The Internet of Things

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on right before our eyes.  It’s not our smart watches, social networks, or streaming media — it is the Internet of Things (IoT).  This isn’t the world’s most descriptive label, and it’s a rather awkward one at that.  But it’s the tip of the iceberg of changes that are coming our way.  If you were to ask me what exactly the IoT is, I would describe it as the convergence of advanced networking software with inexpensive hardware that leads to a ubiquitous computing landscape.  That’s more descriptive, but also pretty packed together.  I’ll use this blog post to unpack what exactly I mean, and why it’s meaningful.

We’ve spent the last several decades constructing and refining many layers of what we refer to as the Internet.  It’s important to distinguish the Internet from the web.  The web represents the digital world we explore with our browsers and phones.  Tivix has done a great deal of work within that sphere, but there’s a lot of work that goes on beyond it as well.  The Internet consists of the processes and infrastructure that transmit content from a web server to your web browser.  We spend a lot of time understanding how data is transmitted over the internet and how to optimize it so content is delivered quickly and consistently.  It is also appropriate to describe mobile apps and single page apps as utilizing the Internet more than utilizing the web.  In these scenarios, the end user is not browsing content, but interacting with data through apps.

At the end of the day, we’re now living in a world where we can easily jump on to wifi at home, most businesses, or through mobile wireless coverage provided by cell carriers.  The Internet is ubiquitous, and with tools like Django REST Framework, you can make the data in the cloud accessible to anyone no matter where they are located.  But this is only one part of what makes up the IoT phenomenon.  At the same time that the Internet has been built and refined, hardware manufacturers have been striving to make “smart” hardware smaller and cheaper.  This has been primarily driven by the smartphone market, and as a consequence we’re seeing this cheap computing hardware being made available outside of the smartphone market for general purpose use.

Let’s take a look at an example of how this has played out in the broader consumer computing market.  ARM is a leading provider of microcontroller technology for mobile phones.  The size and cost of their processors have been reduced dramatically over the past 10 years and it’s architecture been widely adopted in the industry.  This made it an optimal candidate for use by the Raspberry Pi foundation for their credit card-sized computing platform.  They are available for purchase on Amazon for between $20 and $45 dollars and are capable of running full desktop computing systems.  But they also provide an interface to connect with sensors and motors.  While it’s primarily a budget-conscious educational computing platform, Raspberry Pi provides an inexpensive way to create your own “smart” devices, like programmable blinds, weather stations, or internet radio devices.  In other words, putting computers into any “thing” has become much more affordable.

What this all means is that it’s feasible to make any consumer product “smart” and able to “talk” with the wider world around it.  It also allows for companies to leverage this technology for novel interfaces with the cloud.  Take, for instance, Amazon’s Dash button.  It’s a device that’s ready to interface with the Internet and let Amazon know when you’re ready to re-stock on household items, without requiring you to use the web.  While it might sound silly or superfluous now, so did the idea of having a web browser on your phone 10 years ago.  The technology Amazon is putting into place now may mean sticking a button onto something else, but it lays the foundation for sensors in devices to trigger automatic re-ordering of supplies.  Your printer could order more ink, or your coffee machine could make sure you never experience a Monday morning without caffeine.  It’s one step closer to seamless integration of computer technology where we would have never thought to previously.

The bottom line is that computing hardware, and networking software are converging in a way that “smart” devices will just be normal devices.  Being “smart” will become the standard.  And this is how the “Internet of Things” description means that smart technology won’t be constrained to any handful of form factors or devices.  We’re excited at Tivix to be part of that phenomenon by using Django and the Django REST Framework to make the cloud accessible to “things” large and small.  The technology landscape is changing quickly, and ubiquitous computing will quickly become the new normal.