back to article The Internet of Things: a jumbled mess or a jumbled mess?

Everyone is excited about the "internet of things" – and by excited, we mean seemingly unable to focus on one thing, not thinking very clearly, and talking excitedly about the same topics over and over again. A panel discussion called "Delivering Smart Buildings in the Home" at the IoT World conference this week helped put …

  1. Youngone Silver badge

    Shambles

    The whole "Smart Home" thing seems like a solution in search of a problem to me. My house works fine as it is, and I have no intention of spending thousands to automate my curtains. I suspect I share this attitude with a vast majority.

    If these corporations can't agree on a single open standard they will be having this very argument in 10 years time, still proclaiming the Internet of Things is coming and selling a tiny number of proprietary devices to a tiny market.

    Fail all round.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shambles

      Most advances tend to solve problems that we did not know existed before they were invented.

      Personally I find home automation extremely useful.

      If someone approaches my garage, the outside lights turn on, and if its night time a random light downstairs inside the house will turn on to pretend there is someone home.

      When I walk up my path the outside lights turn on, then seconds later the inside lights turn on, as I go inside the outside lights turn off.

      I can click a button next to my bed which turns all the outside lights on with a single click.

      If I am on my way home I can turn the central heating on or up half an hour before I get home.

      I will be alerted if there is a water leak and the water turns off automatically.

      etc etc etc

      1. Youngone Silver badge

        Re: Shambles

        I've looked at the list of things you can do with your house using some sort of home automation, and there's not one item that I can't do, and I don't have home automation.

        What the point?

    2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Shambles

      > The whole "Smart Home" thing seems like a solution in search of a problem to me. My house works fine as it is,

      You are likely to have plenty of automated mechanisms in your home already. Your fridge maintains a steady temperature, you heating keeps a set room temperature, your video recorder records at set times. You may have a garage door that opens when you push a button on a remote in your car.

      All those devices have some sort of programmable logic (even if it is semi-mechanical) and various different ways of setting the required parameters. IoT is based on the idea of having some sort of common controlling hardware (such as a RaspberryPi compute module or Arduino), a common way of setting parameters and communication so that the parameters can be reset and mechanisms activated.

      If you wanted a garage door opener then you could choose a current model that requires a specific dedicated remote control, or you would be able to choose an IoT model that has the electronics handled by a small commodity CPU or Microcontroller (RPi or Arduino or such) that communicates to your home network. With the IoT version you would be able to use an app on your phone (suitably configured) to operate your door. Or if your car was connected and had GPS then entering a particular location (your driveway perhaps) could signal the door to operate.

      Or just open the door yourself with no assistance, no one cares if you want to do that.

      > If these corporations can't agree on a single open standard they will be having this very argument in 10 years time,

      There is still no 'open standard' for remote controls, yet people still buy devices with remotes. It doesn't need a single standard. It may be useful to have a limited number of ways to get access from outside to the home network (with authentication) but I won't be using the 'oven' app on my phone to operate the video recorder; I don't need my garage door app to work with my neighbours doors - in fact it is better if they don't.

      1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

        Re: Shambles

        Your fridge maintains a steady temperature, you heating keeps a set room temperature, your video recorder records at set times. You may have a garage door that opens when you push a button on a remote in your car.

        All this works pretty well without Internet though. When I arrive home I never catch myself thinking, "Oh, what a bother! Why do I need to press a button, flip a switch, or insert a key in the door lock? Wouldn't it be nice to pull out a smartphone, unlock the screen, find the right app, and navigate multiple controls on a small screen instead?" Once there is a cheap phone that can load the laundry into the washing machine and then take it out and fold it neatly, and not just switch the machine on and off, let's talk again.

        I have not seen a compelling use case to interfere with anything at home over the Internet, certainly not considering the associated expense, the deterioration of security, and the need to co-ordinate with other family members who may also feel the urge to fiddle with something from many miles away.

        And I don't really see how IoT can do anything but be an add-on gimmick to "normal" controls. No manufacturer (except maybe a complete world monopoly) can afford to make a product inoperable on its own. "Are you in the kitchen, dear? Dinner is in the oven already, could you please just switch it on?" - "Sorry, darling, I left my iPhone in the bedroom."

        1. Richard Plinston Silver badge

          Re: Shambles

          > Wouldn't it be nice to pull out a smartphone, unlock the screen, find the right app, and navigate multiple controls on a small screen instead?"

          You've not heard of NFC then ?

          > No manufacturer (except maybe a complete world monopoly) can afford to make a product inoperable on its own.

          I am not sure that anyone suggested that. Strawman perhaps?

    3. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Shambles

      "still proclaiming the Internet of Things is coming .. "

      Just after Zarquon's second coming but before Linux on the desktop.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really!

