At the Rev Hardware Accelerator, we’re particularly interested product-systems that are connected to the web. This genre of products is referred to as “IoT,” which stands for “Internet of Things.” IoT is making it’s way into the mainstream consciousness just as desktop 3D printers have been doing over the past five years. Every other week we see skeptical articles about IoT in the media just like the ones we saw about 3D printers five years ago. These skeptics often focus on the technology from an individual consumer perspective with headlines like, “Do I really need a 3D printer that makes spaghetti?” or, “Do I really need my refrigerator to tell me when I’m out of milk?” As entertaining as these headlines may be, they are a bit misguided.
IoT GIVES US REMARKABLE POWERS
Connected devices are not a joke. They are significant because they have senses and brains and networks for coordinating data and for controlling objects from a distance. It’s predicted that there will be trillions of these devices online in next decade.
Connected Devices are objects that give their users seemingly magical powers to understand themselves and their networks. One of the early examples of IoT is the Nike+ product-system. The hardware for the Nike+ sneaker is a little sensor that fits into your shoe that sends data to an iPod or iPhone. This IoT system gives the runner an ability to see the progress she is making with her exercise, but it also gives her the ability to connect with runners all over the world who can form teams, set collective goals, and encourage each other.
IoT helps us see what is hard to see, control objects from a distance, or coordinate activities among systems of objects in a smart home. For example, my low tech $20 crockpot is plugged into a web-connected outlet that coordinates with my amazon echo so that I can assign it cooking time with my voice. It’s kind of a silly system but that’s how it goes in these early days. I’m experimenting less with what the system does and more with how the system components interact. Products that play nicely with others will have value.
Driverless Vehicles are, of course, IoT that will interact with sensors throughout our roadways. Again, there is a lot of skeptical press about these transportation systems in these early days. The technology is full of kinks and mistakes are being made. But we, as New Inventors, know that the path to success is through engaging in iterative “build, test, learn” cycles. We don’t get it right the first time or the second or the third. But the New Inventors are out there in the early days of an emerging technology, trying to figure out what the technology wants to be. This is a thrilling experience marked with sweat and hard work. But still thrilling. New Inventors, this is how we roll.
REV HARDWARE ALUMS EMBRACE IoT
Many of our Hardware Accelerator teams are developing with IoT. The remarkable thing about their products is how they connect people and data. We have a team that’s working on monitoring horse health right in the stable. This data is useful for individual horse owners, but even more powerful for the stable manager who can see data on her entire barn. We’ve worked alongside a team that’s developing a pill sorting system for the elderly, helping caregivers, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies seeking quality data on patient behavior, and a team that develops wearable musical instruments – their musical silicone ring allows users to experiment with sound by tapping it against new surfaces. We have yet another team that’s working on a wrist brace that tells you when you need to stretch to prevent carpal tunnel and collects that data on every patient that uses the brace, which is a wealth of information for physical therapists and doctors. We have a team that helps people monitor smoking habits and another that warns people when their furnace is about to break down. All of these product-systems are useful for individuals, but also powerful for researchers and practitioners in those fields who can collect and analyze aggregated data over time.
HOW DO WE DESIGN FOR IoT?
There’s a lot of investigation and experimentation on how to design for IoT and what are the right questions to be asked. A whole camp of innovators are exploring a “less is more” principle for IoT to counter the temptation to pack each new invention full of features and make all of the data visible all of the time. Researchers like Amber Case and David Rose argue for a minimalist approach – as inventors, we should reveal only what is needed at the time and place where the information is needed. In Rose’s book Enchanted Objects, he articulates questions like, “Do I need to dig deep into the weather channel app on my phone, or can the umbrella hanging by my door express itself in a way that helps me decide whether or not to grab it on my way out?” It’s not a smart, all knowing umbrella. But it’s really good at doing one simple task. The umbrella “knows” if it’s going to rain and can signal with lights whether or not it’ll be needed on that day.
This minimalist approach is one of many interesting lines of inquiries in this space. The bottom line is that thinking creatively about IoT is what will help the New Inventors stand out in this highly competitive landscape.
Keep an eye out for a future post on IoT prototyping platforms.
Want to turn your IoT invention into a business? Spend your summer in Ithaca doing just that. The REV Hardware Accelerator is now accepting applications. Apply here