Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are you a ‘thing’ yet? If not, soon, you will be.

In the popular show “Homeland” on cable TV, the Vice-President is assassinated by wirelessly jamming an internet enabled device, his pacemaker. On that day, The Internet of Things (IoT), became part of popular culture.
The term ‘Internet of Things” was first coined by the co-founder and Executive Director of MIT’s Auto-ID lab, Kevin Ashton in the mid-1990s.
However, the date which historians are more likely to focus on will be - Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. On that perhaps obscure date in history (until now that is), more things than people, connected to the internet.
Today, there are roughly two Internet-connected devices for every man, woman and child on the planet. But as the excellent chart from Cisco (see below) shows you, the forecast is for 50 billion things to connect to the internet by 2020. That is an astounding 6.58 for every person on earth. This projected average is global; the per-person number will be much higher in developed countries.

Thus far, we have connected to the internet using PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. But that is all changing. Since that August day in 2010, the “things” are growing, and this delta will only increase. You can see that there is a major change underway. The age of connected devices is now upon us; billions of them.
This new paradigm is already creating a new breed of technology companies, who are producing new products, which in turn will translate into enormous new revenues. Cisco estimates that the IoT will yield $ 14.4 trillion in value by 2022. If correct, that is a gigantic number and almost as big as the entire output of the US in one year (approx. $ 15 Trillion). Compare that number to current ecommerce sales in 2012, which topped $1 trillion for the first time.
99% of electronic devices on the market today, are not connected to the internet. And yet, we believe that in the near future, most of them will. They will have an IP (internet protocol) address, much like your PC has now, and using wireless connections, they will connect to the internet and in turn with M2M (Machine to machine) and to the people and enterprises who own these devices.
As Michael Fuschette noted, IoT is an example of how three of the current hot trends (big data, mobile, and cloud) come together to provide a great deal of value personally and for businesses. We make them smarter by connecting them to the web.
So, what kind of devices are we talking about?

Let’s start with some of the obvious ones:

n  Cars: are already participating in IoT. For example, take the S-class Mercedes. It has nearly as many embedded computers as an Airbus A380.

n  Transportation: Various cities have already setup their transport networks with sensors. These broadcast the position of buses, trams, metro trains, cars etc. and then make this data available to the public. Mobile Applications are leveraging this information for find shorter routes for commuters. Smart traffic grids are emerging. In the future, with M2M connections, cars will seamlessly communicate with each other and the network will only grow, creating more data, better data, and better commutes.  (Wait, why will we have to commute to work? Ah, that’s for another day)

n  Thermostats: Another example is the ‘Nest’ thermostat (and there are many others), which is an internet connected thermostat that allows you to remotely manage your thermostat from your smartphone, tablet or PC; and learns your preferences as you use it. (Update: NEST was acquired by Google for $ 3.2 billion on 1-13-14)

n  Lights and even “Rumba”:  These can also be connected to the internet and even self-order replacement parts when they start failing.

n  Sporting equipment: another example of IoT is the widespread adoption of sensor technology to monitor sporting performance e.g. Nike. Fitbit sensors (see below) collect data about workouts, sleep cycles etc. and send it to a central server which users and healthcare providers, can then access to analyze that data.

Here are some examples which might be a little further out, but are already in development by bona-fide companies:

n  RefrigeratorsIn the not too distant future we can expect to see refrigerators which can place grocery orders with stores and do so automatically when you're running low on staples like milk and eggs. They will do so using the bar codes on the items, and the weight of the containers. We can see how the next step may even be to display and recommend a list of recipes, for which all the ingredients are already in the refrigerator. Or, recipes which might meet the medical and nutritional needs required to treat a specific kind of disease.

n  Closets: Given my personal challenges with fashion and coordination, I cannot wait for this one. Imagine, the closet recommending an “outfit” which is fashion aware, cross checked against the weather monitor for the kind of temperatures you might expect to find outside that day[4]. Your closet might even highlight the clothes, which have not been worn in a while, and are therefore ready for donation.

n  Carbon Footprint: what if your dishwasher, or heater could keep track of the utilization of energy and advise you on how to reduce your carbon footprint?

n  Medicine: The end game in healthcare is personalized medicine facilitated by genomic research, which will  allow us to create customized medications for individual patients adn their illnesses. Pills and Pill-probes which are internet enabled, could wirelessly send information to your doctor. Your WC as a medical lab? Sure, why not?

n  Cows: Yes, even cows. The University of Strathclyde has begun a $2.2 million project to equip cows with a "smart collar" that will allow their owners to keep tabs on them via cell phone. The collar uses the same 3D sensor found in Wii video game controllers to detect shifts in the cow's head position. The data is then sent wirelessly over the cell phone network. They hope to be able to tell when a cow is not well, and yes, when it is ‘in the mood”.  Little Bo Peep would be so impressed.

n  Payments: On 3/17/13, 60 Minutes broadcast an interview with Jack Dorsey, the man behind Twitter and the payment system used with smartphones called Square. Jack demonstrated a new payment system at a coffee shop. Using NFC (near field communication), his smartphone alerted the smart cash register that he had come into the shop. His picture appeared on the console for the employee to identify him, and his regular drink appeared on the screen. His payment information was in the system as well. The entire transaction could have taken place without a word being exchanged, or Jack having to produce cash or a credit card. He never had to break his conversation with the person he had walked in with.

n  People: And yes, even people will be nodes on the internet. I know. Sounds awful. Tattoos, which are stenciled onto the skin, can now be used to keep track of various things including for example, vital signs for a medical practitioner to keep tabs on for a post-operative patient.

