Just as microscopes let humans discover bacteria we could not see with the naked eye, the technologies behind the Internet of Things and big-data could help us "see" new realities. But to enable such vision we need ideas for how to overcome some interoperability issues.
The assumption that "things" are connected via sensors to networks is common these days. Indeed, factories have been highly instrumented for many years, but if we examine supply chains more closely we often lose visibility of products and processes precisely because of challenges in connecting to networks, which increasingly are wireless.
The Auto-ID Center at MIT developed a set of specifications for passive RFID wireless data collection systems at UHF frequencies, working with sister labs at Cambridge University, St. Gallen, Fudan, Keiyo, the University of Adelaide, and Kaist. The specs were licensed by GS1/EPCglobal, the worldwide association of all manufacturers.
The specs include a serialization scheme for uniquely identifying objects that has been widely adopted in the electronics industry and is spreading to other industries. Other wireless techniques to connect things include specifications at low frequency, high frequency, WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and UWB frequencies and protocols.
In addition to being able to "see" things remotely, it would be nice to add telemetry data to these transport protocols. Such data could tell us for instance how hot or cold, or how wet or dry objects are.
We could use diverse sensing techniques to measure physical, chemical, and biological qualities. For example, we could monitor the condition of bacteria, using various mechanical, optical, semiconductor, and biological sensors.
Unfortunately, there are very few common sensor specifications, especially for embedded systems that aim to minimize cost and power consumption. As a result, one hospital is running more than 90 network monitoring systems to validate, calibrate, and monitor medical devices and still has poor visibility on network interference, a hospital executive told me recently.