My embedded insulin pump called my smartphone the other day from the Internet of Things. Through an advanced sensor, an 8-bit microcontroller and low-power wireless connectivity, the pump notified me about a nasty bout of incompatibility it had with the heart monitor embedded in my fitness-oriented wrist watch. Out of rage, my smart insulin pump unilaterally decided to transfer my life savings from my bank account app to the Exiled Prince's Trust of Lower Western Nigeria.
That's not really true. I don't have a smart insulin pump or any insulin pump. But is anyone else feeling anxious about the hype surrounding the so-called Internet of Things, especially since it has been crowned as the next major growth driver for the industry? I believe that we've heard this story before and much of the IoT hype is misdirected and misguided -- so much so that it is "stuck on stupid," to paraphrase a personal hero of mine.
IoT's hockey stick growth curve
For example, Gartner Inc. states that the Internet of Things will grow
to 26 billion units installed in 2020, representing an almost 30-fold increase from 2009. Furthermore, Gartner said that IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services, in 2020. The market research firm further states IoT will result in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.
The IoT has the ear of the semiconductor industry. Everywhere you turn, the emphasis seems to focus on adding connectivity to a whole range of devices in order to generate data and produce greater intelligence. Cisco Systems is generating a number of use cases in a blog, ranging from embeddable tooth technology to wrist watches for the lonely that seem a bit far-fetched.
Is this the next wave on which the industry will hang its hat? Haven't we heard this story before? Wasn't it the RFID craze that fizzled just a half a decade ago?
Now that the explosive growth of mobility is apparently slowing, the industry needs something to glom onto as the next growth driver and the next provider of design challenges. At the most recent DesignCon, an Intel executive noted that IoT is rife with opportunities. "Chief among opportunities for growth and development is the production of ultra-low-cost, ultra-low-power consuming chips," according to an article recently published on EE Times.
Living on the edge
Most of the hype seems directed at the edge. Hanging your hat on low-cost, standards-based sensor chips with 8-bit microprocessors and some RF connectivity seems absurd. While Gartner is predicting huge volumes, most of these devices will be very low-end, so much so that a typical refrigerator will have multiple devices installed. These standards-based devices will be a commodity, and no one makes much money on a commodity.
Let's face it, most of the opportunities predicted from IoT are nothing new. Everything will be connected but most those items -- cars, appliances, printers, etc. -- have been talked about for more than a decade. The big differentiator this time is advanced sensor technology, but how long before these sensors become commodities? OK, so most of these devices will be IPv6, but what's the big deal about what standards they use to communicate? Most of the chatter about IoT seems to be evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Remember when the hype cycle started with RFID, which would scan the expiration date of the milk carton in your refrigerator, alert end-users to the situation and then order you a new carton?
Now industry experts paint the picture of the IoT tennis racket, which will tell you when you hit the ball on the sweet spot and how much force you used. How actionable will that information be for you? How will you use that information for self-improvement? Who will pay an extra $200 for an IoT racket? (You can: Just go to Babolat's website.)
Then there is the case of the IoT-enabled insulin pump. For convenience sake, it might make sense, but in terms of security, we are just not there yet. What if some hacker decides to take your insulin pump for a "joyride"?