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YOU CAN’T SEE the In­ter­net of Things, but trust me, it’s there—and grow­ing rapidly as ev­ery imag­in­able kind of “thing” be­comes (or at least tries to be­come) net savvy. But what ex­actly does IOT mean? And if we move be­yond the quaint Jet­sonesque vi­sion of the fu­ture, what are Iot’s real-world im­pli­ca­tions? To get a han­dle on where our in­creas­ingly in­ter­con­nected world is head­ing, we tracked down Dave Evans, for­mer chief fu­tur­ist for Cisco and co-founder of the Sil­i­con Val­ley IOT startup, Stringify.— Bob Ankosko

S&V: Let’s start with the ba­sics.

We’ve been hear­ing a lot about Iot—the In­ter­net of Things—over the past cou­ple of years. It’s so all en­com­pass­ing. How do you de­fine it?

DE: In the sim­plest sense, the

In­ter­net of Things is about ev­ery­day ob­jects con­nect­ing to the in­ter­net— things such as your cof­fee pot, your lights, your car, wear­able de­vices, on and on. His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, com­put­ers and net­work­ing de­vices were pri­mar­ily con­nected to the in­ter­net, but to­day bil­lions of other types of things are get­ting con­nected. They con­nect be­cause there is some value in do­ing so. For ex­am­ple, your wear­able might con­nect to a ser­vice for up­load­ing fit­ness stats so you can track your progress or get feed­back on how to im­prove your work­outs. In a more tech­ni­cal sense, this is about de­vices ( things) with em­bed­ded tech­nol­ogy and sen­sors con­nect­ing to the in­ter­net and us­ing stan­dard pro­to­cols to ex­change in­for­ma­tion. S&V: Let’s break things down a bit. What are the key ar­eas of IOT? DE: The key ar­eas are the things them­selves, the em­bed­ded tech­nol­ogy and sen­sors within these things, the in­ter­net, the APIS (ap­pli­ca­tion pro­gram­ming in­ter­faces), the cloud, and new busi­ness mod­els.

What’s most in­ter­est­ing is that the types of things we can con­nect to the in­ter­net are no longer con­fined to com­put­ers and other tra­di­tional de­vices. They are ev­ery­day ob­jects that ex­pand their ca­pa­bil­ity and value be­cause of their con­nec­tions—not just to the in­ter­net but to other things as well, which means they can work as a sys­tem. Imag­ine if your smart home could au­to­mat­i­cally turn off the lights, lock the front door, ad­just the tem­per­a­ture, and set the alarm sys­tem when it’s time to go to bed. This is a much bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence than go­ing to each thing in­di­vid­u­ally and ad­just­ing it.

The em­bed­ded tech­nol­ogy and sen­sors within these things refers to the in­nate ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the de­vices them­selves. Thanks to Moore’s Law, tech­nol­ogy that was once im­pos­si­ble is now com­mon­place and em­bed­ded in ev­ery­day things. The tiny com­puter in­side of a smart ther­mo­stat has more com­put­ing power than the en­tire planet had a few decades ago. Thanks to MEMS tech­nol­ogy (Mi­cro-elec­tro-me­chan­i­cal Sys­tems), sen­sors have be­come smaller and cheaper. Sen­sors that track tem­per­a­ture, hu­mid­ity, vi­bra­tion, ac­cel­er­a­tion, lo­ca­tion, and more are now easy to place into ev­ery­day things, giv­ing those things the abil­ity to sense the world in ways that were pre­vi­ously im­pos­si­ble.

More and more com­pa­nies are ex­pos­ing their ser­vices through open APIS, which pro­vide stan­dard­ized ways in which one can ac­cess a given ser­vice. For ex­am­ple, it is now triv­ial for your smart ther­mo­stat to con­nect to a weather ser­vice via an API to de­ter­mine how best to set it­self.

Your smart ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem can now eas­ily con­nect to that same ser­vice to de­ter­mine whether or not to run the sprin­klers that day.

The cloud helps to hide the com­plex­i­ties of the in­fras­truc­ture be­hind these ser­vices, so de­vel­op­ers can now fo­cus on ac­cess­ing ser­vices, with­out wor­ry­ing about the in­fras­truc­ture.

And, of course, all of this leads to new busi­ness mod­els. As the world be­comes more open, more con­nected, and more aware thanks to bil­lions of sen­sors, more com­pa­nies can of­fer ac­cess to these ser­vices, which cre­ates en­tirely new op­por­tu­ni­ties. This also low­ers the bar­ri­ers to en­try so any­one with a great idea can change the world with IOT.

S&V: Which of these ar­eas are most com­pelling right now? And how does home entertainment fit in?

DE: When we talk about the In­ter­net of Things, we of­ten fo­cus on the things them­selves. While the things are of great value, one could ar­gue that it’s re­ally the in­tel­li­gence in the cloud that has the greater value. The soft­ware world is open­ing up through ex­ten­sive use of APIS. This es­sen­tially means that a dumb thing can now be­come an in­tel­li­gent thing, sim­ply by hav­ing a con­nec­tion and tap­ping into the vast knowl­edge that is in the cloud.

