Victoria and her team are true entrepreneurs! After many successful years, their current market weakened and through serious discussions with their customers they found the “next big thing” – printing active light. Sounds crazy but that’s what they do to respond to serious needs for people to be seen when falling into the ocean, running in the evenings, skiing, working in dangerous environments or simply to look fantastic. The material they have developed is connected to a battery and can be washed and applied on wearables, helmets and so on. When they won 2015 Outside Gear of the Show together with POC at Interbike 2015 in Las Vegas, their journey really took off.
The pace of technological development remains vivid and it takes great people and sharp focus to understand what to use it for and how. Like if this wasn’t challenging enough, a new generation of internet is rapidly emerging where things are added to the people and organisations already connected. The three key deliverables from IoT are efficiency, security and sustainability and this alone will make huge impact on business and society. Almost everything will be affected why it’s vital to start work on risks and opportunities in all fields now. The only big difference from when Internet arrived is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse this time.
Imagine combining 3D scanning, Internet, data analytics, design software and 3D printing. What would that do to fashion, retail, healthcare and distribution? Or heat cameras, drones, Internet, cloud computing and data analytics. What could that do to fire fighting, border control, building management and search for lost people.
We are facing huge change in the magnitude of when we went from farming to industry and it’s really time to start working on all the opportunities and issues.
Most new solutions involve connected hardware which makes life somewhat more difficult. Hardware adds complexity and time, requires financing, impact the environment directly and increase financial risks. Large scale manufacturing has moved to developing countries and with that also experience and skills. It’s quite easy to see the value added by data from the connected things but unless someone connect them there will be no data. We simply will have to cope with the fact that things will stay in the physical world even if the virtual world is much easier and faster to work with. One important implication of that is that innovative and successful startups with hardware as part of their solution hardly can scale up to become global since it will take too long time. This is why we have to learn how to transform innovation in sharp startups to value creation in large international companies.
We started the hardware hub THINGS downtown Stockholm in March 2015 to learn how to make this transformation. We have some 30 carefully selected startups and Sweden’s biggest maker organisation in our 2000 m2 building at the campus of KTH Royal Institute of Technology. And we have a handful of export companies including ABB, Assa Abloy, NCC and Husqvarna as main partners. Since hardware is too broad we focus on themes agreed with our partners and these are IoT, sensors, wearables, 3D scanning/printing, automation and robotics. We have been practicing for over a year now with all types of meetings, events and workshops with our industry partners and other enterprises including Deutsche Telekom, Daimler, l’Oreal, Airbus and Nike. By now we have learnt enough to scale up our efforts and involve more startups and enterprises. The current startup community involved includes some 150 startups now and in June we launched THINGS Enterprise Circle to build a community of Swedish and international enterprises who want us to help start or accelerate their technology innovation and digitalisation efforts.
At this point it’s clear to me that efforts to learn how to transform innovation from small to large companies have to be based on processes not one-off events, absolutely common interest (i.e. IoT and hardware are far too generic but battery technology and energy harvesting or wearables are ok) and really careful selection of companies and people for workshops. The purpose of a workshop is to inspire and bring new ideas and approaches to the enterprise and the aim is to have the enterprise to buy projects and prototypes from the startups to get the collaboration going.
Small and large companies who learn how to work together in an efficient and mutually beneficial manner will be the winners in the networked society. We are determined to figure out how to make this happen at THINGS and welcome enterprises and startups who want to be part of our journey.
IoT will make major impact on how we do things and what can be done, across industries and borders. Adding things to the Internet creates a massive opportunity in pair with what Internet have done to us to date. The major challenges are as always to be found in organisations and processes, rarely in the technology as such. However, if we cut the cake differently, and look at it from people making bets on creating and implementing IoT products and services, I would argue that the two biggest challenges are security and privacy. And security is the smaller of these two big ones! We have always had security challenges, but they can be mitigated and fixed on the go. Fixing bugs and problems are part of the development so to speak. If someone finds a back-door and steal our jewels, we will install a lock on the door and hope people will forget it, if you see what I mean. The vendor of the door takes a hit but people have a tendency to forget quite rapidly.
But with privacy it’s a matter of architecture and trusted partners. If data that at some point in the future is considered sensitive is “out there”, it’s too late to take it back. In the digital world nobody knows how many copies there are, who has them, what they use it for, and so on. Most countries have laws and policies for this already, sure, but the first issue is that policymakers probably will shape up rules and policies down the road. Nobody will be badly punished for data that is made available before the changes, obviously, but it might take fundamental changes of systems and services to meet the new policies if the architecture isn’t there already. The second, and much more difficult challenge is that people themselves might change their views over time on what is acceptable and not. Such changed requirements are neither planned nor managed within countries or companies. They might come and go, spread across by social media and gather less or many people behind. And policy makers are always influenced by public trends, media etc. so these “unmanaged public policies” can force rapid legal changes as well.
