“I have the Internet of Things at my house”.
This is how Will Smith of Tested opens his review of the “SmartThings” smart-home automation system – a video which I’ve embedded right here for your convenience, because it happens to be a pretty good introduction to the IoT (as we geekily refer to it) as it pertains to actual people’s actual households and needs.
I did a bit on the IoT a while back where I talked about the basic issue of security, and then said a bit about the concept – right now, however, we’re going to have ourselves a bit of a spitball session on these questions:
– Assuming the IoT is here, what can we do with it?
– What products or services will be possible and needed/demanded?
– Are there problems or pitfalls we should act on, or consider?
To users, which is what we call regular people here (because I don’t like “consumers” that much), home automation is going to be the area of first contact with the Internet of Things, for the very straight-forward reason that we have most of our things at home. What we also have at home is most of our lives, so of course we have to look at how “things” and “life” go together – basically, that’s our initial concern: The “Life Value” of our product, from a user perspective.
Looking at the experience from the home of Will Smith, even initially-reluctant mrs. Smith clearly feels certain conveniences to have genuine value, even it it’s fairly simple – just not having to think about switching lights on or off, or, as Will recounts, walking into the bedroom with a freshly-bathed, wet baby in your arms, and the ligths just switch on as you need them. The ability to, say, install a flood monitor in your basement is something many people would benefit from too (as a lot of my fellow danes can attest to these days), and the peace of mind thing also mentioned in the video is not to be underestimated either.
These are all things that are already being done, which brings us to the first major business issue regarding IoT: Open or proprietary standards?
It looks to me like the main selling point going forwards is going to be flexibility – I’ll get to that in a moment but it definitely makes sense to focus on open standards; it even ties in conceptually to the fact that that’s what the internet is. I mean, imagine an internet for each IT manufacturer, that’d be insane, right? Well, pretty much that, for the extension of said internet.
OK, so open tech (not necessarily open source, but compatible with open standards) – but what kind? What might the needs be?
Well, where the IoT is going to shine is when it enables us to do almost anything we want with it, home-automation-wise, from simple monitoring to full-blown interaction, alarm system, and more – the aforementioned flexibility.
While that opens up, of course, to a bunch of hardware, sensors, switches, actuators etc., it also introduces the problem of complexity. From a design standpoint, however, problems are challenges to be met – assuming the above benefits, people are going to need tools to cut through the complexity.
Basically, it’s programming for non-programmers, and there’s really no way around it – as Will and Norm discuss in the video, a home automation system is basically a bunch of states and “if this, then that” statements (or ITTT’s), which is exactly what a program is. Even thinking about this can be exhausting, and it’s important to remember that most people won’t be into IoT for an interest in IoT, but for benefits like those we talked about a few paragraphs ago – we’re not going to get Gina Smith interested in programming her house, so if getting those conveniences isn’t itself convenient she’ll never be on board. You want to get into IoT? Create tools that let ordinary people negotiate this hurdle – perhaps gamify it; let’s have wee logic puzzles that can be applied to these tasks, even hard-copy ones you can print out and run around your house with. Just remember the Rube Goldberg theorem: A solution must never be more complex than the thing it’s a solution to.
Also, find interesting things to do programmatically with all that data. Energy usage statistics is just the tip of the iceberg – there’s a potential for creative use of data here, anything from, again, gamifying your house, to turning your everyday life data byproduct into art…
Finally, let’s be aware of the pitfalls. I’m going to pull a captain Obvious and basically repeat that last point: Address the height of the entry bar vis-a-vis the benefit. Sure, you can go with the “but cell phones also used to be barely-usable bricks” argument but why not break the paradigm yourself, in stead of waiting for it to erode over time? Make the door wide and give people good reason to come in.
The other main pitfall is, sorry to be a bummer, security. Both literally and conceptually – because the guys are right, these systems represent a considerable chunk of privacy being uploaded to the net, and bad people can write clever programs, too.
Literally speaking, this means security should be high (without compromising user convenience, mind you), and conceptually it means that users should be given legitimate reason to feel at ease – the systems should be designed with both of these in mind.
Phew, that was a long one, and yet we’ve only scratched the surface. Do you do IoT, and would you like to hear more? – then reach out, I’m here to help.