This has huge im­pli­ca­tions for home entertainment. Ob­vi­ously, we have seen in­creased ac­cess to in­ter­net­based ser­vices such as Net­flix, but this is very much the be­gin­ning. Tele­vi­sion—with your per­mis­sion—will watch you while you watch it and learn what you like and what you dis­like, per­haps by ob­serv­ing your fa­cial ex­pres­sions. This in­for­ma­tion will be an­a­lyzed and fed through ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms to in­tel­li­gently tai­lor con­tent that is best suited for you. One could even imag­ine smart pro­gram­ming that rec­og­nizes that chil­dren are also watch­ing TV and au­to­mat­i­cally avoids in­ap­pro­pri­ate shows.

But it goes be­yond smart tele­vi­sions. In­for­ma­tion about the shows you are watch­ing could also be au­to­mat­i­cally fed to other nearby smart de­vices. For ex­am­ple, get­ting sta­tis­tics on your fa­vorite sports team sent to your ipad while you’re watch­ing the game or get­ting in­for­ma­tion on where to buy a jacket or dress an ac­tor or ac­tress is wear­ing.

S&V: Voice con­trol is all the rage to­day with Alexa, Siri, Google As­sis­tant, and other vir­tual as­sis­tants vy­ing to dom­i­nate the space. Will voice con­trol be the dom­i­nant means of con­trol for home entertainment and smart-home ap­pli­ca­tions in the near term and longer term?

DE: Ul­ti­mately this is all about tech­nol­ogy adapt­ing to us. Since the in­cep­tion of tech­nol­ogy, we have al­ways had to adapt to it. But now, some­thing pro­found is hap­pen­ing: Tech­nol­ogy is adapt­ing to us. A voice com­mand, a ges­ture, an emo­tion, and even a thought, in some cases.

Voice will be one of the dom­i­nant ways in which we in­ter­act with tech­nol­ogy, but cer­tainly not the only one. There are times when voice is sim­ply not ap­pro­pri­ate. In a noisy room, for ex­am­ple, a ges­ture might be a bet­ter so­lu­tion for turn­ing down the lights.

Con­trol of smart de­vices will be ac­tive and pas­sive. An ex­am­ple of ac­tive con­trol is when you walk up to a ther­mo­stat and ad­just it man­u­ally. An ex­am­ple of pas­sive con­trol

is when your ther­mo­stat de­tects a change in weather and au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justs it­self.

This will only be­come more ad­vanced over time. To­day, we are very much in the ac­tive con­trol phase of home au­to­ma­tion—mean­ing, most of the time, we ac­tively con­trol our smart de­vices. We ut­ter a voice com­mand to con­trol the lights, lock the front door, or set the tem­per­a­ture. Over time, smart homes will evolve into in­tel­li­gent homes that learn our habits and make ad­just­ments au­to­mat­i­cally. Much like how your e-mail sys­tem over time learns the dif­fer­ence be­tween nor­mal e-mail and junk e-mail, ex­pect to see more and more learn­ing abil­i­ties in the smart home as it evolves.

S&V: Com­pa­nies such as Piccolo and Leap Mo­tion are work­ing on ges­ture con­trol. What role do you think mo­tion-based in­ter­faces will play now and later on?

DE: I be­lieve mo­tion-based in­ter­faces will play a part in the larger or­ches­tra­tion and con­trol of things. For ex­am­ple, when you use a mod­ern com­puter to­day, you may ac­tively switch be­tween us­ing the key­board, mouse, a touch­screen, and even voice in­put. All these ways to in­ter­act with tech­nol­ogy work to­gether.

One does not nec­es­sar­ily ob­so­lete the other. Mo­tion-based in­ter­faces will play a role where they com­ple­ment other forms of con­trol, or when those other forms of con­trol are sim­ply not ap­pro­pri­ate. I be­lieve ges­ture-based tech­nol­ogy will play a sig­nif­i­cant role in two ar­eas that are grow­ing very quickly: aug­mented re­al­ity (AR) and vir­tual re­al­ity (VR).

S&V: Where do you see video dis­plays head­ing in the smart home? How soon be­fore large-scale pro­jec­tion and/or rollup “video walls” be­come com­mon­place? Or do you see some­thing dif­fer­ent emerg­ing?

DE: We are only a few years away from rollup dis­plays, the thick­ness of wall­pa­per, be­ing very af­ford­able. We are even see­ing 3D print­ing of flex­i­ble video dis­plays that can roll up. How­ever, aug­mented re­al­ity is catch­ing up quickly. Although aug­mented-re­al­ity and vir­tual-re­al­ity head­sets are quite bulky by to­mor­row’s stan­dards, Moore’s Law once again dic­tates that they will rapidly be­come smaller, lighter, and cheaper. Within a decade, it is rea­son­able to as­sume that we will have nor­mal-look­ing glasses, ca­pa­ble of dis­play­ing just about any im­age, which begs the ques­tion: If ev­ery­one can have a per­sonal dis­play in front of their eyes, wher­ever they are, will we need large dis­plays that are fixed to the wall?

The full ver­sion of this in­ter­view ap­pears on soun­dand­vi­sion.com.

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