After the Billions-of-devices-hype came even bigger numbers on the Big Data opportunity. It’s obviously so that being able to gather and analyse huge amount of data from different sources gives interesting opportunities for both good and bad guys. And the big number game always works: if airlines save 1% cost it’s a huge amount of money. Or if rescue shows up at car accidents a minute earlier on average we save many lives and loads of pain and money. If people on the planet save a minute a day on their way to work we would create mountains of time to be used for something fantastic. We have left the Billions and talk Trillions now.
Let’s come back to the view that enormous shared data power in the cloud is the only way forward. We’ve heard it before. It all started with IBM’s mighty mainframes in the core and 3270 terminals in the edge. Computing was only about central expensive machines until Apple turned it all upside down with the first personal computer. And ever since have IT managers and others had to struggle with the balance between edge and core. At 3Com we invented Ethernet and argued power to the edge. Why send data outside the office if it’s internal and only to be shared between people in the office? It’s at least not safer and what if connection to the center is lost? It has been going on like this, back and forth, Thin Clients with all power in the core was really the future for a while and most recently employees started bring their own, rarely thin, devices to work.
There is definitely a lot of economies of scale to run things from the center. But innovation often comes from the edge. That’s why we have regional and local governments for example. Culture, climate, economy, religion, desire and everything else differs from place to place, company to company, human to human.
Coming back to Big Data and IoT. First of all, IoT is most often small data, and little or no velocity, variation and all the other V’s that Big Data is supposed to deal with. Secondly, in many applications we need to make really quick decisions down there at the floor, in the edge. A home care solution which tries to identify when a person living there is about to get stroke, requires a thorough understanding of that individual, constant monitoring and learning and very rapid and correct alarms when something is about to go wrong. A retailer who need to put the new pasta somewhere need to make that decision now. With real-time support for that decision it will be a better one than without.
I believe a new wave of distributed AI applications within self-learning systems will be a really important part of the Internet of Everything. Keep an eye at companies like our THINGS member Aifloo and Imagimob, both developing AI capable edge devices for industrial, healthcare, retail and energy markets. These clever devices with their own sensors built-in, might even make it possible to avoid further integration into larger equipment to provide applications requested.
Companies who want to utilise a new technology have to work hard to get on top of it. First they need to understand how it works and what it could be used for in general and the emerging eco system. Then they need to understand how it fits into what they currently do and what could be achieved if they were able to utilise this new technology. From there on they need to make a business case quantifying what it takes and what it could give. Then comes changed processes and organisations, mitigation of risks, prototyping, testing, competitive analysis, marketing and sales strategies and plans and so on. It definitely takes a while.
Dear readers, I have to apologise for not having posted more than a couple of posts this year. The reason is that I have worked really hard together with Linda, Carolina and Pär to build THINGS™, our new 2000 m2 co-working space for start-ups with hardware as part of their solutions, at KTH Campus downtown Stockholm. We started last spring and opened our house officially March 26 with a great party with over 300 people. It’s been a fantastic journey and we already have 21 start-ups in our house, and five industry partners: Assa Abloy, ABB, Husqvarna, NCC and SP.
This is a fantastic project, trying to exploit the perfect storm created when the two mega-trends IoT and Makers Movement meet. The best way of following us is by signing up to THINGS NEWS, visiting our web thingstockholm.com from time to time and following us on twitter @sthlmthings.
I remain devoted to IoT and my alliance for Swedish IoT start-ups, SMSE, now has 41 members and 13 partners. I’m now working on our annual IoE For Real™ event in Stockholm June 17 and the International IoT Get Together at THINGS the night before (sign up for free using code “connectcompute”).
From now on I will start focusing on my blog again. Nobody knows how IoT will develop and I believe it is really important with original views, thoughts and opinions from people spending their lives working with IoT. Today, on top of the Gartner hype curve, everybody want to be part of IoT and there are 13 announcements and competitions on a dozen right now. We need to put these right and put them into context. Most recently Google announced Brillo and Weave. I’m not very impressed and I will come back to that very soon in my blog.
Adding things to the Internet will make extraordinary impact on industries, businesses, nations and people’s lives. And I hope it will make us take better care of our globe too. The three major deliverables of IoT – safety, sustainability and efficiency – together with convenience will do the trick. In essence IoT fuels digitization of processes and allows us to base decision-making on better, often real-time, data. Applications like preventive maintenance and scheduled repairs will make us tremendously more efficient to name one example. And one day “if it aint broken don’t fix it” might be hard to understand. The Internet of Everything is rapidly coming together and I believe we’re leaving the teens already 2016.
It is hard to predict what will happen when these two mega trends meet but let me share a couple of observations to get going:
I find the meeting of these two mega-trends very interesting and have worked for a year with some friends trying to figure out how to turn this into serious solutions and big business. One important conclusion is that successfully making solutions with things included require great engineers, great designers, great entrepreneurs and internationally successful enterprises with things part of their solutions to collaborate with. That makes it a perfect fit for Sweden and I will do my best to help the Swedish hw start-up community become successful. We have started to use #sthlmthings for our community and I would welcome other communities to gather around similar hash tags to make it easier to follow and interact in and between “things communities”.
