IoT news of the week for Dec. 8, 2017

We’re beginning the race to the bottom: Last month we included the $ 20 Wyze camera on our IoT gift guide because it was cheap and good. This week the New York Times explained how the creation of Wyze owes a lot to Amazon — both its platform and its culture. I thought the columnist made a lot of good points about the future of devices, and many of them tie into my own belief that next year we’re going to see price competition in the smart home heat up. This will challenge startups and pressure established companies to drop best practices around security as they try to lower prices to meet their more nimble competition. But it could lead to greater adoption.  (NYT)

Who does the subscription economy leave behind? As we consume more products as services, whether it’s our doorbells or our cars, I wonder what this means for wealth and the ability to get ahead. For many, a car or a home or equipment is a capital investment in their future. To stop owning it and pay by the night, mile or otherwise transfers a capital expense into an operational expense. How does this affect people who strive to own something so they can build wealth on it? This article is from last month, but it’s one of the first I’ve seen asking these questions. I’d like to see more. (Jalopnik)

Nothing is safe: Apple’s HomeKit framework that allows Apple phones to control specific Apple-certified smart home devices has a bug that can allow hackers to remotely control some of your devices. Apple has disabled the remote access for shared users until it can issue a patch, which is mildly inconvenient for users but done with an eye for security. The bug comes on the heels of a bad week for Apple, which has faced the disclosure of several embarrassing vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, my Belkin gear still hasn’t been patched from the KRACK vulnerabilities of a few weeks back. (PCMag)

Have you seen Google’s Paper Signals project? This is a really fun idea for the maker in you. The project uses Google’s Actions on Google and Dialog Flow services plus DIY hardware and paper cutouts to let you easily program a “thing” to follow your requests. So you can build an indicator arrow on a motor that spins and ask it to indicate if Bitcoin is up or down today. To “program” the thing you just ask Google Assistant to talk to Paper Signals and then tell it to tell you how Bitcoin is doing. (Google)

New developer rites of passage: Inspired by the Paper Signals project, my friend Alisdair Allen took a trip down memory lane trying to catalog how development has changed by looking at what rites of passage define each era. From writing a text editor to building a connected button, Allen’s perspective is a good framework for understanding where we are and how far we’ve come with computing services. (Hackster.io)

Researchers turn miles of dark fiber into a gigantic earthquake sensor: Science is so cool you guys. And this proves that even unused internet infrastructure can become part of the internet of things. (Berkeley Lab)

Looks like Microsoft is now talking about its IoT security project: Microsoft came out with Project Sopris back in April. The vision was to boost IoT security by marrying the hardware and OS together. In one sense this a particularly Microsoftian vision bringing shades of Wintel to mind. On the other, it’s a trend that CISOs at large companies are interested in and makes a lot of sense. Last spring, Microsoft wasn’t ready to discuss Sopris on the record, but now it appears to be willing to share more details. The main new element here is that Microsoft allows its Sopris powered microcontroller OS to reboot processes or the entire MCU if it’s compromised. That allows always-on devices to get those pesky OTA updates without forcing the owner to restart and potentially reset it.  (Wired)

Here’s a fun security question to answer: I have no idea what Terence Eden does as a day job, but every time I’ve seen him, he’s experiencing the challenges of a smart home and eloquently explaining them. One of his recent posts caught my eye because it’s a good question to ponder as we’re seeing more devices lose manufacturer support thanks to shutdowns or simply an unwillingness to carry on with a particular device. He asks why there’s no HTTPS for the internet of things. Specifically, one that users can control. (Terence Eden’s Blog)

I will not be giving Amazon my key anytime soon: A few stories this week made me question the wisdom of the Amazon Key program that combines a connected door lock and an Amazon security camera to let Amazon delivery drivers drop off packages inside your home. The Washington Post didn’t like the gear while HuffPo ran a story about an Amazon driver pooping on some person’s driveway. For an alternate viewpoint, a former colleague of mine did like the camera and Alexa integration.

China’s Xiaomi is seeking an IPO: I hate these stories because most companies like Xiaomi, that are a certain size and maturity, have to go public. So it’s not news they they are seeking to do so. However, I’ll note this here since Xiaomi is becoming a player in the smart home, and as price competition hits, it could become a contender. (Bloomberg)

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Seebo wants to make product design easier

Lior and Liran Akavia, Seebo Co-Founders. Image courtesy of Seebo.

Building hardware is hard.

