Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Reboot (of sorts): The IoT has got me down. I think we've lost the plot.

The IoT (Internet of Things) has got me down.  I think we've lost the plot.

In most science fiction I've read (and seen), technology is ubiquitous and blends into the background.  The author of a science fiction book may go into excruciating detail explaining the technology, but that is par for the course.

In science fiction films the technology tends to be taken for granted.  Outside of plot devices, all the cool stuff is "just a part of life".

Re-watch Blade Runner, Minority Report, etc. Do the characters obsess (via smartphone or other personal device) over the temperature of their home while they are away?  Do they gleefully purchase Internet connected cameras and watch what their pets are up to?

It is 2014 and we buy IoT gadgets that demand our attention and time.  Nest and Dropcam: I am looking at you.

Beyond "Where is my Jet Pack?", I want "Set and Forget" technology.  The old antiquated "Security Monitoring" services (e.g. ADT) got it partially right. You lived with it. You didn't focus on it and you weren't visiting web pages to obsess over your house's security state.  But that model is dying (or should be). It is expensive, proprietary and requires a human in the loop ($$$).

What do we replace it with?

I think that the "Internet" in the IoT is secondary.  First, I want a NoT (Network of things) that is focused on making my house sensors work together.  Sure, if I have a flood, fire or a break in, I want to be notified wherever I am at (both in the house and out).  When I am away from my home  is where the Internet part of IoT comes into play.

My current Panoptes prototype (based on X10) monitors my house for motion and door events. My wife or I review events (via our smartphone) in the morning when we wake up. It gives me valuable information, such as "when did my teenage son get to bed?" and "was mother-in-law having a sleepless night?" and "is mother-in-law up right now?".  Reviewing this info doesn't require the Internet but does require a local network connection.

I also register for "door events" before I go to bed. This immediately alerts me (via smartphone) if  "mother-in-law is confused and has wandered outside".

When I leave the house, I can monitor (via XMPP using my smartphone) activity in the house. When I know everyone is out, I can register (also via XMPP)  for door/motion events. I can tell if someone is entering my house (our neighborhood has had a recent break in).

This is an important Internet aspect of Panoptes.  I rarely use it though.  My main use of Panoptes turns out to be when I am at home.

So, I want IoT stuff, but I want it to be "Set and Forget".  This is the primary focus in my series of Monitoring projects.


  1. I see the same madness for monitoring, but I think it's just the typical over-enthusiasm of any new technology. Sort of a 'Cambrian explosion' followed by a rapid extinction as people come to realise that many of the products don't fit into the real world. Some will survive, but since we can't predict which, they play all the hands they can. Think pets.com.

    It will die down, but the question of how to handle all this new data is a great one. The answer for the earlier Internet was 'search', which works for archives, not live feeds. It would be great if people could learn how to define filters and combinatoric feeds for their various information sources, but I doubt anyone outside of software will. (Perhaps you've seen IFFT? (not related to the FFT))

    Reminds me of a line: "Despite a tremendous increase in available facts, there were remarkably few insights."

  2. You make valid points and I agree. But I want to go further (beyond IFFT and its kinds). For home monitors I want them to be completely boring. They should not (at least not at an individual level) be programmable.
    I want a flood monitor that, once set, will do its job for 10 years (ideally without asking me to change batteries every year or two).
    Remember phones before smartphones? I don't want to go back, but the "phone" aspect of my smartphone annoys me. I miss the haptic feedback of real keys. I miss NOT accidentally butt dialing someone randomly because I didn't "lock" the phone after I hung up.

    My house shouldn't require so much attention.