December 7, 2022

Blog @ Munaf Sheikh

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The Case for Open Source IoT

Great post from our friends at Source link

Why IoT?

While the question “Why IoT?” may seem pretty obvious to many, the fact of the matter is it is not that clear to most. Sure, we’ve all heard the terms and seen the plethora of commercials promoting the Internet of Things (IoT), digital transformation, artificial intelligence, etc. (thank you, IBM and 

But as someone who works within the intelligent building space, I don’t have to go far before I get asked by most facility managers and building owners I speak with: “Why do I need this device or that device?”; “Why do I need IoT?”

Well, it comes down to two main reasons in my book:

  1. Digitizing physical spaces and environments

  2. Harnessing data to improve Business Intelligence, Equipment Efficiency, and Operations  

The advancement of today’s sensor technologies and IoT devices are ushering in a new wave of digitization that has not been possible to date, at least not on the scale and with such low amounts of friction. 

The challenge? The battle for supremacy in the never-ending war of hardware manufacturers. This desire to “own” the IoT stack is the greatest threat to the mass adoption of the Internet of Things.

The Case for Open Source IoT

It makes sense to want to own the IoT stack; I get it. I’m sure you get it, too. I mean, if you’re an Apple user, there’s a reason you have an Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, Apple Air Computer, an Apple Watch, and view Apple TV. They own the stack and make boatloads of money at it. 

However, I beg to question if this approach is sustainable for the mass adoption of IoT across different industries? I don’t think it is. This is especially true for someone coming at this from a facility operation and ESG perspective. Three main drivers prompt me to argue for open source IoT. These include: 

  1. Current State of IoT Communication Protocols

  2. The Fact That IoT Is Everywhere but Not Cohesive 

  3. Breaking Down Proprietary Barriers 

Let’s take a quick look at each.

Current State of IoT Communication Protocols

If you consider the major IoT communication protocols, you’re looking at roughly ten (10) different protocols. These include Bluetooth, Zigbee, WiFi, OPC-UA, MQTT, Cellular, Z-Wave, NFC, Sigfox, and LoRaWAN – and that’s only the beginning. 

In the current state of IoT, we find a set of fractured and siloed communication protocols that each have their benefits, drawbacks, and use case. A hornet’s nest, if you will, where you have dozens of hardware manufacturers under each communication protocol creating devices in their silos. This leads me to my next point. 

IoT Is Everywhere but Not Cohesive

Look around your office/room/wherever you’re sitting, and I’ll guarantee there is some form of IoT right in front of you, if not multiple examples. It’s a fact that the Internet of Things is everywhere. However, it’s also true that the Internet of Things is nowhere near being cohesive. 

What do I mean by this?

Let’s stick with your office for a minute. You have an internet-connected copy machine that you can email documents to. You have a networked lighting system that allows for the centralized control of all lighting fixtures in your building. You have intelligent digital thermostats to keep spaces comfortable while saving energy. You have a conference room reservation system. You also have a smart room occupancy detection system that triggers an occupied/unoccupied light on the door. Lastly, you have an air quality monitoring and purifying system in place. Unfortunately, none of these IoT-enabled solutions talk to one another. They’re not cohesive. 

  • The copy machine talks through WiFi

  • The lighting system talks through ZigBee

  • The thermostats talk through Bluetooth 

  • The room reservation also talks through WiFi

  • The room occupancy talks through NFC

  • The air quality monitoring talks through LoRa

Each of these solutions in and of themselves provides value and solves a real-world use case, but they do not talk with one another. They’re siloed. Independent. At best, perhaps a few of the use cases are solved by a single device manufacturer/solution if you’re lucky. The opportunity for open source IoT is ripe. These solutions, use cases, and communication protocols must at some point become open-source via open API for cohesive integration into smart buildings.

Breaking Down Proprietary Barriers

Some say that there will be an inevitable consolidation of technologies, and the survival of the fittest will become the de facto IoT technology; but again, I’m not so sure about that. While it’s convenient to draw on the historical battle between VHS and Betamax and VHS becoming the last one standing, it’s not that clear cut in the world of IoT communication. As we’ve already reviewed at minimum, we have ten competing technologies of varying benefits, drawbacks, and use cases. There is just no way a single, one technology will “reign supreme.”

However, what needs to happen is a breakdown of proprietary barriers between these technologies, devices, and communication protocols. Whether through strategic partnerships, or better yet, through open APIs, a cooling of proprietary barriers will usher in greater cohesion of technologies for intelligent applications and thereby greater adoption by commercial properties. No one – especially facility managers and building owners – wants to log into twenty different dashboards to check on things/glean insights from their building’s data.  

Can IoT Really Be Open Source?

Yes, it can. There are two places to look for inspiration. The first is consumer IoT, and the dreaded, send shivers down your spine if competing with them Amazon/Amazon Echo, and Google/Google Home. Home-based IoT has made massive progress in becoming more open-source to drive greater adoption. In my mind, the single greatest promoter of that is the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Why?

It comes down to driving the cooperation between many device manufacturers to lower the proprietary barrier and foster easier integration and adoption. Both Google Home and Amazon Alexa drive this forward. If you are a home IoT device manufacturer, you will damn well make sure your solution has an open API to integrate with either one or both devices. Otherwise, you risk missing out on greater adoption from end-users. Google and Amazon, perhaps inadvertently or purposefully, forced a form of open-source IoT.     

It can be done, and it is needed, especially in the commercial building and property space. Heavyweight building automation system (BAS) providers are well known for their moat-like defenses; that’s not changing anytime soon. However, as new players enter the scene with promising technologies and open APIs, we stand a chance to see commercial-grade open source IoT sooner than we may think.

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