    The "Internet of Things" approach seems to be:

    1) Take industrial automation ideas (beige boxes with blinkenlights with nicely available power feeds and data connections) and put them into the home

    2) Imagine they actually work in this setting (conveniently forgetting maintenance, replacement, security, usability, random events in the home that would not occur on the production line, processes of operations, licensing, more maintenance, chemical/environmental safety, fail-safety, insurance, regulation and probably a lot more)

    3) Voilà!

    .... Most people can't even maintain their VCR or microwave oven, and for the car guys with guns and badges force them to perform a verification every year or so. IoT as it stands now is a recipe for disaster.

    I have so far only one application in mind that is an "Internet of Things" and that is a military sensor network covering Fallujah large areas with throwaway devices that are highly resilient, redundantly connected, self.moving and self-retiring, energy harvesting, able to communicate via intermittently available very-low-bandwidth noisy channels and mass produced (with a ROI optional in this mission profile) This is not the application one needs at home.

    What one actually needs at home are intelligent assistants of various sizes (intelligence of a level that currently comes in rooms of racks, if at all), from roach to cat-sized that are able to check the locks, take out the garbage, pick up the phone, sort the junk mail, cold-shoulder Jehova's witnesses and do the gardening. Somethink like "the Twonky" by Lewis Padgett, but with less evil mind control. Definitely with less evil mind control. Which brings up to the "IP aspects" and inspectability...

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Really!

      "... intelligent assistants of various sizes ..."

      Children can be useful and are sometimes great company.

      1. tony2heads

        Re: Really!

        Children CAN be useful, but probably won't be when you want them to.

        For scaring away Jehovah's Witnesses a dog sized assistant would be good - eh Gromit

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The big advantage of Thread is that it is an IP protocol and so can work with the vast internet infrastructure that already exists"

    Is it just me that sees this as a DISadvantage?

  4. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Excitement?

    Everyone is excited about the "internet of things" – and by excited, we mean seemingly unable to focus on one thing, not thinking very clearly, and talking excitedly about the same topics over and over again.

    From what I've seen including El Reg comments.. the only ones "excited" are those who will profit. Yeah, there might be some who want the latest and greatest for bragging rights, but they're in the minority. A "solution in search of a problem" is one thing. A half-assed, non-standardized "solution" requiring battery changes more than once a year (as fire alarms do now) or fiddling with is no solution.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. DCLXV

    Zigbee? Z-Wave?

    Was there something wrong with router, switch and 802.11?

    1. Badger Murphy

      Re: Zigbee? Z-Wave?

      Indeed, there is something wrong with router, switch, and 802.11 for this application. Devices that communicate over protocols and media like the Internet and networks can get owned like the Internet and networks do on a daily basis.

      Imagine a world in which you have to make sure that your light bulbs have the latest firmware, lest they be vulnerable to a trojan that makes them a part of a botnet, or a point of ingress into your LAN, because they're on the same WiFi network as your laptop.

      Imagine that this light bulb manufacturer doesn't give one crap about the security of the network protocol of their devices, because their average customer doesn't know better, and the problem is costly to correct.

      Imagine that most IoT devices and manufacturers feel this same blasé attitude toward network security, creating a vast international blanket of easily ownable network appliances.

      Then, stop imagining, because that is the world that we're actually in.

      I believe that if we really stop and think about what these IoT devices are FOR and what they actually need to DO, we'll see that a simple protocol similar to TR-069, which is largely a named and numbered list of supported commands and features, would more than cover any use case for a potential IoT device, without exposing the IoT world to the ravages of the IP network world.

      Of course, this would require the networks to be segregated, since they speak a different language at the hardware level (by design), and would require some sort of central "brain box" in the IoT home to act as an intermediary between the IP network and the IoT network, but what's wrong with that? They could iterate on the standard as much as is necessary, and only the main "brain box" would need any real security and firmware patching, since the light bulbs and coffee pots, etc, can't do anything but what it on the enumerated list of supported features in the protocol they use, and would therefore be mostly immune, by design, from hacking.

  6. Ole Juul Silver badge

    Hawkers and trolls

    Sales is at least a part of all business, and IT is a part of some. I think that the attempt to make IT part of all is unintelligent at best and parasitic at worst. IoT hawkers are taking up space that could be used for more beneficial conversation. I say, don't feed the trolls.

    In case somebody doesn't see where I'm coming from, I'm suggesting that the ultimate aim of IoT hawkers is to create as much toxic landfill as possible and for them to profit from that process. The general population won't get much out of this and will just be left to clean up the mess.

  7. lambda_beta
    Linux

    More Crap

    This is another way to sell crap that nobody really needs. So when a tree falls on your house, you be able to watch it on your, flavor of the day, smart/i/android/something else device. Another black box which needs a monthly fee to operate. Or when your refrigerator stops working you can cancel your vacation and take out all the spoiled food and throw it away.

