The IoT market is still fragmented, but the energy behind it is huge. As we explored the conference and listened to the talks, a few common themes emerged.
Firstly, there is a lot of enthusiasm for IoT among businesses and enterprise. Many of the stands offered ‘big’ solutions for industry, utilities and cities (IIoT). However one of the key challenges is bringing the technology to consumers with sufficient ease of use – connecting lots of devices is just too hard at the moment. Consumer IoT is a harder sell right now. As Jeff Blankenburg, Alexa Evangelist from Amazon put it, many users struggle to program a DVD player, so installing lots of connected IoT devices is currently unrealistic.
Voice control is the second theme. There is a big buzz around voice control because it can allow more natural, less technical interaction with devices. Blankenburg noted that the success of ‘voice’ is dependent on the ‘intelligence’ that’s being used to interpret what we mean. This is one of many areas where machine learning and artificial intelligence in the cloud will enhance the capabilities of connected things.
The third theme is context recognition. Devices, including robots, are becoming steadily more able to understand context. Context recognition is important for IoT solutions because it facilitates conditional functionality. Chris Jones discussed this in the concept of the smart home. The truly smart home is one which acts before you tell it to – where it learns what you want, so that you can get on with the business of living. In this case, Chris argued, the home itself becomes a robot. The home can ‘perceive’ surroundings, make a ‘judgement’ of how to respond based on that input, then ‘act’ in the physical world according to that judgement.
In case you were wondering, iRobot make those vacuum cleaner robots. In fact, having sold 15 million of them, they have some big ideas about their place in the smart home. When the robot cleans, it makes a detailed 2-D map of each home, which could provide other IoT devices with contextual data about the unique layout of the user’s home.
Our last theme is the importance of spatial positioning and mapping. Spatial positioning is a key element of contextual awareness. New mobile technologies will play a part in providing these services, and many are working on this, including Google. Lars Martensson of Ericsson spoke about how 5G connectivity will enable new possibilities of scale within IoT, where machine to machine communication can only go so far. Telcos are becoming increasingly visible in IoT, and are perhaps uniquely positioned to implement IoT platforms on a big scale.
In our opinion integration alongside context will be key to consumer adoption of IoT. Alexa is great, but if she really is going to be my Assistant – voice controlled, pro-active or otherwise – then she needs to be wherever I am when I need her.