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Friday, April 30, 2010

Cloud Computing and The Internet of Things

What if things could talk to us?  What if your garbage could tell you it was ready to be emptied?  What if a soda machine on the second floor of Building 7 could tell the supplier it needed more Diet Dr. Pepper for slot D2?  What if a river could tell us it was choking on PCBs that were excessively high and could show us the highest levels occurred next to a particular factory?

Once the domain of science fiction, many of these are happening today.

In a 2006 paper titled, A Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things, Dr. Julian Bleeker of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, conceived the Internet of Things: 

"The Internet of Things has evolved into a nascent conceptual framework for understanding how physical objects, once networked and imbued with informatic capabilities, will occupy space and occupy themselves in a world in which things once were quite passive." Dr. Bleeker goes on to ask a fascinating question, "When it is not only “us” but also our “Things” that can upload, download, disseminate and stream meaningful and meaning-making stuff, how does the way in which we occupy the physical world become different? What sorts of implications and effects on existing social practices can we anticipate?"

This is a world envisioned by Joel Birnbaum, head of HP Labs in the 1990s, who spoke often about armies of sensors automatically providing ongoing data to ubiquitous networks to monitor everything from homes to rivers.  That vision is becoming a vibrant reality, if you read Kevin Novak's blog.

Kevin writes Cloud Feedback, Monitoring the Real World with Cloud Computing. It is a terrific source of real time applications of things that talk to us through the cloud.  He begins with the understanding that we can understand things that we once knew nothing about because they were neither measured nor controlled. But when the data is available and reliable, individuals, businesses and governments can achieve greater cost savings, great energy and water efficiency, reduced pollution, and higher levels of cooperation and productivity.

One example Kevin recently cited is  Cantaloupe Systems, a San Francisco company founded in 2002  that provides vending machine operators a device to install inside a vending machine to communicate every transaction the machine performs.  Kevin explains that "The data is sent over cell phone data networks to Cantaloupe’s data centers, allowing operators to schedule visits to the replenish the machines exactly when needed."  The result is cost savings for customers, lower fuel consumption by delivery trucks, improved delivery logistics and more accurate inventory management.

Cloud Feedback also recently looked at BigBelly Solar -- a Needham, MA, company that makes a garbage can for city streets with an enclosed motorized compactor.  Their cans "power the compactor from solar cells, so it doesn’t need an electricity connection.  It also uses sensors to detect and transmit how frequently it is used, and how full it has become.  A cloud computing service records the data and schedules trash collections. The combination of compacting and just-in-time collection saves a lot of fuel and labor; Philadelphia estimates a 70% reduction."
This is dynamic, groundbreaking change being generated through new ways of looking at ordinary problems.  Armed with the right tools, really smart people can change the world quickly and reverse years of neglect, selective listening and downright ignorance.  When billions of objects -- both organic and man made -- starting talk to us, we can do a better job monitoring and protecting the planet AND improve efficiency and profitability. This could not be accomplished without the cloud.

Here at Beyond the Arc, we sometimes get as overwhelmed as the next person when looking at the massive amount of information about the cloud.  While we are staunch advocates, at times we have to fight our way out of what Gartner Group calls the "the Trough of Disillusionment" and remind ourselves that the future of IT is intrinsically tied to cloud computing  But the magic of the cloud is that just when you think you have had enough, something amazing crosses your path -- something that can only happen through the cloud.


  1. In case you have not seen this... IOT video from IBM

  2. Thank you for posting the IBM video from you tube. It is a terrific visual representation of many of these things told in a very compelling way. IBM's Smarter Planet message and campaign is certainly one that understands the Internet of Things, and I was remiss in not including it.

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