The advent of the Internet of Things has ushered in a new era of innovation, and Plug and Play has remained at the forefront of this revolution in everyday connectivity. Yesterday evening, some 300 entrepreneurs gathered here at Plug and Play headquarters in Sunnyvale to hear five panelists from across the globe discuss emerging trends and challenges in IoT. The panelists included: Andrew Clark, Director of Strategy for IBM’s Venture Capital Group; Josh Bradshaw, founder of WorkTechWork.com; Stefano Marzani, CEO of DQuid; Eduardo Pinheiro, CEO and Co-Founder of Muzzley; and Ludovic Copere, Manager of Growth Ventures and Innovation for Sony. The moderator was Redgie Snodgrass, the founder of WearableWorld.com. Redgie quizzed each panelist on topics surrounding the development of a network of everyday objects in constant communication with one another.
IoT is a very general term that covers a vast array of internet connected ‘smart’ devices. Any household object made capable of connecting to a network that was previously unable to do so can be categorized as a part of the Internet of Things. When asked to offer a definition, Andrew Clark referred to the Internet of Things as “the integration of the physical and the digital world.” Josh Bradshaw also weighed in, adding “we’re going to have devices, ‘things,’ and those things will add to peoples’ lives and this will be a natural and seamless interaction.” The reality of IoT as it was discussed by the panel involves a world in which we are constantly plugged into the internet across each of the devices we use every single day. Those devices employ the data collected from an individual person to understand the manner in which their technology can improve that human’s enjoyment and quality of life.
The challenges addressed in the panel largely dealt with current technology as it stands in relation the the promise of an IoT reality. According to Redgie, by referring to a fully realized Internet of Things we are “painting a rocketship when we are still at canoe level.” Considering this, Josh Bradshaw maintains that we need to take ‘baby steps’ to successfully move forward. He referred to the integration of automatic lane correction in today’s automobiles as an incremental step towards the widespread acceptance of cars that drive themselves entirely. When asked how he would handle customer disappointment with a slower pace of technological evolution, Bradshaw responded, “Tech does limp, but it also moves in leaps and bounds. Just because we’re limping this month, it does not mean that we won’t be moving at a breakneck speed the next.”
Another challenge inherent to IoT relates to the amount of bandwidth required to keep objects in consistent communication with one another. In order to move towards an IoT reality, innovators are going to need to devise a way to account for an unprecedented amount of data. Each of the panelists agreed that an influx in smart devices would create a traffic problem regardless of how fast the internet is. Stefano Marzani believes that one possible way to reduce the amount of bandwidth necessary would be to “form communication under the cloud.” He believes that by employing powerful computing, most of the heavy lifting can be done by the hardware within the devices. If analytics are performed at the edge of the network, less bandwidth is required to communicate among devices.
Redgie also voiced concerns about the accessibility of this IoT reality, stating that he feels it is of utmost importance to maintain an “ethos that enables poor people to participate as well.” As wearable and medical devices are connected to the internet, it is important that we allow everyone access to the technology that can enable them to be a better human being. He referred to the example of a connected heart monitor, arguing that everybody should be entitled to protection from heart problems if it is technologically possible.
These panels offer an excellent opportunity for leaders in the IoT world to call specific problems to the attention of attending entrepreneurs. Towards the end of the panel, Redgie turned to the audience and said “we hope that the solutions are in the crowd.” It is this manner of opportunity that makes IoT so exciting, and we can look forward to another panel with similarly engaging speakers next month.