Much of the talk around the “internet of things” is centered on sensors and the networking or connectivity part of the puzzle — the IP addresses that everyday objects will need to have, or the machine-to-machine (M2M) networks needed to connect all those sensors. But infrastructure isn’t the end of the story.
There’s another element to this new wave of technology, namely the software ecosystem that will emerge on top of that infrastructure. And a fundamental building block for that will be identity management — not for the users’ identities, but for the things themselves.
A company that’s thinking very hard about this element, Evrythng, has just joined a U.K. industry group that was set up last year by mobile chip architecture giant ARM, white space radio pioneer Neul, next-generation street light firm EnLight, sensor data outfit AquaMW and home energy management company AlertMe. The Internet of Things Architecture Forum (IoTA Forum, not to be confused with a similarly named European Union project) aims to shape the internet of things, and Evrythng’s contribution could make it easier for businesses to plug into that vision.
“We think a missing piece for the internet of things is how the identities of things get managed,” co-founder Andy Hobsbawm told me today. “A lot of the talk is about connectivity, but our view is that connectivity is being solved. The question is how you create applications that are valuable, and you can’t do that without making individual things addressable.”
Hobsbawm drew an analogy between Evrythng’s platform and Facebook, only a Facebook that’s for inanimate objects rather than people. The idea is to give each item its own discoverable profile that may contain digital content, warranty information, or even an associated virtual object.
The key to this approach is the smartphone, which the end user would use to interact with the tagged object — this could be through a technology such as NFC, rather than over the internet, so in a way it offers a bridge between the internet of things and things that aren’t necessarily always connected to the internet:
“Using everything’s system means that if the thing itself doesn’t have embedded connectivity, it’s simply a smart tag, performing many of the same functions. Your Facebook profile is a digital representation of you, an active living thing on the internet — somebody could be writing on your wall, or a Farmville app could be updating. So when you connect with [an object] using your smartphone, you draw down the updated dynamic state of that information.
“We would say it’s simply a case of defining connectivity as persistent or partial — it becomes connected when you provide connectivity with your smart mobile device.”
This could mean neat new applications for consumers, but Evrything also supplies managed analytics and APIs for businesses that want to track individual items and add data to them as they pass through the distribution chain. One example: the firm boasts a case study with the beverages giant Diageo, where people buying their dad a bottle of whisky for his birthday could add a “personalized film tribute”.
The company is also working with IBM and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and, according to Evrythng, the IoTA Forum is expanding to include device manufacturers and service providers. With links like that, it looks like this “Facebook for things” approach may just find traction.
This piece originally misspelled Evrythng’s name.