That’s the common refrain parroted after the latest smart gadget failure. And it’s true. Building hardware is hard. and building connected hardware is even tougher. Seebo, a company founded in 2012, wants to help business overcome some of that challenge.

Seebo recently raised an additional $ 8 million as an extension of a Series A round, bringing its total funding to $ 22 million. The company provides IoT simulation software for companies that build connected products. It was founded by two Israeli brothers who learned through their first company building video game hardware that the combination of hardware and software is complex.

The brothers started building a simulation platform that would help engineers see some of those complexities before they started building in the physical world or wrote any code. The result is software that lets a user define what they want to build, from a connected industrial machine to a smart hard hat.

The software enables the engineers to drag and drop different types of radios, sensors and software options into the simulation to see how it performs. Customers can then order electronic parts and see pricing. Seebo’s customers include Ralph Lauren, EvenFlo and Stanley Tools.

Seebo is different from many of the IoT platforms that are already clogging the industrial and enterprise IoT sector. Most of those focus on making connections between different standards and software platforms easier. Some offer machine learning or ways to optimize data.

The company falls in line with some of the modeling efforts out there, with PTC and Autodesk both offering digital twin services that create a digital version of whatever physical machine you are trying to build. The idea is that as you simulate problems on a building’s digital twin, it shows you how that actual building would react in real life.

Seebo has a deal that links its platform to Autodesk’s software so engineers can use Seebo to handle the connectivity aspects of a new product, while Autodesk software handles the rest of the physical design process. Basically, the idea is that its software can make building connected hardware a little less hard.

As time goes on, it’s hard to see this as more than a feature of a larger design software suite, but today with IoT as the new hotness, Seebo is making a go alone.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

The open web is dead, but do we have to kill the internet too?

ISPs could prevent the next Waze. That would be terrible.

For many years I covered the the Federal Communications Commission, specifically the years-long fight to get some sort of formal network neutrality regulation passed. Then I started digging into the so-called internet of things a half decade ago as my new passion and I thought my days of covering the FCC were over. But the two are still intertwined.

Three years later, I saw the agency pass rules that would prevent some of the bad behavior that ISPs had tried in the preceding years to kill competitive voice and video services. The network neutrality rules of 2015 stopped carriers from interfering with lawful traffic passing over their networks.

At the time this meant that Comcast couldn’t block BitTorrent traffic and small ISPs in Wisconsin couldn’t block Skype calls. Thanks to the 2015 rules, network neutrality also applied in some measure to wireless networks, which meant that AT&T blocking FaceTime was not cool, nor was Verizon making favorable deals with Skype.

Last week, while the U.S. was focused on Thanksgiving turkey, the current FCC chairman Ajit Pai declared that on Dec. 14 he would bring a repeal of the 2015 network neutrality laws to a vote. With three Republican commissioners, Pai’s plan would likely pass. In the days since, however, we’ve seen one Republican senatordefect from Pai’s camp, a concerted effort by tech firms to galvanize support for network neutrality and Comcast erase its commitment to avoid paid prioritization on its network.

So what’s the fear here? At a minimum, a company like Comcast could prioritize its own services over those from other providers. Darker scenarios involve Comcast charging companies money for fast-lane access to end consumers. From an IoT perspective, this means that Comcast could let packets from its security alarm and camera service go ahead of those of ADT’s or Nest’s.

But the bigger picture is about what we don’t know. It’s always hard in technology to anticipate what’s next. No one saw the Amazon Echo coming until it was here for a few months. Relatively few people were excited about Nokia’s smartphones before the iPhone and its capacitive touch screen arrived in 2007. And when I was testing the first 3G modems from Verizon by streaming internet radio on my laptop while driving in my car, I couldn’t see Waze or Uber coming.

Yet, what these services have in common is they rely on broadband networks that are threatened by the repeal of network neutrality rules. One reason the Nokia smartphones didn’t catch on in the U.S.? The carriers didn’t subsidize them on their networks. (They also didn’t have that touchscreen.) AT&T agreeing to support the iPhone was a big deal. It knew that it would use a lot of data, challenging and showcasing its network.

And when Apple introduced the App Store in 2008 it managed to do what carriers had so far screwed up for years. It finally made on-device apps and services accessible and consumable.

It did this by offering developers an easy way to get their ideas onto a platform with millions of consumers. It also allowed developers to make money in a way that didn’t require dealing with the carriers. With awesome content, Apple’s iPhone stood apart from the competition that rapidly copied its hardware.

Apple’s advantage was its hardware, but it was also the company’s approach to software that would run on its devices. Carriers wanted to control everything, and when they did they slowed innovation. Carriers offered app stores. They had a large, captive customer base. It didn’t help.

