GOOGLE’S chairman Eric Schmidt caused a stir at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month by predicting the Internet would eventually disappear.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram addicts need not fear—Schmidt clearly did not mean we would no longer be able to connect in the future. Quite the contrary, his point was that the Internet would be so built into our daily lives that we would take it for granted, much like we do with electricity and water today.
“It will be part of your presence all the time,” Schmidt was quoted as saying. “Imagine you walk into a room, and the room is dynamic. And with your permission and all of that, you are interacting with the things going on in the room.”
Technology pundits first began talking about the Internet of things in the 1990s with what seemed like a rather unlikely home appliance—the connected refrigerator. Wouldn’t it be great, the pundits said, if our refs were smart enough to tell us when we were running low on milk and even order it for us online? Carried away perhaps by the hype, LG went ahead and launched the first Internet refrigerator in June 2000. The Internet Digital DIOS was a flop, however, because it was expensive and not really all that useful.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the Internet of things began to take shape some years later as smart phones began routinely connecting to the Internet either through 3G or Wi-Fi networks.
On the hardware level, increasingly powerful and energy-efficient processors made it easier to build intelligence into a wide range of devices.
For example, Qualcomm, the world’s biggest manufacturer of mobile processors (it owns 54 percent of the smart phone processor market), is increasingly finding its ways into cars, health care systems and even light bulbs.
At last month’s International CES, Qualcom announced partnerships with Walgreens and Novartis to develop mobile applications and remote mobile monitoring devices such as blood glucose meters and blood pressure cuffs.
In the auto industry, Qualcomm chips have found their way into cars by Maserati, Honda and Cadillac for infotainment, Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless charging.
The company also announced a partnership with LIFX to develop a Wi-Fi module that any light bulb maker can put into its products so that they can connect.
“Qualcomm is not just talking about it, we’re doing it,” says Qualcomm’s president Derek Aberle of what his company calls “the Internet of everything.”
But hardware is just part of the equation.
In software, Canonical, the maker of the free and open source Ubuntu Linux, hopes to play a key role.
“Smart, connected things are redefining our home, work and play, with brilliant innovation built on standard processors that have shrunk in power and price to the point where it makes sense to turn almost every ‘thing’ into a smart thing,” says Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth in his blog.
“Ubuntu is right at the heart of the ‘Internet thing’ revolution, and so we are in a good position to raise the bar for security and consistency across the whole ecosystem. Ubuntu is already pervasive on devices… from self-driving cars to space programs and robots and the occasional airport display. I’m excited that we can help underpin the next wave of innovation while also thoughtful about the responsibility that entails.”
In the blog post, Shuttleworth announced Snappy Ubuntu Core, a stripped-down, lightweight version of the Ubuntu operating system that can run on a on a wide range of boards, chips and chipsets, and is designed to be a standardized platform for connected devices.
Unlike the traditional, package-based Ubuntu, Ubuntu Core keeps applications and each part of the operating system isolated from one another, making it even less susceptible to malware attacks. What’s more, Snappy Ubuntu Core will allow transactional updates, which means only the difference between the new version and old version of a piece of software—rather than the entire package—needs to be uploaded, making for faster software updates and fixes.
Shuttleworth’s vision is to have Ubuntu Core present a single, identical plafrom from the cloud to multiple devices to make it much easier to develop applications for a wide range of embedded systems, from smart cars, to drones, and maybe even the odd Internet refrigerator. Chin Wong
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