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Summary:

It may be difficult to describe what exactly the phrase “an internet of things” means, but the pieces of the puzzle that are required for that to develop are all here today, ThingM CEO Mike Kuniavsky told attendees at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco.

Mike Kuniavsky - CEO, ThingM at Mobilize 2011

Mike Kuniavsky - CEO, ThingM at Mobilize 2011It may be difficult to describe what exactly the phrase “an internet of things” means, but the pieces of the puzzle that are required for that to develop are all here today, ThingM CEO Mike Kuniavsky told attendees at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco. Those puzzle pieces include ubiquitous network connectivity, cloud-based services, cheap assembly of electronics, social design, open collaboration tools and low-volume sales channels. When put together, Kuniavsky said, they create an “innovation ecosystem” that is the foundation for an internet of things.

ThingM is what Kuniavsky called a “micro-OEM” that creates small batch custom electronics for a variety of clients, but the ThingM CEO and co-founder is actually a designer by training, who worked in web design and then user design before founding Adaptive Path, and who still works as a design consultant for large electronics companies and has written a book called Smart Things. The ThingM CEO said that based on his understanding of the custom electronics market, the “landscape in which we’re creating ubiquitous devices is about to fundamentally change.”

Although the phrase “internet of things” has become a popular buzzword that Gartner Research recently included on its Hype Cycle, Kuniavsky said that there are already aspects of this phenomenon that are affecting our lives — for example, the use of RFID chips and near-field communications (NFC) can help tell us where the food we buy was grown, while GPS and other technologies are allowing cities to reinvent things like the parking meter so that they can apply time-based pricing. Small companies like Green Goose are taking advantage of these trends by selling tiny stick-on widgets that include a sensor and a communications chip.

“I can’t describe to you what [the internet of things] is, or what it’s going to be, but I can tell you what I think the components are going to be,” Kuniavsky said. One of them is what the ThingM CEO called “object-oriented hardware” design — which allows designers to focus on their end goal or the problem they are trying to solve, and then simply add components as required, since each consists of a single chip or element (for example, a communications chip, a GPS unit, etc.). This in turn is helped by the falling cost of assembling small batches of electronics — not just in Asian countries, but even in the U.S., as illustrated by startups such as Adafruit and DIYdrones.

Cloud computing and social innovation

Then comes the cloud, and cloud-based services, says Kuniavksy. Cloud computing is so developed now that there are hardware objects that can connect any device to a cloud service and share data with that service. And the design of electronics has also been reshaped by the web — it is becoming more social, he said, instead of just being “a solitary activity, done in a lab with a soldering iron.” Collaboration allows startups and small companies to be much more innovative, since they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Platforms such as Arduino, he said, are like “the Linux of internet-of-things hardware.”

The final element, the ThingM CEO said, is the marketing and distribution required so that people can sell small volumes of what they create — and that is coming to life through services such as Kickstarter, which allows entrepreneurs to raise money for their ideas, and to test those ideas to see if they are going to be worthwhile before they even build anything. Then other services such as Etsy and Fab.com can be used to sell small batches or runs of custom electronics, “doing an end-run around the traditional electronics ecosystem.”

All of these elements, Kuniavsky said, are creating the framework for an internet-of-things to develop, in the same way that entrepreneur Eric Ries has talked about the elements that are required for a “lean startup” to succeed: free and open tools, low-cost development, social tools that enable rapid iteration, cloud services that allow for rapid deployment and low-volume sales channels to test out ideas.

  1. very important to understand that these are “virtual things” and as such, they will be made “valueless” very quickly…

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    1. So only physical things give you value? I’d argue otherwise as you just gained value from reading this article and the many others you’ve read before it. Also, we’ve been a consumable society for quite some time now so the time period you own something continues to decrease especially w/ the increase in iterations from device manufacturers (two iPads in one year).

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    2. @cubicspace: like the dollar? Like stocks? Virtual goods have had their value for a while now and will continue to do so. It’s quite ignorant to keep referring to the ‘virtual’ as the opposite of the ‘real’.

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      1. your joking about the VALUE of stocks and the DOLLAR. right… you do read newspapers eh?.. and have seen what the last 30 years of computer aided virtuality have done to the dollar and to stock value for all but the very few who own the stock trading computers…

        ignorant? whom?

        both comments suggest newbie meta thinking…. ;) and where do i set up an “opposite” analogy..i dont. i only strongly suggest that you understand the medium of virtuality and mediation as to whats yours to value, and not.

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  2. Since I saw a tree with an usb connector in France, I started thinking how will be the future of COMPUTER + THINGS. Probably, after a messy few years, we will be able to connect better (smart)objects with our devices and ultimately with us.
    Then we should try to care more and understand.

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  3. The video is broken, i.e. at about 6 minutes, it switches to Michael Abbott.

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    1. Thank you for letting us know, David! The video has been fixed.

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  4. About 5 minutes into the video on Internet of Things, it switches to another event. If someone would put the correct video up, I would appreciate it.

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