The point here is that the carriers had the tools to move beyond their role as the provider of the broadband pipe. But they consistently failed because they didn’t see — or didn’t want to see – what the mobile future needed. Instead of proprietary platforms and deals to get app developers to pay the carriers for space on the device (hello bloatware), people wanted innovation. While every now and then carriers might let someone on the platform that would provide an awesome game or program, that would be the exception rather than the rule.

The flatter playing field provided by the Apple App Store and Google’s Play Store, as well as the huge audience on those platforms, meant that there was a reason and a way to build something a little crazy to see if it worked. We’re neck deep in those crazy ideas today. Many of your favorite apps might never have existed under the old carrier-based app store regime.

What’s astonishing is that as carriers saw themselves falling behind they didn’t learn the lesson. They instead tried to build a new app store and even a failed digital payments system to compete. They did little to woo developers and even tried to block some apps on their network. At a time when wireless carriers had the hottest commodity in the world with mobile data, carriers didn’t focus on what they had, and instead tried to build a new industry in an area where they were ill-suited to compete.

Many operators believe they were stuck with a form of the innovator’s dilemma, where they couldn’t invest in the new without cannibalizing the old, but what they should have done is embrace their role as an essential infrastructure provider and double down on making data delivery as efficient as possible. It’s the same strategy Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook are pursuing with their computing infrastructure. And now Facebook is moving into telecommunications with various open source telecom projects.

So what does this have to do with IoT and network neutrality? Simply this. The ISPs have failed when it comes to innovation in the 21st century. Yes, they have excellent engineers and have put together complex worldwide networks. But when it comes to creating agile businesses that can adapt to the pace of technological change, they have failed. The default is always to try to control the pipe; to turn broadband into a pricey resource available to a few.

As we add more sensors to the world, we have the opportunity to pull in new data streams and use that data to create new applications and services. We don’t even know what those will look like. We’re at the point I was at in 2003 driving around listening to internet radio from my open laptop resting on my passenger seat.

If ISPs have their way, we won’t see the Wazes or the Dark Skys of the next era of technology advancement because the creators won’t build them.

I have two hopes here. One is that Pai’s efforts fail because Republicans in the House pull back from this issue (or Trump offers a scathing tweet in response to an angry Fox News host). The second is that even if Pai succeeds, the engineering talent and massive war chests at Facebook or Apple lead to new networks.

After all, optimization is the key to success at many web companies that measure and manage everything. If reaching their billions of users costs more, and they can find a way to cut those costs, they will get into last-mile networks. Already they are researching new technology such as microwave spectrum and smart antennas to deliver broadband. When a resource is abundant, people innovate on it. But when it is scarce, people innovate around it. Carriers would do well to remember that.

It’s a small hope, and we’ll miss out on plenty while we wait, but it’s the only hope we’ll have if Pai succeeds.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

How the Internet of Things Will Change War

The future of war with IoT

This week on The Internet of Things Podcast, Stacey Higginbotham talks with Tarek Abdelzaher, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana Champagne. He’s part of a team that won a research grant from the U.S. Army Research Lab to figure out how to bring the internet of things to the battlefield. The discussion ranges from technical elements to the ethics of having machines kill people.

In the first part of the show, Stacey and co-host Kevin Tofel talk about Google getting better at understanding your commands, the ability to talk to Waze and notifications coming to the Amazon Echo. They also discuss China’s plans to create standards for the smart home, including a preference for NB-IoT over Wi-Fi. Weather reporting gets more accurate without sensors and Stacey and Kevin discuss the end of two smart light bulb startups. Finally, a pro tip for the holidays and we answer a listener question about WeMo and HomeKit.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Internet of Things News of the Week, December 1 2017

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The letter N may not be part of the Alphabet much longer: Google is reportedly bringing Nest back into the fold to consolidate Google’s hardware efforts. Google split Nest off in 2015 as part of its Alphabet restructure, but it makes sense for Nest to be within Google itself. Having two separate hardware divisions isn’t ideal, particularly when there are common threads (ha!) between the two such as wireless protocols, machine learning techniques and potentially overlapping uses of Google Assistant. By bringing Nest within Google, Rick Osterloh’s hardware team can continue to push forward with cohesive branding, design and functionality between various Google products. And that just might help in Alphabet’s growing battle for the home against Amazon Echo and Alexa devices. (WSJ)

