The world of Intelligent Things
Netexplo presented recently a meaningful conference related to the world of Intelligent Things. What is this world? Intelligent Things are objects which “become” intelligent because they connect to the Internet.
At Lieu du Design, in a conference named ”Digital objects, design of a new industrial world – Internet of things”, and presented last May by Jean-Louis Frechin, one talked about “extending objects by Internet connection“. Extension means a various set of actions enhancing the object: hacking, gluing, watching through sensors like cameras, …
Some Intelligent Things are extensions of pre-existing objects (“revisiting the object”), but others are original creations, designing specific Internet objects that will communicate, collect and display knowledge, entertain, collaborate, …
Actually, Rafi Haladjian, a forerunner in creating Intelligent Things with his Nabaztag rabbit, distinguishes various ranges of sensors, an essential piece to change inert objects into Intelligent Things: “infrastructure, smart phone, enhanced device, neo objects, add-on like Rfid tag, and DIY (do it yourself)”.
Sensors collect data and lead to the “area of big data“, and the concept of “web squared“.
To bring a connected object to success, you need to lower the necessary motivation for the user to put in data, insisted Rafi Haladjian: “The less motivation is required from the user, the better the data collection will be“.
What are the benefits of Intelligent Things?
Intelligent Things have been discussed for a decade. The fact is that it’s a grown-up population now with a bright future: there are 5 billions of connected objects, and it will rise up to 20 billions in 2020 corresponding to a € 80 billions worth market target .
Through the various actions it can stage (communication, knowledge collect and display, entertainment, collaboration), Intelligent Things bring many benefits:
- simplification: easy online set-up, forget about the 20 pages user guide, and painless upgrade;
- enrichment of the interaction and of the service delivered thanks to the Internet connection;
- streamlined worldwide deployment: object is produced once and can be locally customized through the Internet;
- emotion: living object triggers affection, and one starts taking care of the object. “If Internet dehumanizes us, the good thing is that Internet now humanizes objects”;
- affiliated data, …
The connected objects developped by Withings are a good use case to illustrate these benefits:
- the same wi-fi body scale and blood pressure monitor are delivered all over the world, offsetting strongly stock management complexity;
- they escape the printed user guide, and provide enriched services compared to traditional objects;
- they generate a continuous flow of data that can be used by other service developpers through API exposed by Withings.
When Intelligent Things meets with Social Innovation
Deriving from the Withings API offering, let’s go down the way where Intelligent Things embrace open innovation paths and collaborative design approach. At Netexplo conference, I was not far from hearing: “Let them hack your innovation!“.
Here are some practical illustrations:
- Vlad Trifa moved the debate “from the Internet of Things to the Web of Things”; Web of things encompasses social web, real-time, programmable, semantic web, and physical Internet devices. Buying a connected object links me to an online community: he draws the concept of a “Facebook of objects” (actually Facebook open graph already links our social identity to the objects we use, “Open graph connect people to objects and then to activities” said Facebook at Le Web 2011).
- Usman Haque described Pachube, an online database enabling developpers to create sensors and apps. Pachube empowers communities of connected people, by sharing real time data from captors, and increasing interactions. Naturally, to get started, you have to trust “open and collective” data: open source has proved the power of peer review. Usman Haque stressed on a generous direction: “Let others make value out of your data, and provide you in return with input which will let you make sense of your environment, understand, measure, and challenge standard”.
- Ricardo Ferreira has designed a connected urban community with Living Plan IT, and also a place for “innovating in a living co-laboratory, a proving ground for the many Place Apps developed on the Urban Operating System™ by its partners”.
The next Open Source Intelligent Thing
Another hike in Social Innovation brings me to connect the dots between Intelligent Things and Open Source Objects approach.
Open Source Objects are hardware produced by open source communities, in the same way open source software is completed: design files can be distributed, used, and modified, on the condition you stipulate the source.
Some Open Source Hardware communities gather in Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory), which are “small-scale workshop offering personal digital fabrication”. They were initiated at the MIT Lab by professor Neil Gershenfeld following his observation of night-shift students using school machines to manufacture personal projects!
Open Source Hardware communities occupy physical spaces or hackerspaces spread all over the world, but many collaborative work is processed through online cooperation, exchanging digital information and code. Some famous achievements are the 3D printer RepRap (various examples and design plans can be seen at Thingiverse.com), and electronic prototyping platform Arduino.
The significant change is that all these devices are embedding software, and therefore open the door to the way innovation developps in the software world. If you “can make almost anything” with Fab Lab as Professor Gershenfeld says, I can’t wait to see the first “Open Source Intelligent Thing”.
As Fab lab are small-scale manufacturing, it might not be produced at large scale like other Intelligent Things in a dedicated plant : nevertheless, by activating the intelligence and the capacity of many, “Open Source Intelligent Thing” might well find his path to a massive exposure.
Can Smart TV be an Intelligent Thing?
Last mile in my journey brings me to my area of expertise, Smart TV. If TV becomes smart, does it turn into an Intelligent Thing?
Smart TV as I dreamt it last Christmas definitely meets some characteristics of Intelligent Thing: enrichment of the interaction and of the service, multiplication of content and schedule available, streamlined worldwide deployment, emotion, simplification of set-up and upgrade, …
One thing Smart TV is running out is generating affiliated data, and letting developpers make value out of them.
If Smart TV were an Intelligent Thing, it would capture all the data provided from our TV viewing and from our forthcoming TV interaction (Internet, Gaming, Communication, …) , and share them so they could benefit collectively to innovative applications that would provide value back to the viewers and the TV ecosystem.
At a time where Connected TV manufacturers seem in search of sense, building an open platform to share real-time data captured by Smart TV sensors, and enabling communities to create innovative TV apps for viewers, brodacasters, advertisers, would have a strong meaning.
Nicolas Bry is a Senior VP at Orange. He’s developed strong expertise in innovation management, creating digital business units with international challenges. He completed a professional thesis on rapid innovation at HEC Business School.