October 9, 2014


IoT: Towards Limitless Possibilities

Internet of Things, or IoT, represents a major departure in the history of the Internet. No longer limited to connecting virtual applications on computing devices, the Internet has begun to power billions of everyday devices in the physical world - from parking meters to home thermostats, to biosensors. In trying to grasp why there’s been this explosion in the number of digitally connected objects, I keep returning to three axioms of the digital age.

Let’s start with something which is familiar to anyone following the technology sector - Moore’s Law. Described by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, it posits that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months. As a result, more computation can be put into the same package and the price per unit of computation continues to go down dramatically. This completely explains the drastic drop in prices of an accelerometer from $2 in 2005 to 40 cents in 2015, or a gyroscope from $1.80 in 2010 to only 90 cents in 2015.

Today, a computer the size of a grain of salt (1x1x1 mm) includes a solar cell, a thin-film battery, memory, a pressure sensor, and a wireless radio and antenna. Similarly, cameras the size of a grain of salt now have 250x250–pixel resolution. Sensors the size of a speck of dust (0.05x0.005 mm) can detect and communicate temperature, pressure and movement. In the future, things connected to the Internet may be hard for the human eye to see.

A corollary of Moore’s Law is Koomey’s Law, which posits that the energy efficiency of computation doubles roughly every one and a half years. That means, in essence, that the energy required for the same amount of computation halves in that time span. If a MacBook Air had a 1992 energy efficiency, it would completely drain its battery in a mere 1.5 seconds!

The third principle is Metcalfe’s law, which deals with the impact of the network. Formulated by Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, it states that the value of a network increases exponentially to the number of its nodes. This is the foundational law on which many of the social networking platforms are based: The value of an additional user does not increase the value on a linear scale but rather multiplies the number of connections, and thus the value, for all users. Think about it in the context of the Internet of Things: The number of connected sensors was just 10 million in 2007, rose to 3.5 billion in 2010, and is expected to reach 1 trillion by 2020.

Moore’s and Koomey’s laws make the embedding of chips into almost everything, both economically viable and technically feasible. The chips get smaller and cheaper, and their energy footprint decreases dramatically. But it’s Metcalfe’s Law that implies a strong incentive to actually pull that off, because the more nodes we connect to the network, the more valuable the network becomes, and the more value we can derive from it.

The convergence of connected devices with applications and services allows us to constantly monitor the device environment, analyze the information, and take appropriate actions, all in near real time, to ensure a seamless and intuitive consumer experience.  The ability of IoT devices to interact with each other and analyze real-time information to take intuitive action lends itself to a plethora of possibilities across consumer and industrial scenarios.

One development facilitated by the IoT that particularly fascinates me, is the building of smart cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that in 2050, 70% of the world’s population will reside in cities. Kevin Ashton, who coined the term, “Internet of Things”, talks about how 40% of indoor water consumption is actually wasted. If the information about it could be monitored and acted on, there could be huge savings in per capita water consumption. By involving citizens in smart connected systems, governments can and will harness real-time information in densely populated areas to create more efficient traffic management, lighting systems, waste recycling, and other government services. This will lead to an environment where we can start building cities that are sustainable, inclusive, and ultimately smart.

The possibilities are limitless. I’m very confident that future generations will enjoy experiences that are currently unimaginable - all made possible by the Internet of Things, or as we in HCL call it, the Internet of Experiences.

(This is an exclusive excerpt from ‘The Possibilities are Limitless’, a curtain raiser for the inaugural issue of CTO Straight Talk, a first of its kind interactive magazine created especially for Product Engineering professionals. To explore more possibilities through the Internet of Things, grab your digital copy of the magazine or download the “CXO Straight Talk“App.)

CTO Straight Talk on iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cxo-straight-talk/id888828302?mt=8

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