  8. Richard Jones 1
    FAIL

    Why

    To summarise, many of us, perhaps most of us have devices that function well in semi autonomous mode, heating, fridges, hot water, freezers, even lights, video, DVD recorders or PVRs, garage door openers, fire detector and intruder alarms, etc. With virtually no need for one to see what the other is doing. In a few very personalised personal cases it 'might' be useful to control a few of the items remotely, e.g. the warm up time for heating, though money spent on insulation might achieve more payback. Many of us do not have unoccupied buildings so remote access is achieved via the phone already. For industry where hundreds of device form part of a chain, interconnect is valuable - and frequently best supplied via a cable anyway. For the outside living world it is only niche users, many of which will have their own unique user profile, who will really be interested. Perhaps a lot of the fragmentation is because the market is really fragmented into different user groups with very different profiles?

    The other bull filled elephant in the room is the smart meter. Now I might be the most weird set up in the world but things work like this, if the hot water is cold the heating system heats it up, likewise if I am cold I run the heating, if it is dark I turn on the light, if clothes need washing they get washed, if food is raw but needed for a meal it gets cooked, anyone see a pattern here? I do not need s stupid meter to tell me when to do these things or more importantly not to heat the water so I can wash, wash-up, have a bath, whatever. Most of us do what we do at home for a reason, therefore a so called smart device is not an item of desire, but part of a mode of irritation - or more likely another remote control disaster when some twerp turns off your power when food is cooking, the washing is washing you are showering and it is dark.

    Except for the possible remote reading of the meter, (if it works), they are another example of a bright solution looking for a way to create an insoluble problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why

      "Except for the possible remote reading of the meter, (if it works), they are another example of a bright solution looking for a way to create an insoluble problem."

      Not even a bright solution. I work in the energy industry, and it is near-universally accepted that the UK smart meter specification is so primitive that it won't usefully function alongside even the mythical Jetsons-style smart home, or even solutions on the market today. The UK plan is to roll out technology that would have been state of the art about fifteen years ago, and to complete this by 2020.

      The whole laughable "business case" is a driven by the vile mix of EU and UK governments competing to prevent climate change. Sadly this is going to be a £15bn waste of money, and that £15bn plus interest will be added to your energy bills.

      1. Richard Jones 1
        Joke

        Re: Why

        OK, I admit I was not being honest when I termed it a 'bright' solution. It was intended to be black humour of the, 'bright is the new dumb' type.

    2. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Why

      > likewise if I am cold I run the heating,

      Some, when cold, go out into the woods and chop down a few branches or split a few logs and stoke up the fire. Others have a thermostat that keeps the temperature at various settings depending on the time. For them having to 'run' the heating sounds like too much effort.

      > For the outside living world it is only niche users, many of which will have their own unique user profile, who will really be interested.

      That was said about mobile phones.

      Many already have internet connected TVs and PVRs. From a manufacturers point of view the use of commodity standardised electronics will be no more expensive than semi-mechanical or propriety controls so it will be cost effective to include additional features even if you don't use them.

    3. Richard Plinston Silver badge

      Re: Why

      > The other bull filled elephant in the room is the smart meter.

      In this country smart meters are the norm, done years ago. No more meter men, no more estimated bills. The latest smart meter variation is 'pay as you go' (useful for landlords). Instead of a locked steel box that takes coins and must be emptied by a 'meter man' it can be done with some small electronics and a connection (actually with cell phone).

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They missed the vital property

    > Devices for the so-called internet of things must have three basic properties:

    > A constant data connection

    > Low power usage

    > The ability to communicate short distances

    The ability to turn it off.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They missed the vital property - one more

      One more for you:

      > Devices for the so-called internet of things must have three basic properties:

      > A constant data connection

      > Low power usage

      > The ability to communicate short distances

      > The ability to turn it off

      The ability to do something useful that isn't already being sucessfully chieved

  10. DropBear Silver badge
    Joke

    I really don't understand you people! How can you go on with your daily lives without receiving a tweet from your fridge every time it starts or stops its compressor...!

  11. Palpy

    The sticky bit is connectivity and security, natch.

    The industrial automation sector has an ongoing debate around security-versus-convenience. At one end, some managers insist on complete air-gaps and tightly controlled access; at the other end, some managers implement control-over-internet schemes and wireless access methods which are, of course, very very secure right up until they're hacked to bits. In between are mixed-bag efforts like the US mandates for automation security in critical infrastructure.

    Turning to the home IoT, I think of things like the recent news stories on home router insecurity. Will the average Fredrick who just bought a smart fridge know if his router is already part of a botnet? (This guy still confuses his IP address with the number on his mailbox.) Does the dear granny who got herself a smart garage door opener know that the installer set her up with a system password which, in the next week, will be available on the darknet to any thuggo who would like to break in?

    It's one thing to manage security when you have an IT staff and industrial firewalls, and another thing for non-professionals to try it at home. Especially since device manufactures appear to blow off security about half the time.

    So, home automation -- sure. Wireless? Router-friendly? Internet-enabled? Not so much.

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