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SmartThings: Innovation over tradition -PART 2
By Gary Tang 2014-07-21
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However, Hagins sees missing pieces that are preventing IoT from becoming a reality. He thinks software developers need better tools, networks need to have lower latency and the process of connecting devices needs to be simplified.

The key ingredient to reinventing the way the world works is software, Hagins said. “The way that we’re going to reinvent the way the world works is by applying software to help us change our physical world, to help us modify the physical behaviors and help us solve real problems.”

Software engineers need to be able to work with devices on a higher level for innovation to take place at a rapid pace. Controlling devices and radios and enabling connectivity has historically been in the hands of firmware engineers; software engineers to be able to achieve that level of control over devices without worrying about the mechanics of how the devices actually work. “As a software engineer, I just want to say, ‘turn on the lights,’ and it should happen. I want to say, ‘unlock the door,’ and it should happen. It needs to be that easy,” he said.

“In the IoT world, we have to do something that has never been done before, which is to allow software engineers to control the physical world without having to understand how it’s working,” he continued. “When I want to turn on the lights as a software engineer, I need to be able to say, ‘switch.on,’ and have the light turn on. It shouldn’t matter to me whether that light is connected with ZigBee or Z-Wave or Bluetooth or Wi-Fi or 6LoWPAN or any other technologies for connecting devices.”

Hagins also agrees with Cisco’s view that cloud computing will eventually transform into “fog computing.” This is will enable device makers to decouple intelligence from devices by making them only as smart as they need to be while placing intelligence “in the fog” so it is as close to end devices as possible. “We need to keep the intelligence and the applications separate from the devices. If we do that, we make the system more flexible and allow the devices to be reused for lots and lots of different purposes,” Hagins said.

Latency, the time a user has to wait for a response, is important in the IoT world. It limits how far away from devices can the intelligence actually be. Fog computing will put computing power and computing infrastructure close to the end devices: It could sit in a home appliances or a router; it could be in a car. By utilizing the computing infrastructure that will eventually grow around us, dumb devices can contribute to the overall intelligence of a system.

On the other hand, a big problem of connected devices is actually connecting them. “We have to reduce friction for connecting devices and create a specialized network with dedicated spectrum,” Hagins said. “If you have ever tried to connect a device to your home network that doesn’t have a display on it—things like the Belkin WeMo or Philips Hue light bulbs—the process that you go through to connect these devices is very painful.” An inhibiting factor is spectrum, which needs to be completely reinvented by considering how devices connect. “We ought to be living in a world where when I walk into a store and buy a connected device, I take it out of the package and turn it on and it’s just connected. It’s already online.”

However, while Hagins thinks our networks are not yet engineered to handle the number or type of devices that IoT will enable, he also says that it’s hard to see what the network should be like because the devices we’ll see in the next ten years have not even been invented yet.

FOGGY ROAD AHEAD
Hagins believes IoT is about problem solving, and that the problems should be solved from a discovery perspective, allowing users to figure out what they can do with these new types of devices. They also need to be solved from a setup perspective and an “in-life experience” perspective. “If I can get my 75-year-old mother to make use of a solution like ours, we’ve solved it,” he said.

“We would challenge all of you, while we’re focusing at SmartThings on turning every home into a smart home, all of you should be thinking about how to reinvent the physical world and how to challenge all of those status quos,” Hagins concluded. “Challenge the way things work. Challenge everything you see and think about what can be reinvented and done in a way that’s better, in a way that’s more efficient, in a way that’s better for people.”

*** SmartThings: Innovation over tradition -PART 1

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