As more “things” on planet Earth are converted to the inventory of digitally connected Internet devices, the roles and responsibilities of web developers and technology managers will need to evolve in keeping pace with the ever expanding list of appliances and gadgets that require a web interface. This global trend is known as “The Internet of Things” or IoT, and as a vision has inspired that same premise for “The Web of Things”, or WoT, and incorporates similar characteristics and application models. This piece will examine the technical features that encapsulate The Web of Things, and I will provide examples of current applications in use today, as well as offer some hopeful prospects for the future of the web and “things.”
What is this Web of Things?
As I briefly mentioned in my introduction above, the WoT is a part of the IoT, and several ideas or visions endure as to what each signifies with respect to the forethought and consideration of how they are implemented and their consequences. The impact to human and artificial intelligence is another concern, not from just a philosophical standpoint, but from intellectual, technological, and governance perspectives as well. As I’ve researched the subject of both, it is clear that there is an accelerated pace to convert “things” to becoming “smart” web connected devices that create, store, and share data; in addition, these smart devices can be programmed to make decisions based on the data it has created and data from other sources. In essence, we have an amalgam of technologies, equipment, machineries, systems, methods, structures, and devices that when added to the web need to be developed, implemented, monitored, maintained, upgraded, and governed. Frank daCosta in his Net of Things Blogspot compares and contrasts the traditional approaches to progress of the IoT/WoT with natural interactive systems including the ways ants, bees, and superorganisims coexist. Frank’s blog sub-heading sums up his approach to the current trend:
For many pundits (and product managers), the Internet of Things is simply another place to apply the same old traditional networking ideas, such as IPv6. But in actuality, a completely different approach is needed if the IoT is truly to reach its potential. That approach will be informed by lessons learned from nature and other massive interacting systems.
Technical managers will need to learn how to integrate their current business models and web governance systems to accept the rapid pace as traditional devices continue to be adopted into the “smart” category of web-enabled happiness. There is no one size fits all solution, but there are efforts to outline a uniform strategy that supports the process from a technological outlook.
A uniform technology
The unifying premise behind adoption of the WoT is that all “things” will be connected with similar technology, with a uniform interface to access the global functionality among all smart devices and objects. Several projects are underway to achieve the goal of using HTTP as an application protocol rather than as a transport protocol similar to Web Services or Web API. The technical aspects also rely on the synchronous functionality of smart devices through what is known as a Representational State Transfer (REST), which is a style of software architecture for distributed systems including the World Wide Web (WWW), and is the predominant web services design model. The WoT model also relies on current Web syndication functionality such as Atom, which is the standard for syndication formats, or Comet which is the standard for web server push technology.
Real-world implementation examples
Several implementations are in place today that leverage the WoT type of technology, including remote DVR scheduling, remote home security systems monitoring and administration, and remote home electricity grid usage monitoring. These are just a few of the current implementations which bring us one step closer to the WoT, and it will be interesting to see how each evolves in the coming years as more devices are enhanced and functionality is improved.
DIRECTV’s web interface that allows users to remotely set their DVR to record future programs using the DVR Scheduler via any PC or mobile phone is one example. The requirements to connect to the DVR remotely means that you must own a DIRECTV Plus® DVR receiver (R15, R16, R22), DIRECTV Plus® HD DVR Receiver (HR20 and above), or TiVo Series 2 receivers with 6.4a software. To send a record request from directv.com requires a personal computer, Internet browser, an Internet connection, and a directv.com username and password. To send a record request from a cell phone requires a mobile phone, an Internet browser, a mobile phone data plan without restrictions on addresses you can visit, and a directv.com username and password.
CPI Security allows remote device control over your home or business monitoring system using its InTouch system, where you can remotely arm or disarm your home, control energy sources, receive email or text notifications, and view current status or recent activity from the monitoring system. Using the web interface or the mobile apps to access your account with login and password credentials, you gain the ability to modify settings and administrate the monitoring system remotely from any location.
