the brink of another technology revolution that will change the way we all live and work. In five years, 100% of Americans will have connected devices in their homes."

The responses to this question were analyzed by age. More millennials aged 18-34 own connected devices than Americans in other age groups; 65% of millennials say they own smart devices, compared to 57% of 35-44 year olds, 49% of 45-54 year olds, 40% of 55-64 year olds and 37%of senior citizens aged 65+.

Furthermore, 71% of parents with children under 18 in the household have connected devices, compared to 43% of Americans without children under 18 in the household. It's clear that the next generation is growing up with connected devices as part of the foundation of their daily life.

Holiday wish lists

The next topic had to do with a familiar theme for many of us: which devices were on wish lists this recent holiday season.

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Image: myDevices.com

Many of the gift ideas here parallel the connected devices which already exist in the home, with smartwatches and coffee makers thrown in for good measure.

As with the previous slide, interest in receiving IoT gifts for the holidays was highest among younger Americans and steadily declined as the age of the respondents increased: 80% of millennials ages 18-34 had hoped to be gifted IoT products during the holidays, 66% of 35-44 year olds, 57% of 45-54 year olds, 52% of 55-64 year olds, and 41% of 65+ year olds.

There was a curious division by region: a higher number of people in the south and west (66% and 67%, respectively) hope to receive IoT gifts compared to the northeast (54%) and midwest (56%).

Election technology

Technology is a universal factor in our current society, so it makes sense that it would play a role in the ongoing presidential selection process. myDevices sought to look at which candidates were perceived as strong players in this arena.

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Image: myDevices.com

Interestingly, the two front-runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were both perceived as the most tech-savvy. It begs the question as to whether they've successfully used technology to attract followers, or merely received high praise from their followers based upon existing loyalties.

"While many of our presidential candidates aren't known for being tech savvy, the results of the research clearly show that Americans would like to be as we head into the holiday season," Bromber said.

Star Wars technology

And finally, we come to a topic on everyone's lips in recent months: Star Wars. Here's a cool hypothetical question presented to survey respondents.

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Image: myDevices.com

This question actually surprised me; I would have thought everyone wanted a light saber, but perhaps that's the six year old in me who saw Star Wars in the theater when it came out. Hover bikes were the most desirable item, and light sabers and landspeeders followed second and third. Only 9% wanted a death star, which gives me hope for humanity.

Men and younger adults who have seen Star Wars were more likely to desire this technology when compared to women and older adults who've seen Star Wars:

  • 96% of 18-34 year old men vs 87% of 18-34 year old women
  • Except when it came to seniors: 52% of men 65+ who have seen the films would like some Star Wars tech, but even more senior women (58%) said they would like some, proving that for some there's no such thing as getting old.

    I took some time to chat with Kevin Bromber of myDevices last month about the company's background, goals, and initiatives.

    Scott Matteson: "How would you define 'the Internet of Things' based on modern concepts?"

    Kevin Bromber: "I think the definition of IoT was really way too narrow when people started talking about the Internet of Things. It was because the companies coming out in the space first wanted to define a very narrow set of items which fit the definition. In my point of view, anything connected to the internet is providing data. The world is starting to wake up to that."

    SM: "There are devices which blur the line between consumer and business. That's been an up and coming trend. Can you tell me about the background of myDevices?"

    KB: "We started as a division of a company called Avanquest, which was a software publisher for past 30 years, selling boxed software in retail stores. We had another position that did a lot of stuff in the mobility space. At the time it was obviously more people were getting more devices, and I thought 'we need a consolidated platform for connected devices.' It wasn't really called the Internet of Things yet. They authorized me to form a division called myDevices to create a platform where we can collect data and perform management on any connected devices. The question was 'How do you build a platform that can link up various devices such as sensors, HVAC, alarm, PC, smartphone, etc.? How do you make them talk to each other and define rules such as if something happens here then do this to this device over there?' And of course working with the business intelligence was important."

    "As we worked in the space it became apparent that when a consumer talks about the Internet of Things they have a different point of view about the concept compared to more technical individuals. We're still in the early adoption phase - consumers don't care about categorization, they just want things to work. When I think of a successful IoT company I think of Uber, for example. The reason Uber can exist today isn't because somebody thought of a great business model, it's because of those tiny sensors in our smartphones - the clients have an inexpensive GPS sensor and so do the drivers. From a consumer point of view their adoption will come through finished solutions. They may not even know they're ingesting an IoT type solution."

    "It's so disruptive, an on-demand workforce. They call it the 'Uber economy.' It's truly changing many different aspects of business. Most people just want their lives to improve and become more efficient, faster and cheaper.

    SM: "In terms of what you guys are doing right now, is it data, manufacturing, a little bit of both?"

    KB: "In terms of our business model, what we have done built an IoT platform so other companies that want to participate in the concept don't have to build their own. This could be a hardware manufacturer who makes gateways and sensors, or many other verticals. We've got customers that are consumer electronic retailers, for example. An IoT platform connects devices, handles scheduling, rules, and business intelligence - we license that platform to them and also help provide professional services. We'll work with them to help build out their IoT solution as well.

    SM: "How long have you been up and running with this current business model?"

