A startup out of Las Vegas is trying to capitalize on a very difficult, and potentially very lucrative, opportunity within the internet of things. The company, called Terbine, wants to become a data broker for the world of connected devices by building a platform where companies can buy, sell and share the data their sensors are collecting.
Terbine is still very young — the company has just raised seed funding from a firm called Incapture Group — but founder and CEO David Knight has big plans. He’s looking at everything from billboards to drones, from shipping vessels to satellites, as potential sources for a massive database of information about what’s happening in the physical world. He thinks companies will pay big money to able to monitor pedestrian traffic in key markets thousands of miles away, for example, or to identify the potential closure of shipping lanes because of an oil spill long before it’s being reported.
Terbine would play the middleman in all of these transactions, collecting the data, curating and formatting it, and then managing access to it. Knight envisions a market-like approach to access, where some data might be free, but most would be priced based on how timely it is, how rare it is or how relevant it is at any given time. He’s looking at sectors such as energy, agriculture, and oil and gas — which has become much less centralized thanks to fracking — as early targets.
“I realize a lot of people are talking about the internet of things,” Knight said, “but so far most of the conversation reminds me of the early days of CB radio.” Back then lots of people had a radio, like lots of people now have sensors, but there was no place to go to connect with the most interesting people.
It’s not an insane idea — even [company]Cisco[/company] has pitched the idea of “data infomediaries,” and [company]IBM[/company] has suggested companies could make money by recycling data — but so far no one has really been able to pull it off. There are myriad regulatory hurdles to overcome, not to mention the technological challenges of building such an infrastructure. Terbine has already prototyped a platform for the data exchange on Amazon Web Services and is thinking about its edge-network architecture, but actually building it is another story.
There’s also the not-so-small question of how Terbine, or any company attempting to build such a platform, will get companies on board with the data-sharing plan. Many data marketplaces so far have been populated with data that’s either not too interesting or, in the case of some early government efforts, not available in usable formats.
Knight thinks companies will certainly be willing to pay for quality data, but acknowledges that bartering (give some data to get some data) might be a better method for getting them initially involved and proving there’s value in the exchange. He said Terbine also hopes to deploy its own network of sensors with strategic partners so it can ensure certain data it perceives as valuable will be available.
Being headquartered in Las Vegas might be a strategic advantage, Knight said, because of the highly interconnected SuperNAP data center (where he hopes to eventually host Terbine’s platform) and the Department of Energy’s Remote Sensing Laboratory. He’s hopeful the latter could offer a testbed for some of Terbine’s plans, and possibly some talent.
It’s a longshot to be sure, but Knight, who has previously been involved in the quest to bring the Endeavour space shuttle to the California Science Center and is also working on a high-tech virtual reality tour of the craft, says he’s game for it.
“What I really like,” he said, “is being involved with things people say can’t be done.”