History repeats itself. Social robots have appeared in books and movies for years and always felt far out. But all of a sudden they say hello to you! I participated in a panel at Digital Health Days in Stockholm and one of the speakers was a blue Giraff with the avatar of their CEO Stephen von Rump, present in Saint Lewis, Missouri. They have been developing their social robot focusing on home care. It can sit, stand, talk, nod, move etc, and in our case it was Stephen’s face and voice talking to us. In their concept the Giraff becomes the gateway for all sensors and devices needed in a particular home as well as for all service providers involved including family and friends. Today the price for a Giraff is in the ball park of 10K$ but Stephen mentioned there is more to be done on the hardware.
The power of M2M is the ability to enable drastic changes in an industry. To do things differently. To change the game. Like in the early days of Internet we still focus on connecting things. That is good and makes us faster, cheaper, greener, etc. But it doesn’t change the game. It is when the technology is used to completely re-think and re-design something the power is released.
A wonderful example is thermostats. The “father of the iPod”, Tony Fadell, created the “learning thermostat” after having stumbled over expensive, dumb and ugly thermostats for the green house he was building. He created the gorgeously designed Nest which has been shipping for more than a year now. It is said to be compatible with 95% of the American and Canadian low voltage residential heating and cooling market by now. This little sexy device can remove some 20% of the heating and cooling energy bill and cost $250 US. Nest is now shipping 40-50K units per months and investors continue betting on Nest which now is said to be valued to $800 million US.
People normally don’t bother about thermostats but this easy to install and use, wonderfully designed and intelligent darling that saves people money has become a best-seller at Amazon, at Lowe’s and on Apple’s online store. It uses a number of sensors to understand the life-style of the household and adjusts heating and cooling in an optimal way. Beyond the information on the device itself it communicates with people’s smartphones and pads.
Innovative new approaches in established industries are always challenged by established players and Nest is already involved in legal battles. But I think we only have seen the beginning of Nest. Now they address consumers right away, seducing them with design and a good cause. But the device is Wi-Fi and ZigBee enabled thus ready for the Utilities and the Smart Grids. Is there a reason for a Utility to install another device in a home where a Nest already is in place?
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has been worked on for some twenty years. The idea to look at traffic and transportation using a holistic approach is great and rarely disputed. And the effects when ready would be fantastic! Efficiency, safety, sustainability and convenience, all the key promises of M2M, are there. But still the development is quite slow. Of course we need to remember that a lot of these issues are infrastructure related thus complex and time-consuming to develop. And a multimodal transportation approach require integrated organizations which is yet another complex thing to change. There are also many stakeholders and a lot of legislation involved.
But still I believe there are ways to drastically speed up the process: by leveraging the rapid development in technology in combination with innovation and pragmatism we could make things happen fast. Examples of key things to leverage are
- the open data movement to allow entrepreneurs to drive innovation
- the smartphones and pads to allow users of the transportation systems to access the information they need to make qualified decisions
- crowd sourcing and other innovative ways to collect data
- entrepreneurs to drive creativity, innovation and choice
Think about this: First came GPS devices integrated into cars for maybe 3-5K$, then came mobile GPS devices, often with better maps and features, for about 1/10 of the price and now this, for free. The power of what today’s technology and modern ways of working can do is immense. The services are continuously improved and by using one device for many things we even help save the planet.
I am focusing a lot on ITS and together with our partners and entrepreneurs we have numerous concepts and ideas (including dynamIQ parking™ which we launched at ITS World Congress) leveraging modern technology and ways of working to make drastic ITS progress. Let’s get going!
M2M For Real™ is my method to help people identify potential value from M2M in their organization. I have used it with different types of organizations and also with 150 people from different companies in a seminar. Short real-life examples are used to inspire and push creativity into the process. The examples are short since we don’t want to educate people about another industry, just create inspiration and ideas. Since they all come from the real world it helps give the feeling that M2M is here now. I have decided to start share examples like that in my blog thus hopefully help people find relevant examples for their own efforts. I will most often not mention the companies involved but sometimes I will. In order for the examples to be easy to search for I will title and tag them “Inspiring example”.
As the first inspiring example I wanted to share something really exciting: Double. It is an elegant minimalistic remotely controlled iPad holder on wheels. It combines elegance and great functionality with the power and ease-of-use of the iPad. You control the small silent robot remotely and can navigate it into any meeting or private discussion you want. Or take a close look at a painting in a gallery. Since the hight is adjustable Double can meet people face to face regardless if they sit or stand. The rechargeable batteries last all day and if you order today and pay US 2000$ you will have your Double early 2013. It is easy to fall in love with Double. Take a look and enjoy the movie.
So why do I mention Double here? It is a wonderfully designed M2M solution and there are serious efforts made to explain what we could use Double for: Video conferencing 2.0, tours without being present, promotion in public places like retail stores, etc. I am not convinced. But I believe a lot of people will buy Double simply because they can turn any home or office into a much cooler place. But the real reason why Double is important is that it creates inspiration and ideas. Just knowing that it is possible to get a nice, easy-to-use, remotely controlled communicating robot for 2.000 dollars (not 100.000 dollars) will make a lot of people come up with ideas where they can use Double to create value for them or their organization.
Single purpose M2M solutions have started to appear in the market. They are typically addressing one specific problem with a combination of hardware, software and communication. If the problem addressed is clear and considered big enough by many people and the solution works well then the willingness to pay should be possible to build a business around. Provided the solution uses the cloud to deliver the service from, then expanding the solution to include generic devices like smartphones, pads and PCs is an interesting next step at least to access the data but maybe to run the entire application on as well.
A good example is Coyote from France who claims over 1.7 million users of their speed camera alert system in Europe. The service is also available as an app for iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry and for Parrot. A Coyote device cost about 250€ including one year of service. A solution like this is also interesting for mobile operators since one agreement can sell hundreds of thousands subscriptions of the same type and each deal like this provides opportunities to add service enablement services on top of the connectivity.
The two key success factors of products like these are a high quality solution to a reasonable big problem and ease-of-use out of the box. Then people are willing to pay reasonably well for the service and word of mouth will work for marketing. Easy to buy and use solutions are also interesting in sales channels. It is quite likely that we will see many more single purpose M2M solutions onwards.
And by the way, isn’t the Internet-of-Things a misleading name? There is only one Internet of People and Things.
The relevance of this for M2M is that whenever users will be involved, they must be able to use the device or devices of their choice to interact with the service. And the usability of the service needs to be in pair with what they are used to already. There will continue to be several terminal platforms and we have to support them all even if it is hard. Up until now most employers had standardized terminals but also that is changing rapidly. BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – is spreading like wildfire promoted by Cisco and others. In essence we can chose between developing apps for the different platforms, using HTML5 or using cross platform tools like MoSync, PhoneGap and Appcelerator. These choices are critical since the success of an M2M service depends on how they interact with their users.
Volvo cars released an iPhone and Android app in June 2011 which use their On Call cellular service to allow users to lock the car, find their car, look at the dashboard, start the parking heater and other useful things. I’m told the app is a roaring success and if so I believe the reason is that Volvo car owners immediately understand which problems it solves for them, how it works, they can use their device of choice and it works like anything else on that device. The entire On Call technology, system and networks are invisible to them. It just works. That is a good example of how I believe M2M solutions should interact with their users.