Q. What is Thingalytics?

A. Thingalytics is the use of real-time analytics and algorithms to make sense of the fast, Big Data arising from the Internet of Things.

People often ask me: “John, what really is this Internet of Things? It sounds like a lot of hype about smart fridges that tell you when to buy milk.”

Actually, the Internet of Things (IoT) is much more important and transformative than that. In fact, it is going to change everything—just as the original Internet did.

We’ve all heard about innovations like self-driving cars, which are now a reality (although not yet approved for mass use). Consider the next step: In the future all cars will communicate with one another, as well as with smart roads and smart cities, to coordinate and optimize journey times—and avoid collisions.

Likewise, we are all familiar with the mobile smart phone, and we are starting to see more wearable devices like smart watches. We are now on the verge of experiencing the next generation of wearables such as head-up-display glasses that communicate with a location-aware “smart cloud” that can tell you if you have friends nearby or send you special shopping offers and interesting restaurant ideas—perfectly tuning this “augmented reality” to your behavior patterns and preferences.

Until recently these thrilling innovations were widely dismissed as science fiction. Today, however, they are becoming—or are close to becoming—reality. At the grassroots level, smart Things come to life by using sensors and actuators, which are then attached to networks, thereby enabling us to monitor and control them remotely. This new universe, comprised of these networked smart objects—or “Things,” is called the “Internet of Things.”

The Internet of Things is about digitizing everything in the real world and integrating it into the Internet. In some cases this technology is new; for example, washing machines that we can control remotely and that can message us when a wash cycle is complete and alert us when they are about to break down. In other cases it has been around for a while; for example, digital data from the stock market that we can stream, enabling us to place our trades electronically. The Internet of Things brings together this existing digital streaming data (stock market, news, weather) with social media (Twitter, Facebook), along with new sources of data from real-world objects.

Real world objects are “digitized” by capturing their status using sensors. Different types of sensors can track myriad factors such as temperature, location, pressure and speed. Upload those sensor readings onto the Internet, and any appropriately authorized app can consume, analyze and respond to them. Put an application programming interface (API) on the object, connected to onboard actuators, and suddenly the app can control the object remotely.

People also ask me: “Is absolutely everything connected, and if so, then how can we possibly keep an eye on it all?” They may even suggest: “I’m not sure I want to be monitored or probed, so back off.” And so I do. Promptly.

The idea of the Internet of Things has come to the fore as technology has become more capable. As the costs of sensors and connectivity drop, viable use-cases are increasingly realized. Put simply, the Internet of Things represents an emerging reality where everyday objects and devices are connected to the Internet, most likely wirelessly, and can communicate with one another at some intelligent level.

Where this gets really interesting is when we think about a multitude of Things working together, like a swarm of ants somehow collaborating on a common goal.

Chapter 3: Home is Where the Smart is

Meet George Jetson

In 1962, The Jetsons burst onto TV screens across America, showing us how the home of the future might look. The Jetsons is a cartoon set in 2062 (100 years after it was originally screened) featuring the Jetson family: George and Jane and their children Judy and Elroy, who live in Orbit City.

The way the show’s writers envisioned the future—particularly the “smart home”—was somewhat prophetic. A robot maid, Rosie, sees to the family’s housekeeping: Her chores are made easy thanks to the numerous smart conveniences located throughout the house. Meals are elected from an interactive menu screen and are prepared automatically by the family’s smart kitchen. A conveyer belt ferries George Jetson into his smart bathroom, where robotic arms extend to brush his teeth.

Flat-screen TVs and videophones are integrated throughout the home. Believe it or not, the smart home has arrived in just under half the time the Jetsons writers had predicted! Although it is not exactly as they envisioned—there are no conveyer belts or robot arms in the bathroom yet—we do have robots that can clean floors; for example, iRobot’s Roomba. Skype and other video conferencing tools are ubiquitous, making it possible to communicate about dinner with other family members who are not at home. And, as we shall see in this chapter, we are progressing towards smart kitchens that prepare meals for you, along with smart cable TVs that can alert you before a problem develops.

One innovation that the Jetsons creators did not anticipate waste integration of the Internet of Things and Thingalytics into the home. With Thingalytics, appliances are not just smart by themselves.

Instead, they can produce data from sensors to communicate with other appliances. Further, centralized Thingalytics apps can make smart decisions based on this data. Equipping appliances with “senses “gives them “feelings” and the ability to call out for action or help. We can stay in the pub playing darts until the stove tells us our dinner is cooked. Similarly, we can turn down the heat automatically—when no one is home—to save power.

The opportunity to integrate the Internet of Things into our homes is so compelling that the goliaths of the computer industry have started to buy in. For example, Google acquired Nest to obtain a competitive advantage in providing the hub of the smart home. Nest manufactures smart thermostats that, combined with apps, can automatically adjust based on rules pertaining to energy usage. The system can even learn patterns, such as what time people usually come home, to ensure the heating is on ahead of time. Meanwhile, Apple is promoting HomeKit—a development kit that enables families to control heating, lighting, security and other home appliances via a wearable Apple device.

If Apple and Google are piling in, then the smart home clearly is a huge opportunity. Many other companies whose products are traditionally found in the home, such as appliance manufacturers and cable TV providers, are incorporating this vision into their strategy. Here we tell the stories of two of them.

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. John Bates. All Rights Reserved.
Thingalytics: Smart Big Data Analytics for the Internet of Things. No part of this website may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means — electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise — without prior written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.