But there are some concerns too. At the recently concluded RSA Security Conference in San Francisco, Lookout CTO Kevin Mahaffey said, “The Internet of Things opens new doors for attackers trying to get into your company’s systems”. Mahaffey set out to attack all the devices he could find in his office including his thermostat, printer, VoIP phone and other devices connected to the internet.
“These are the things that hackers lust after,” said Mahaffey during the presentation. “A lot of these devices have a pretty big attack surface.” This then is a new threat vector and one not necessarily on the minds of the companies who are manufacturing such devices. For example, your Internet-connected coffee maker likely doesn’t need to talk to your enterprise server. (Then again, you may have a problem with your server and you may not have had enough coffee. In which case, that is probably a legitimate connection. Is it?)
How will these new realms impact IT planning? Where will the intersections need minding? Remember, IOT is BYOD (bring your own device) on steroids.
A Forrester report (see chart below) shows that over 50% of CIOS are already planning on having these devices in their environment within 24 months. Watch out!

Gartner analyst Steve Prentice said in October 2012, that he expects the “Internet of Things” will evolve into the “Internet of Everything” by 2015.

If you are not ready for IoT – will you be ready for IoE?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ready, Set...3D print!

My first exposure to 3D printing was in late 2011.  My dentist had been advising me to get a crown and I couldn’t put it off any longer. I knew the routine, having endured a crown before. At the first visit the dentist would take a mold of my tooth; ship it off to a crown making shop; and 2 weeks later, I would be back in the chair for the fitting. Pure joy.

I settled into the dentist's chair and away we went, but I soon realized something had changed. No one was getting a mold of my tooth. Instead Dr. Kim pulled up a computer on a mobile station and started fashioning a crown on the screen. "What's that Doc?” I asked. “Now, we build our crowns right here,” he told me, and then proceeded to move the monitor up so that I could see him design and build my crown on the screen right in front of me. Half an hour later, the crown had been "printed,” a few more minutes to install, and I was on my way. I now have a 3D-printed tooth in my mouth, and so do millions of others.

You know 3D printing is serious when the President mentions it in the State of the Union address. He lauded the White House's efforts last year to create a 3D printing lab in Youngstown, Ohio.

What many of us may not know is how long 3D printing has been around. Consider this:

·         Carl Deckard and Joe Beamen invented the pre-cursor to today’s 3D printing at the University of Texas back in 1986, just about five years into the PC era.

·         3D printing has been a relatively common occurrence in most manufacturing shops for some time.

·         There are more than thirty-two 3D printed parts in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (No, not the battery).

·         The Mars Rover Curiosity has several parts made by 3D printers at NASA.

·         The chances are very high that parts of your car, like your dashboard, were prototyped on a 3D printer.

·         Microsoft managed to release several new hardware devices, like the Surface, by using 3D printing, helping to keep it all tightly under wraps.

·         In 2011, $ 1.7 billion of goods fabricated on 3D printers were sold.

·         Heck, even Stephen Colbert has had a replica of himself made on a 3D printer. In the world of the millennials – this alone, has made this type of printing a serious consideration.

Let’s answer the most obvious question: Is a 3D printer like a regular printer you have at home?

Not exactly. Your home printer uses two dimensions. 3D printing involves layering materials into three dimensions.

The designs comes from your computer. At its more basic level, 3D printers are more akin to a manufacturing process. There are a plethora of materials which can be used for such printing, but generally some kind of plastics is being used at this point. Design becomes essential, and not many users are able to use complex design tools. So for now, these are being made by the 3D design experts and they are available for download from the Internet.

The process, layering, creates an unusual opportunity. Most of what humans build is by removing materials to create something – Da Vinci chiseled from a chunk of marble. Or, by constructing the framework, the scaffolding, and adding in all the smaller parts in the most efficient manner to sustain the structure. That has changed with this kind of printing. Now you can layer the faucet right into the sink; the scissor hinge into the scissors; and build a shoe starting with the heel all in one piece (see below). The kind of designs which are now possible to make, creates a brand new landscape for new ways of building things, incrementally, one layer at a time, in any order you choose.

Companies like 3D Systems and MakerBot are making these printers. The latter has printers with names like "cupcakes".  I love it. These devices are the size of a microwave oven; and can print a 3D object the size of a large legal book. As more are sold, costs will come down rapidly. Multi-material printers will become commonplace. and even designing will get easier.

So what can we expect?

We can expect to see manufacturing become the domain of more people. One-of-a-kind manufacturing will cost no more than large scale manufacturing (the at-home Da Vinci?). There is no additional cost in using a different design, swapping daily, or even hourly. Small scale manufacturing shops will soar.

New products and even replacement parts will be made at home.  Medical devices like hearing aids, artificial limbs, teeth, and yes, even artificial organs are already outputs of 3D printers. Stem cells have been used to create a part of a human ear (see below). Even food can be “printed”.

Imagine printing toys at Christmas for the kids, like the car below. Your child was just invited to a birthday party, and you don’t have a gift handy. No problem. Print out a toy!

Or think of an array of larger 3D printers at your neighborhood library or Staples, where you can print a new dashboard for your car in a different color. Print your own guitar (like the one shown below), a new lamp, even furniture and now a drivable car like the one shown below.

As with every new technology, new challenges arise. Poor designs will print poor parts. Anyone can print any part. Ethics associated with creating human organs will need to be sorted through. And who will own these designs? What about the patents and rights? How can something like this be regulated, if you made it for yourself, and did so at home? (Gives new meaning to home grown and DIY weekend projects.)

Many of us believe that the 3D printing revolution will be game changing. A home 3D printer costs a shade over $ 1,000. It is this affordable nature of the technology which makes it so interesting. In the hands of millions of home users, the sky is now the limit. Let the printing begin.