Smart Homes is a much talked about opportunity for IoT. It has what it takes to attract a lot of companies and people including those owning, managing, visiting and living or working in them. And beyond that also companies selling products and services for them. And the concept of smart homes is fluffy enough to include the three big deliverables of IoT: sustainability, safety and efficiency, as well as things like economy, comfort, fashion and entertainment.
We all know that a specific solution for every single task or device isn’t good enough. So the approach to make a remote controller for the toaster, one for the fridge and one for the kitchen fan (I actually saw a dedicated remote controller for the fan in Italy and I’m still thinking about the use-case) will not make the job. And we also know that “this is THE network for the SmartHome” approach isn’t taking us there since we already have a lot of different infrastructure and networks in houses and we have a number of different more or less technical requirements on them.
The combination of these two insights makes it hard to come up with Smart Home solutions that will capture large parts of the market, especially if we leave aside new buildings where one can start from scratch. I suggest something like a cluster approach to the challenge where we try to combine infrastructure, applications and tools to provide attractive solutions for larger parts of the Smart Home challenges. Let me give you a couple of examples what that could look like:
- The ultimate Media solution which uses IP networks to stream content easily and flexibly to and from devices and services (bring the best from Sonos, AirPlay, Spotify, Netflix, etc). Once installed you could add, change and remove hardware and software components easily.
- A really secure managed infrastructure with a tough SLA for applications and services that require an infrastructure to really trust. Applications could be alarms, door locking systems, smoke detectors and other things you are ready to pay extra for if the service is guaranteed.
- A kitchen app that interact with all your favourite Internet services for cooking and shopping, your kitchen appliances regardless of brand (or not?) and maybe energy monitoring and advice relating to the kitchen.
I have concluded that we will have at least three networks in our homes: an unmanaged Wi-Fi network which is already there, a managed very secure network with top-notch quality of service and a more generic but still managed network for things like home appliances. WAN solutions will generally speaking be too expensive and will just complement the LANs the way they always had. But some devices connected directly to a mobile network and/or narrow band WAN infrastructure like Sigfox will most certainly be part of the solutions.
One of the most interesting projects I’m currently involved in is a joint effort between a number of Swedish real estate owners and members of our alliance for Swedish IoT entrepreneurs (SMSE) with real estate focus. The request from the real estate owners was “a secure, robust and open service platform for multi-dwelling buildings” which they can install now, keep for years and have app developers to start bringing innovation to tenants, owners and maintenance staff.
We’re working with several technologies and one of the most interesting one is the well established Internet chat protocol XMPP since it provides a promising open architecture to deal with data integrity and privacy issues. We have already pulled together the bits and pieces required to run our first hackathon creating mobile apps on building automation systems talking XMPP. I’m looking forward to the next few months of this project which hopefully include a major hackathon demonstrating the power of this approach.
Gartner certainly got it right when they put IoT on the top of the hype curve. This many people have never been interested in what I am working with, not even when I worked with Wi-Fi. Last week for example, Stockholm Business Region, an agency promoting Stockholm, organized a breakfast meeting. But this one was about IoT and 150 people signed up within one hour! Since they had room for 80 persons in the venue they had to shut down the registration and find a bigger place. They ended up with the largest cinema in Stockholm, some 600 registered people, exhibitors in the entrance hall and a strong line-up of speakers.
Well, now when a lot of people got the first part right – it is time to look into IoT – let us start prototyping and testing in order to get the whole thing right.
IoT is hotter than ever! Gartner just placed IoT at Peak of Inflated Expectations in their Hype Curve and forecast 5-10 years until the Plateau of Productivity. But our baby is growing much faster than anything else we have seen before and I stick to my previous view that our baby will be grown up, but still young, 2016 after only three years as teenager. Good enough technology and infrastructure are in place since a couple of years and when organizations started to go from Powerpoint and thinking to trials and pilots we reached the teens. Four things have been missing to leave the teens behind: solid participation from the IT players, a hot M&A market, active and seriously engaged enterprises and efficient easy-to-use prototyping tools for users of IoT. All these things are starting to happen now which is one of the reasons why I dare to challenge Gartner on their projection. But there is another aspect of IoT which is underestimated: how the value is created.
Everyone promoting the story about billions of connected devices delivering data to impressive Big Data systems creating trillions of $ benefits clearly put IoT at the peak of inflated expectations. But all hard-working organizations and entrepreneurs working on industry or company specific IoT applications, well-integrated and cleverly implemented, are changing the world very fast. These efforts will start pay off soon putting competitors who haven’t started yet in a very difficult situation similar to when the frequent flyer program happened or Richard Fosbury jumped 2.24 at the Olympic Games in Maxico City 1968 using a “redicolous” new technique.
The only major difference between when we connected people and businesses to the Internet and when we connect things is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse this time. Beyond some clever start-ups the winners will be organizations who best understand when and how to improve their business using IoT solutions.