    KB: "We announced the platform in October of this year, but the platform has been in development for several years and we've been talking and meeting with customers since the beginning of January, 2015. We're pretty mature in the technology."

    SM: "Sounds like there's plenty of opportunity for evolution. What's coming ahead down the road?"

    KB: "I just let history dictate our road map. When the internet first came out people had to build websites from scratch, then the technology improved, so it became easier to do that. The same thing will happen with IoT - you're not going to have to do everything from scratch. I think 'Easy IoT' is the direction for 2016. I also think there's a lot of evolution in device and sensor discoveries. Trying to onboard these devices manually is quite laborious so there will be innovations in that area. Predictive analysis is also important - envisioning problems that may happen beforehand. For instance, a device to detect when hospital patients get out of bed and fall down. If the device can predict when that person will get up a nurse can get in there in advance to help them"

    SM: "Can you name any of the companies you're working with and provide some examples of what you're doing for them?"

    KB: "I can tell you we have a large consumer electronics retailer as a customer. They're trying to provide better customer service to their millions of customers. Thru our device detection technology, with their permission, we can help gather information off devices inside the home - make, model serial number, uptime, etc. - so when the person calls the customer support line the service representative has all the information they need at their fingertips to help so long as the customer grants access. The number of connected devices can make it difficult for a consumer to communicate what the problem is, especially if there is no interface or they don't know it exists or what it is."

    SM: "What is your focus about security? Is it a combination of process, technology, or both?"

    KB: "I think that's the biggest inhibitor to IoT success - security. Some say it's standards, but I don't think that's it at all. It's complex because it's technical and processes. It becomes even more complex because there isn't a single point of failure; it involves multiple vendors. You start with the hardware, but if they don't do their job at that level of making it impossible to hack into the hardware then it breaks right there. In terms of our platform, we're secure when we take the data from the device into our cloud and talk to individual databases which are secure. But we're also interacting with other databases and APIs which go to other organizations. Everyone has to be doing their job right with security, and it's a team effort. It's out of any single company's control."

    SM: "Do you see at this moment more activity on the consumer front, the business side, or an equal split?"

    KB: "It's more on the business side. Consumers won't proactively say 'I've got to go do IoT' - with the internet, people found they could go to Amazon and buy things, so they go and do it. The businesses are really the first to come online. In 2015 there was an initial "wow, connected devices and IoT - how interesting" factor - but people didn't really know what to do. Now we're starting to engage with customers and potential customers to see how they can apply it in business. It's coming from a lot of different verticals; retail, health care, industrial - all over the place."

    SM: "Which sectors are the strongest?"

    KB: "It's balanced fairly well throughout the industries. It's interesting because there are certain businesses adopting it more rapidly than others. It's like building a bridge - there's the beginning of the bridge, which is the old way of doing business, then the other end which is the IoT way. It can be simple or complex; some companies need to build an entire bridge whereas others just need to put a plank in. For example, a water softener company that sells to a customer on a monthly basis. It needs to be connected to an IoT solution, so the service reps who change out the salts on a regular basis can only go to the ones which need servicing. The customer gets to see their water usage per day so there's a benefit to both sides. The customer and the business already exist here and they're just enhancing it by adding the IoT capability, so they're just putting in the last plank. If you look at a more complex company where there's a traditional business they need to build an entire bridge."

    SM: "What would a larger bridge look like?"

    KB: "It depends on the nature of the business. If we go back to that consumer electronic retailer example I mentioned, they want to provide better service by 'Uber-izing' the business. That organization has a marketing department, customer support, sales - it's an ongoing multibillion dollar business which is highly complex. If they implement a change it can touch every part of the business. They need to meet with every department to gather user needs and outcomes for IoT. There's a huge spectrum of knowledge; they may have highly technical people with definite ideas on what they want IoT to accomplish, or they might have someone in marketing who doesn't even know what IoT means. There's a process of educating people about getting devices and sensors connected and talking to each other, improving efficiencies etc. It changes dramatically from one company to the next, but when building that entire bridge you have to work with the departments to assess what has to be done and what their needs are.

    SM: "Have you experienced any challenges with the connectivity concept?"

    KB: "The biggest issues are being solved with new technology. One major issue is battery power in constrained locations, like agricultural or marine environments. If you've got a sensor out in the middle of the field and the cellular or Wi-Fi isn't good, you don't want to change or recharge a battery every day. There's some new connectivity options out there such as LoRa or Sigfox. Connectivity options from very close to far away such as NFC, BLE, Wi-Fi then cellular. The problem with cellular is the cost and the consumption at the sensor level of the battery. Now what's come out is some old RF technology invented by Semtech called LoRa which can be applied here. It works like a cell tower by deploying gateways. The sensors can travel about 15 minutes - they're low on battery consumption since they're not always on. The sensors hibernate, wake up, then send signals as needed. This can be every 15 minutes for example. Batteries can last for years now. Connectivity is becoming less of a problem thanks to advances such as these."

    Also see:

    The hidden pitfalls of Internet of Things development

    10 ways to implement IoT for business advantage

    A secret to IoT success: Start small

    IoT packaging can help healthcare industry save $10 billion annually

    About

    Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

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