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midnight watch clock

Source: Flickr

New connected objects are threatening to surround us. They are backpacks, forks, toothbrushes, pans and egg trays (?) that, thanks to being connected, have transformed themselves completely. They have become an uglier and futuristic version of their traditional brothers, growing new screens, buttons, lights, speakers and aerodynamic shapes (something desperately needed in my coffee mug) that ‘improves’ them. «The devices of the XXI century», their makers claim.

These objects have mutated. And of course all of them are comfortably controlled through an app in your smartphone, the device that represents the modern version of the bouncer of the disco that is Internet. It is probable that the engineers did not follow the three rules:

  • Don’t put the circuits near light.
  • Don’t let them get wet with water.
  • Never feed them after midnight.

If things were small, furry and they could talk, I strongly doubt that they will choose to evolve this way. They need Internet connection to communicate, sure, but not to radically change their shape, form and colours while putting in front of us another screen with data, graphs and buttons to be understood.

Things need to talk with each other in order to liquify the physical world.

The idea of a liquified world is to transform the physical world into something so efficient and customized as the digital world. This is the last and final promise of the Internet of Things to, for instance, suddenly rent a private car that is suddenly available in front of me because, magically, supply and demand have adjusted to my specific need. For that to happen, things have to actively communicate with each other. The question is how.

The underlying problem cannot be solved through this new futuristic appearance they have. Manufacturers are designing things to communicate in a very, very heterogeneous way because things need to be adapted to very specific problems. Due to this fact, the communication protocols (the ‘languages’) are all different and full of particular use cases.

So far, the question has been answered by engineers only, and the answer is very predictable: with a platform. A platform centralizes and translates protocols thanks to an universal-super-protocol that covers all possible use cases, and will become the standard language in IOT for things to communicate.

So every CEO, every Innovation or Development Head for every company that wants to be in the IOT arena has partnered, bought or developed a platform. There are people with even two! Of course, all are meant to win big and become the ‘Facebook of things’, overruling the others. But Facebook already exists and it is led (and quite well) by a man in a hoodie.

The outcome is brilliantly summarized in this comic:

xkcd how standards proliferate

Source: xkcd.com

To further illustrate it, there is a similar problem unifying the TV remote controllers. How many remotes are around your living room? Statistics says around four. It will be great to have one remote for everything, but so far nobody has achieved full commercial traction doing this. It is an extremely simple system, buttons and a IR emitter. There are technologically brilliantsolutions in the market without clear success, only into early adopters. No chasm crossed. Customers are worried of configuration and maintenance. What makes us think that now, with much more complicated devices, it is going to be different?

But then, if not through a platform, how are machines going to communicate?

In English.