Amazon goes IoT crazy this week: Speaking of Amazon from an IoT perspective, the company held its AWS re:Invent this week and in its own words, announced “a slew of IOT services.” I’d agree with that assessment. We’ll be digging deeper into the news but here’s a quick summary of what’s new for AWS: A preview of AWS IoT 1-Click that calls services with a button press, the AWS IoT Device Management framework, AWS Device Defender for IoT security policy audits, AWS IoT Analytics, the Amazon FreeRTOS platform for IoT devices built on microcontrollers, and the AWS Greengrass ML Inference that brings machine learning to embedded devices, even when they’re not connected to the internet. It’s worth noting that FreeRTOS was created by Richard Barry, who joined Amazon last year. The company also launched a deep learning vision camera for developers, so I expect more Amazon devices with cameras along with third-party skills or apps that can take advantage of them. (Amazon)

Oh, Google’s got a smart camera too but for tinkerers: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the second AIY kit from Google. In May, Google launched the AIY Voice Kit as a way to build a small Google Home-like device out of cardboard, a Raspberry Pi and a few other components. Now it’s following up with the AIY Vision Kit using similar parts. Included in the software are a trio of TensorFlow-based neural network models to give your home built camera some smarts. (Google)

HPE and ABB equals industrial IoT: This summary of the IoT alliance between HPE and ABB provides a nice overview of their industrial IoT efforts as well as a vision of using data for both continuous operations and analysis in a cyclical fashion. (Guardian)

Designing for Centaurs?: For those not familiar, the mythical Centaur is half-human and half-horse, or a hybrid creature. And that’s the analogy in this thoughtful piece on future design for users. Instead of creating software or services for people, designers will be challenged to create things for a hybrid user comprised of both people and machines. The Waze example is a perfect: Since Waze is monitoring a network of drivers in real time, it may send some humans on a longer route so that the network as a whole isn’t negatively impacted. A good thought piece here. (Co.Design)

AI and ML will make our smart homes smarter: The Centaur design article reminds me of a post I wrote earlier this week because I posit that our smart homes aren’t really that smart. What’s needed is more use of the knowledge graph our IoT devices can create about our unique living habits and then surface suggestions or take action based on human behaviors. I think it’s a good read that gives a glimpse of the smart home future, but then again, I’m admittedly biased on this one. (StaceyOnIot)

Smart IoT security guidelines: I love that this article notes 90 percent of security professionals consider connected devices to be the biggest threat they face, but it’s concerning that 66 percent of them are unsure how many such devices are in their environment. Time to check the router logs, gang! Regardless, we can never read too much about how to better secure the IoT and this list is a fine example. I particularly like the one that’s easy to overlook: disabling UPnP or Universal Plug and Play on devices. Given a choice of simplicity or security, I’d go with the latter every single time. (Innovation Enterprise)

Nokia is bringing IoT to Africa: Africa isn’t a continent known for manufacturing and production compared to other world regions, so it makes sense that IoT efforts there are focused on different verticals. And that’s what Nokia is doing: bringing IoT in the form of smart cities, public safety, connected vehicles and digital health. These are the areas that will benefit a broader number of Africa’s residents and tie nicely into Nokia’s networking and imaging expertise. For example: Did you know that Nokia has a worldwide IoT network grid as a service or WING for short? Me neither! (Talk IoT)

One multi-radio to rule them all? Since we’re traveling around the world, let’s hop from Africa to New Zealand where Pycom has launched FiPy. This board provides total flexibility for IoT device makers because it supports WiFi, Bluetooth, LoRa, Sigfox and dual LTE-M (CAT M1 and NB-IoT). Pycom’s approach is smart because it can sell the product to various network operators, regardless of which IoT radio they plan to support. Based on the FiPy spec sheet, this small hardware works across a range of frequencies for all of the networks, so it’s truly a worldwide device.  And the board supports the MicroPython framework for developers to build their services. FiPy is now shipping at a cost of €54.00 for those interested. (ComputerWorld)

IoT trends for 2018 to watch for: A panel of experts (not including us – what’s up with that?) provide their 17 IoT trends to follow next year and I can’t really find any that I completely disagree with. The first one, for example, is about the use of blockchain in IoT; something I hope to brush up on in the new year. If I were forced to pick one of these trends as a “meh”, it would probably the rise and potential of smart clothing within the next year. Yes, this will become more a useful thing at some point,  but this market is maturing far slower than others in this space. Right now, most of the smart clothing implementations are super specific, expensive and don’t really solve many problems that another convenient form factor (think smartwatches and wearable sensors) already manage. (TechJini)

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis