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LinkeDrive and the Internet of Things at MIT

The Future Impact of Internet of Things (IoT) on Our Everyday Lives

By Peter Gorman

Over the last few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has quickly become a buzz term in the technology industry. But what is it really and what impact will it have on our lives in the years to come? In short, IoT refers to how a network of products or systems interact and communicate with each other through the Internet. But don’t think of it as a technology nor a platform, nor something that consumers can buy. In certain cases, this does apply, as with the the smart thermostats marketed by Nest, but IoT is proving that it will have a much larger impact in practically everything we do in the very near future.

M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management recently held a seminar on this very subject and brought together a panel of IoT experts to discuss IoT’s future impact on business, the economy and everyday life. Panelists included M.I.T. alums Dip Patel, Co-founder and CEO of Ecovent Systems; Jeff Baer, Founder and CEO of LinkeDrive®, Inc.; and Frank Gillett, Vice President & Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. The session was moderated by Sanjay Sarma, Vice President for Open Learning, Dean of Digital Learning, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at M.I.T.

Sarma opened up the session by discussing his involvement in IoT through his early years of researching the many ways in which radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) can be used to track and collect data. In 1998, when Sarma formed the Distributed Information Scanning Center (DISC), he realized that while people were fascinated by the power of the Internet, they didn’t realize that they could also leverage it for storage, thereby storing information in the Cloud.

Worlds of New Possibilities

Sarma also discussed how younger generations who have grown up with the Internet, like his daughter – who was recently heard stating that she would ‘WhatsApp’ one of her friends – have their brains wired differently. Sarma discussed how his daughter also thought nothing of asking Alexa (Amazon Echo) what the weather was going to be before she headed off to school. “The Internet of Things is presenting us with a wide, new world of possibilities. It is similar to how in the mid 1990’s, we couldn’t conceive of everyone having their own cell phones…with maps that tell us how to get places…and batteries that could hold a charge for an entire day,” said Sarma. “IoT is a new design language. It’s an enablement about an entirely new way of thinking.”

Dip Patel, who worked as an engineer for Lockheed Martin after receiving his MBA, discussed how he came upon the idea for his company, Ecovent Systems, when he was saving up money for his upcoming wedding. “It was wasteful to have heat pouring into the rooms of my apartment that nobody was using. So, to save on heating bills, I was putting large books over the air vents in these rooms.” Ecovent merges Patel’s engineering knowledge from Lockheed Martin, where he managed submarine sonar and anti-ballistic missile tracking systems, enabling consumers to control air vents that control the flow of air in specific rooms, thereby controlling the temperature. Ecovent’s censors are connected to cell phones through the Cloud, allowing consumers to control the air flow in their homes wherever and whenever they want.

Patel voiced how ‘value’ has to be a large part of how IoT is defined. “If you are able to connect something to the Internet to make life better…that’s value. IoT makes life better and creates value by connecting something to the Internet.”

IoT and the Trucking Industry?

While Patel’s company is similar to many of the other consumer-focused devices and apps that leverage IoT, Jeff Baer’s company, LinkeDrive, shows us how the wide range of other industries that could benefit from it. LinkeDrive, which is also based in the Boston area, has developed an app called PedalCoach® that enables fleet managers at trucking companies to collect driving data from their drivers to increase fuel efficiency, improve driving behavior and offer pay-for-performance incentives that help trucking companies retain their best drivers.

“People often don’t realize how important the trucking industry is to our everyday lives,” said Baer. “Every day, we drink something, we eat something and we use something that has been transported to us by trucks. Without trucks, the world would come to an abrupt stop. The trucking industry needs apps that change human behavior. Our PedalCoach app has been coined the ‘Fitbit’ for the trucking industry by the media. While I like hearing this, I believe that we are just starting to scratch the surface of what we can achieve through the use of IoT. The value props are so high.”

Baer commented that while the liberation of data that his company’s app provides to trucking companies is great, putting the data back in the hands of the drivers and using that data to change driver behavior is the really cool part.

Connecting the IoT Dots

After providing a brief overview of what Forrester Research does and how he got involved in IoT market research for the analyst firm, Frank Gillett outlined the three key things that he believes all IoT applications should answer:

  1. What is it? IoT applications that can determine the identity of a person or object

  2. What’s happening? Censor information about where something is or what it is doing

  3. What action can I take? Enabling humans to take actions based on the data provided

Sarma and Patel commented on the noise in the current market around IoT and how many of the coolest technologies are coming from the startups instead of the major technology companies. Currently owning a Nest, an Amazon Echo among other IoT-related apps, Sarma questioned whether we should expect interoperability between these types of applications.

“We see a very wide set of standards for IoT applications,” said Gillett. “Consumers don’t yet understand them, nor do they quite understand the interoperability between different IoT applications. For example, your security system really does not need to communicate with your crockpot.” But this raises questions over whether certain industry standards should be set for IoT. Patel believes that many people don’t think of the value that interoperability would bring to seeing apps communicate on set standards.

Baer said his company focuses on building everything open to encourage interoperability. “We live in an open world where we are creating our own standards,” said Baer. “Industry-wide, our technology can be applied as easily to asset management as well as onboard diagnostics.”

During the Q&A session, the audience raised questions about whether there are integrations between IoT technologies that we haven’t yet looked at yet, and – while IoT applications can make life easier for people – whether consumers are ready (and comfortable enough) to give up control to these apps.

Patel raised the issue that about 70% of connected cameras (think cell phones) still do not have brute force security measures. “Consumers need to be vigilant,” said Patel. Gillett reminded participants how apps like Facebook enable access into everyone’s home. “A lot of people are in the business to collect your data. Would Apple like to make money off of their customer’s data? Absolutely. They are crippling themselves by being so protective of consumer data.”

Another audience member asked how IoT apps might be helpful in solving traffic problems in Boston and other metropolitan cities, and whether there was some way to minimize traffic flow by maximizing traffic behavior. While Sarma sees a big interest in smart parking right now, Baer addressed the question from a trucking industry perspective. “We’re still figuring out which apps are most needed by truck drivers,” said Baer. “Parking is certainly one of them. We need to apps to figure out how to do more with less.”

Patel agreed. “How can you make things really simple? User experience is critical. We need to get away from focusing on graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and instead focus on how to make the apps simple,” he said, referring back to Sarma’s earlier discussion about how his young daughter used Alexa. “Sanjay’s daughter asked, ‘What’s the weather going to be today,’ not ‘What is the temperature going to be today in Fahrenheit degrees for Boston, Massachusetts in the United States.’”

Speaking of making things easy for consumers, Gillett noted how IoT is now changing the way consumers use and buy products. For example, he described how buyers of Tesla cars can turn on features and functions that are already built into the car after they have bought the car and brought it home simply by logging into their computer and purchasing them.

Sarma mentioned Amazon’s Dash buttons as another example of the simplicity that IoT is bringing to our lives. With Amazon Dash buttons, you simply purchase a button…say, for Tide laundry detergent…that you put next to your washing machine. When you run out of laundry detergent, you simply hit the button and an order for Tide is shipped to you automatically by Amazon. Gillett raised the possibility of whether the time will ever come when the soap companies will be the ones giving you a washing machine with the purchase of a 10-year detergent contract.

This very informative session at M.I.T. raised lots of questions about where we are today with IoT and what this new connective technology will have in store for all of us in the near future. Will we be living the lives of the Jetson’s by 2025? We’ll see… But if IoT continues to grow and expand as fast as the mobile industry has over the last ten years, we’ll all soon be living lives that are far more managed by and connected with the Internet.

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