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Article
2014, the Year of the Internet-of-Things

2014 was a year of over-the-top marketing and hype for IoT. But there were also many significant, substantive milestones and indicators of just how serious many companies are about IoT.


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Hyper-Marketing, Burgeoning Awareness of Internet-of-Things

In terms of broader public awareness, 2014 was a big year for the Internet-of-Things. As described in What Is This Thing Called the 'Internet of Things?', the recent surge in IoT is largely a marketing phenomenon, whereas IoT as technology and application phenomena have been steadily evolving and maturing over decades.

Figure 1 – Growth in Popularity and Usage of the Term "Internet-of-Things" as of December 2014

We might be at or near the peak of the marketing hype cycle (a lot of people hope so), but IoT, like the Internet, is going to be with us for a long, long time after the hype is gone. This not to say it is all hype and no substance. There were many notable milestones and happenings for IoT in 2014. We explore some of them here.

Autonomous Vehicles and Machines

Autonomy is the highest of the four levels of IoT capability described In Jim Heppelmann and Michael Porter’s excellent HBR1 article, How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition. Some significant recent milestones in autonomous vehicles and products have occurred:

  • Around September of this year, Google’s self-driving cars passed the 800,000 mile mark for driverless testing, nearing the million mile mark, with only a single incident (which was caused by human error).2
  • Rio Tinto’s driverless trucks have logged almost 3 million miles and hauled nearly 250 million tons of ore (see How the Internet-of-Things is Transforming Mining).
  • Four states (CA, FL, MI, NV) and the UK have passed laws allowing driverless cars on public roads.
  • SpaceX built an autonomous ship to provide a seaborne autonomous landing pad for their reusable rockets. It is supposed to enter service this month.
  • Joy Global continues to build increasingly autonomous mining machines, removing workers from the dangers of underground mining environments.

Acquisitions and Investments

There were lots of acquisitions at robust prices, as well as a plethora of startups and investments, all indicators of the high level of interest in IoT. Examples of recent activities include:

Platforms Abound

Another sign of the momentum is the number of platforms popping up. They vary greatly in what they offer and are intended to accomplish. Some are ‘device clouds’ meant to make it easier to connect to heterogeneous devices globally via cloud connectivity; others are development platforms designed to speed up the process of creating IoT applications; still others focus on analytics, prediction, and visualization; and some are built to service a specific application domain such as logistics or manufacturing or smart buildings or other domains.

There is also a growing menagerie of IoT hardware platforms, from semiconductors to sensor platforms to complete systems, to speed up and enable the development of the embedded hardware needed to enable ‘the things’ to be able to participate in the Internet-of-Things. It will take us many articles to cover all of these platforms, but here is a small handful of examples:

  • ThingWorx—a development platform, acquired by PTC, provides rapid application IoT development for connected systems (e.g. smart cities, smart grid, smart buildings), connected operations (manufacturing, logistics), and connected IoT-enabled products.
  • Predix—GE’s platform for the Industrial Internet, enabling analytics and intelligence to be embedded within machines; provides connectivity, security, industrial big data management and analytics, and more. GE has announced partnerships with AT&T, Intel, and Cisco around the Predix platform.
  • Bug Labs—A hardware and software development platform. The hardware are snap-together Linux-based modules. The software abstracts the devices as web services, provides drag and drop app development.
  • Axeda—A device cloud and application stack, with services for data, security, integration, configuration, agents, and device management.
  • Savi—A logistics and supply chain-oriented IoT application. Using data from sensors and RFID attached to vehicles and cargo, the platform enables logistics-oriented applications to be built to track, secure, and optimize shipments and movements of cargo.
  • TransVoyant—A platform to develop applications around ‘Continuous Decisions Intelligence.’ Consumes all kinds of IoT data (sensors, video, RFID, etc.), as well as other real-time and semi-static data (e.g. social data, news, weather, enterprise data, GIS, etc.) to provide continuous real-time situational awareness and the ability to make smarter decisions.

This is just a tiny subset of what’s out there, and we see new IoT platforms popping up every day.

Internet-of-Things Shows and Conferences

2014 has also seen an explosion of IoT-themed trade shows and conferences, another sign that the hype cycle is in full bloom. Examples include the Internet-of-Things Summit, another Internet-of-Things Summit, yet another Internet-of-Things Summit, an IoT Global Summit, Exploring the IoT Summit, Interop’s IoT Summit, IoT Privacy Summit, Securing the Internet of Things, IoT Developers Conference, IoT World, IoT World Forum, IoT Expo, IoT Asia, Connected Business conference, IoT Nexus, and countless more. There is a site just dedicated to IoT-related shows, which currently lists over 30 IoT conferences … and I know they are missing a bunch! Many of the IoT shows are new shows but many are existing shows that are rebranding themselves as IoT-related. Beyond those explicitly calling themselves IoT, there are numerous other conferences in IoT-related domains such as M2M, telematics, autonomous vehicles, smart home, smart buildings, smart cities, and on and on. You can’t turn around without bumping into a new IoT-related event, which is another sign that the marketing hype cycle is in full swing.

