Internet of Things World: Europe 2015 – it’s not just about robots

This post is an extract taken from Control F1 MD Andy Dumbell’s piece for Internet of Things (IoT) World News, following the IoT Europe conference in Berlin. Read the full piece here.

I’m writing this post whilst flying home from Berlin, feeling enthused, excited and inspired, after attending the first “Internet of Things World: Europe” conference. The show itself brought together thought leaders, alliances, and companies big and small from all parts of the evolving IoT (Internet of Things) sector.

Why did we go? Apart from the usual reasons for attending a conference – to learn, network, and pick up free t-shirts – we hoped to gain a better understanding of the IoT ecosystem; to crystallise where we can add value, and to find communities to collaborate with.

So, what exactly do we mean by IoT? This question was raised throughout the event, and I felt quite reassured by the lack of consensus, as we often debate the issue here at Control F1 – “it’s not just about robots!” Everyone had their own definition. One speaker’s presentation started with “IoT = Big Data”. Another view was that the IoT is a less organised version of M2M (machine to machine). Others pondered over whether it’s simply the next generation of M2M.

Here’s my stab at this: the IoT is connecting everyday objects across digital networks – such as the internet – trying to infer meaningful information whilst creating value.  Connected things can include just about any asset: clothing, appliances, vehicles, parcels, people, pets, buildings, planets – the list goes on. The IoT enables communication with such assets, to monitor them through sensing solutions, create intelligence, and manage and control them remotely.

However, for me the more important question is: why does it matter? The simple answer is that the IoT can make our lives better, but it is only worthwhile when it creates real value. For example, IoT innovations can save lives! By generating information and enabling timely communication, we can solve problems and make informed decisions, which leads to intelligence, convenience, efficiencies, effectiveness, smart socks and so on.

One of the highlights from the show was Katja von Raven’s talk on opening doors. Her business, Chamberlain, a manufacturer of smart home control products sold worldwide, has embraced the IoT to create a market leading smart garage door opener. The obvious benefit is increased convenience versus traditional products – you can ask your iPhone “did I leave the door open again?”, and then close it remotely. And Chamberlain has created new value for its customers through an alerting service – 70%+ of them use this feature, and 40% of subscribers say they could not live without it. A simple and effective solution made possible through the IoT.

I always enjoy hearing an inspiring success story – especially a technology driven one. Chamberlain took the brave decision to adopt the IoT and rethink its business model, transforming into a manufacturing and digital tech company. This was driven through consumer-guided decisions to create a useful product, rather than a misguided attraction to shiny new toys adding to the Internet of Pointless Things.

Advancements in connectivity also provided for interesting discussions. We heard about 5G. We heard about LoRa’s mission to standardise low power wide area networks to meet the IoT market needs. And we heard about SIGFOX’s low-cost, low-throughput, low-energy-consumption network – which can literally see through walls!

I was, however, surprised that Bluetooth didn’t have a stronger presence. I attended the Bluetooth Europe conference in London last month where they presented their planned roadmap, which includes mesh network capability, IPv6 support, as well as other interesting advancements that the IoT community could benefit from. The conference would have also been a great place for Amazon to showcase their new AWS IoT services.

Unsurprisingly Big Data and Analytics were also part of the theme, with insights drawn from various verticals on how to get value from billions of connected things. For example, the automotive sector is providing near real-time intelligence to motorists through connected vehicles, interpreting data from sensing solutions and broadcasting updates on congestion, road risk and better route options.

The European Commission talked about their continued support for IoT innovation and future deployment, with hundreds of millions of euros committed to funding research and experimentation, from smart farming and food security, to autonomous vehicles in a connected environment.

The IoT still feels a bit like the Wild West – fast, risky, but an exciting place to be. Past scepticism has subsided, with developments from major players making the IoT a tangible business opportunity. The pace of innovation is incredible. It has been catalysed by major advancements in connectivity, cloud tech, hardware, and driven by a generation of enthusiastic startups, innovators, forward thinking businesses, and communities, driving industry forward.

As a company we have worked in IoT from our conception in 2010, providing innovative software solutions and consultancy for big brands and startups alike. These have ranged from high-end fashion accessories that double as a personal security device, to the technology that allowed Nestle to launch a competition with hidden tracking devices in its chocolate bars (lucky winners were hunted down and handed a briefcase containing thousands of pounds!)

In summary, the IoT Europe conference served to reaffirm our strategy, and inspired us to continue innovating. There is no doubt that the IoT is changing our lives for the better, emerging as the third wave of development for the internet. The future will be quite different from the world we know today. We want to be part of the driving force that gets us there.

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