Maintaining a free ecosystem within the Internet of Things is crucial to the survival of our freedom as individuals, and society as a whole.
We’ve all run into the headache of interoperability between devices. A program that runs on your personal MacBook won’t run on your Windows PC at work, and suddenly you’re the unwitting participant of a corporate stare-down that you’d probably rather avoid. This is known as vendor lock-in, and for most of us it’s the norm.
But could you imagine if certain websites would only open for MacBook users? What if certain Internet service providers only let Playstation consoles connect to the Internet? People wouldn’t allow it, and there are organizations dedicated to keeping that from happening. As we build out the Internet of Things by bringing more and more devices, objects and pieces of infrastructure online, it’s important to hold developers and manufactures to these same expectations of open source access.
For the web we know and love today, an organization called the World Wide Web Consortium is dedicated to ensuring that certain standards for web development are maintained so that all sites and services play well together. Now that the Internet of Things has become a reality, two similar organizations have been created. The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and the AllSeen Alliance were both founded with the aim of bringing increased interoperability and standard development practices to the industry. These groups will include corporations, governments and members of academia who will collaborate on making the Internet of Things a global reality. As quoted in an article on gizmag.com, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker explains why the Obama Administration is excited to participate:
“By linking physical objects to the full power of cyberspace, the Industrial Internet promises to dramatically reshape how people interact with technology. The Administration looks forward to working with public-private collaborations like the new IIC to turn innovative Industrial Internet products and systems into new jobs in smart manufacturing, health care, transportation and other areas.”
In more developed areas of the world, technological and social innovations like these have no problems gaining momentum, but what about in rural places with little to no Internet access? How can the Internet of Things exist without the Internet? It can’t, but there are plenty of initiatives in place that hope to bridge that gap. Both Facebook and Google are currently working on projects to beam connectivity down from the sky. In the meantime, a Kenyan non-profit called Ushahidi has taken a ground-based approach. Crowdfunded on Kickstarter, Ushahidi’s BRCK is a super-durable box that provides connectivity to multiple networks, serves as a local hub for devices, has 4GB of onboard storage, and it stores backup power for a quick charge or in case of a blackout. Even where there’s no established electrical grid, BRCK can be hooked up to any sort of generator so that you can plug in a GSM SIM card and get online. This sort of access is what Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, was talking about when he told the Pew Research Internet Project that:
“The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person — and the millions like him or her — will have a profound impact on the development of the human race. Cheap mobile devices will be available worldwide, and educational tools like the Khan Academy will be available to everyone. This will have a huge impact on literacy and numeracy and will lead to a more informed and more educated world population.”
Thingful is a global index for things. Just like Google indexes different websites, Thingful allows you to search for anything that is connected to the Internet of Things. That means that with just a quick search you can find data from hyper-local sensors measuring things like air quality, decibel levels and even the chemicals in people’s personal gardens if they’ve chosen to share it. A few people even have their Twitter stats available. For now, it may seem like something most of us can live without, but as more things come online — with data being generated in mind-boggling amounts — a convenient way to pick through the haystack will make complete sense. If you’d like to see how it works, try searching for any things you can think of like garden, ambulance, or cargo vessel, and see if they’re online.
In an interview with Fast Co. Design, Usman Haque, the creator of Thingful explains the platform’s intent:
“Our aim is to put people at the heart of the IoT. The idea for Thingful was driven by the realization in 2013 that, though there was a growing data infrastructure for people to connect a growing array of devices gathering a broad range of data, there was no way for someone to find details of all the stuff that’s now out there in the public domain.”
You might be able to picture a day when a freighter leaving a port in France might plot a course based on wind patterns signaled from a few sensors in a Midwestern farm. Open source access is what makes that future possible. With all of these things out there speaking the same language, their functions and complex operations will seem like a graceful dance moving seamlessly around us. Of course, open source means the freedom to join in and live in a world defined by you.