Large players Getting in on the Act

2014 saw a quantum jump in the level of interest, investment, products, and services coming from a number of different large corporations. A few examples include:

  • Industrial Manufacturers—such as GE, Caterpillar, TRANE, Joy Global, and hundreds of other G2000 manufacturers building IoT into many if not most of their products.
  • Telecommunications Service Providers—Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile, Sprint, Telefónica and others are all getting into the act, investing heavily in IoT-related service and product offerings and partnerships.
  • Networking Equipment Manufacturers—Cisco is the big gorilla investing heavily in IoT, but Huawei, Juniper Networks, Alcatel-Lucent and others are jumping on the bandwagon.
  • Technology Firms—All manner of firms such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Google, HP, Dell have IoT products and services.

The presence of these giants is a major force propelling IoT awareness and adoption forward. They provide a lot of the marketing muscle behind the IoT phenomena.

Standards/Industry Groups and Open Source Platforms

This year saw the formation and maturing of many IoT-related standards groups, such as the Industrial Internet Consortium, the Open Interconnect Consortium, RAIN Alliance, Internet of Things Consortium, Thread, Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance, Internet of Things-Architecture, Intel Internet of Things Solutions Alliance, and IEEE IoT-related Standards. There have also been a large number of IoT open source software and hardware platforms emerging, such as AllJoyn, OpenRemote, Arduino, BeagleBoard, Contiki, OpenIoT, Koneki, OSIoT, The Thing System, and IoTSyS to name just a few. Believe me, there are many more—Datamation listed 35 IoT open source tools back in August.

RFID growth in Retail Continues Unabated

We are seeing continued strong growth in RFID in retail and healthy growth in other sectors. We expect UHF tag volumes to reach 5 billion or more this year (see RFID Renaissance). RFID allows items or pallets or even people to automatically say “I am here” when interrogated by a reader. Even though this is a relatively simpler IoT application (compared to say autonomous vehicles), it has many very useful applications.

The sheer scale of adoption of RFID propels a virtuous cycle where tag prices are being driven ever lower, in some cases below a nickel each. As that happens, more and more applications become cost-justifiable, driving volumes even higher and costs even lower. As adoption spreads, it builds up the available pool of expertise and solutions, and funds further advancements in technology performance and ease of deployment. Expect RFID to play an increasingly important role in IoT.

IoT in 2015

So what can we expect in 2015 for the Internet-of-Things? Here are a couple of predictions:

  • Hype Peaks—2015 will be the peak of the hype curve. By the end of 2015, the excitement will start to wane some. The IoT term is already getting very well worn (recall Figure 1 above), but people will continue to use it, as they continue to use the term ‘cloud,’ because a common meaning of IoT is now starting to be established.
  • Even More New IoT Solutions and Services—2015 will continue to see new service and product/solutions bloom like wildflowers. We will eventually see consolidation and the weeding out of weaker firms and solutions, but we predict that it will mostly happen after 2015, perhaps in 2016 or beyond.
  • IoT Interoperability and Semantics Standards Rev Up—There are already many very mature standards for the underlying technology such as wireless, security, and to a lesser degree sensors data. The next wave of standards to support IoT is to provide commonality and semantic interoperability at various levels within the IoT stack, from devices to business events. There are already some application- and domain-specific standards emerging. We expect that work to get serious in 2015, keeping in mind that this kind of standards work is a multi-year … actually multi-decade endeavor, which really never ends.
  • Number of IoT Trade Shows Peaks—In 2015, we believe there will be even more IoT-themed conferences and events (if that is possible). Starting in 2016, some of these will fall off as only the ones with critical mass of attendees and sponsors are able to be sustained.
  • Maturing Public Dialog—2014 was the year that the masses were introduced to IoT. A lot of what was written was really fluff. And a lot of time (rightfully so) has been spent on just defining what we are talking about. Of course everyone has their own perspective and motivations that color their definitions and discussion. In spite of that, there is a much broader understanding and the beginnings of more shared language and understanding. That will enable the public dialog—i.e. articles, blogs, marketing literature, news reports, etc.—to start more serious, substantive, and well-grounded discussions. We are already seeing more of that happening, such as Porter and Heppelmann’s article mentioned above.

The easiest prediction is that IoT will continue to grow substantially for decades to come, eventually being a part of almost all products, services, and human activities … much more so than the internet is for us today. We use the internet intermittently, when we are connected on our laptop or phone. But we use and live in things all day and night. Eventually almost all of these things in our environment will participate in this ever-evolving thing called the Internet-of-Things.

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For more research on the Internet-of-Things, see our IoT Research Collection.

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1 Harvard Business Review -- Return to article text above

2 For comparison, human driver crash rates are about 1.8 per million miles driven. Most experts expect autonomous vehicles to be much safer than human-driven ones. -- Return to article text above


To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.




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