PlotWatt is a free service that connects to smart utility meters at homes and businesses and records electricity usage displaying the current day, past seven days, or previous thirty days usage in addition to real-time kW hours. With a login and password credential, you can connect your smart meter to their system and monitor electrical usage from any PC or mobile phone with Internet access and a web browser. PlotWatt also sorts out where the electricity is being utilized including device-level appliance status for objects such as heating and A/C, dryer, refrigerator, always on devices, EV charging, and other. While the service is unable to connect to utility installed smart meters, they are working on being able to connect to proprietary data systems; PlotWatt works with TEDs, WattVisions, and many more smart meters coming soon. While the ability to manage appliances is not part of the current PlotWatt business model and service, it is certainly a possibility in the foreseeable future as advances are made with programmable smart appliances and devices, and remote access abilities are enabled. Of course, this gets into the governance issues with respect to who controls certain devices.
Do any of you see parallels to Orwell’s “1984“? Will the WoT be the end of solitude and the next step toward a totalitarian society? What are the governance issues that need to be sorted out with respect to the Web of Things? Technical managers will have new talking points on their agendas as technology continues to advance and devices continue to get added to the WoT list.
Oh, the places you might go! The future of WoT
Will web enabled robots have your spritzer and fruit and cheese tray ready at your beck and call from a “White Glove” or “At Your Service” API app triggered from your smart phone? Where the app allows you to schedule the perfect time for the smart object to pour the glass and pull the food out allowing them to arrive at the correct serving temperatures based on your expected arrive time established by the link to the GPS. Not to be confused with applications and companies by the same names, but by the restaurant style of service that could be catered in your own home by your very own Food and Beverage Butler — let’s call it the “FAButler” as shown in Figure E. Think of the possibilities with your very own automatic aide-de-camp or your very own electronic personal concierge if you will, programmed to learn your favorite beverages, responding to your previous meal habits, and knowing your preferred brand of cocktail sauce. Of course, the “FAButler” is also programmed to connect to the refrigerator, wine cellar, and pantry to know what is in stock, and to update the purchase list as the inventory is utilized. And all this functionality is controlled and governed by the FAButler System, which is a cloud implementation. Now, what happens if the FAButler pours too much alcohol? Is it you or your organization that will be held liable for any damages that could result from a user or guest having too high a blood alcohol content level?
The FAButler is not that farfetched, and has similarities and parallels to the fictional character “Rosie”, the household robot that does all the housework and some of the parenting in the 1962 cartoon The Jetsons. The premise of the cartoon places the family residing in Orbit City one hundred years into the future in the year 2062. Now that we are just over half way to the future date, a mere fifty years from 2062, how much more realistic does “Rosie” the robot appear today?
A very simplified visual representation of the interconnected dependences of the FAButler Systems is shown in Figure F. The system starts with the mobile phone application, the FAButler App which is the consumer interface with the entire system, and allows the smart phone user to make requests or speak with the FAButler, while it is also making selections and choosing from a list of suggested items based on the current inventory, or making suggestions for items that could be added to the inventory to create fabulous culinary delights. The app connects to the cloud implemented FAButler System, which connects to the FAButler device itself, and a host of vendors that are also linked into the system. The FAButler System allows you to communicate with your FAButler to order the creation of meals and such on the fly wherever you may be, on a plane, on the road, or in your office. The FAButler then communicates with the refrigerator, wine cellar, and pantry to pull the items and prepare the requested meal just at the scheduled time and place. How many more permutations of web connectedness can you find with this simple example?
The advancing changes where objects go from analog or unconnected devices to digitized and connected “smart” devices include several additional opportunities for web application development, device controls, access permissions, security, governance, and vulnerability assessment, in addition to other functions and tasks. The tendency to migrate more objects, things if you will, into the Web, brings web developers and information technology managers to a new territory for development, risk, and opportunity.