Today, IoT device ecosystems are collections of sensors providing data to cloud services that do all the computation. The ‘brains’ of IoT are not in the device, but in the internet. For example, SmartCap’s wearable product for employees in the manufacturing sector measures the brain’s electrical activity to provide operator fatigue alerts. Silent Herdsman, uses sensors on cows to help a cloud service predict a farm’s yearly milk production.
I have a vision of what the future will be. But, before I share it, let’s look at a few numbers - the global IoT market will grow to $1.7 trillion in 2020. Gartner predicts 8.4 billion connected "things" in use this year - up 31% from 2016. The consumer segment is the largest user of connected things - 5.2 billion units in 2017.
From sensory to ‘smart’ devices
These numbers make it obvious that we are in the midst of a very real IoT r/evolution. Right alongside the growth of dumb or sensory devices, there’s the growth of ‘brainy’ devices or as I like to call them - Smart Internet Devices (SIDs). With the advent of low power, in-memory computing, we’ll see much more computation happening inside an SID. And several SIDs will operate autonomously than rely on an internet service. SIDs like the HiMirror or the Ray Super Remote, already resemble small, yet full-fledged computational ecosystems. That said, costly end-point upgrades and resulting inflexibility to change might slow down this shift.
It’s likely that localized nano-ecosystems of SIDs (NEoSIDs) will drive a shift in consumption. A NEoSID looks a bit like Nest Labs’ self-learning thermostat exchanges information with products, such as Kevo’s smart lock. When a homeowner enters the house, the lock communicates with Nest, which then adjusts the temperature to the homeowner's preference.
More things, more security breaches
While in the near future smart devices and dumb sensory devices will co-exist, I foresee an increase in NEoSIDs over purely sensory devices. According to the ‘Cisco Global Cloud Index’, IoT devices will generate 600 ZB of data each year by 2020, up from 145 ZB per year in 2015. And this is indicative of the vulnerability of IoT devices - personal data.
Sooner or later, NEoSIDs will flourish due to the need for security and a resulting need for control. The need for local interactions, privacy, and data protection will likely drive this shift. Devices like Freedombox for example give communities control over encrypted communications while helping maintain their internet privacy. This is an extension of the control that is more amenable to NEoSIDs.
The future of IoT is exciting to me as I see two parallel revolutions. On one hand, large numbers of simple smart devices will power the Internet brains of Apple, Google and Amazon. On the other, NEoSIDs will provide local alternatives as a rebellion to these data behemoths. May the best win!
The author is Managing Director, ThoughtWorks India
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