Visit to IoT Tech Day 2016

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Better late than never. This a report on IoT Tech Day from 2016.  I wrote this in May 2016, but I’ve been busy with personal matters for the last 2 years. So, before visiting the successor of IoT Tech Day called TEQNATION coming April, here is the report I was writing in 2016.

 

Introduction

Usually I go to the more mechatronic or High Tech industry conventions during the year. Due to recent job changes and also wanting to see something new, I went to Iot Tech Day 2016 in Jaarbeurs Utrecht this year.  IoT stands for Internet of Things. Nowadays I more see it as: “A system of systems combined with big data to deliver a more granular experience.”
Think of it as Uber, AirBnb and Amazon tied together and the computer knows what you would like to do and arranges everything.  This convention took place on April 14th 2016 and was organised by the Dutch Java User Group and did an excellent job. The used Twitter hashtag was #IotTechDay.

My main goal for this day was to see if any of the hype behind the “Internet of things” also had some substance and where all this would be going?

It’s best to split this question in 2 parts. The application part and how much money will be burned with this.  Everything will become connected, I have no doubt about that. Will that mean people will be constantly bombarded with advertisements and notifications to upgrade? Will big mega corporations in cooperation with governments control our lives? Or will everything remain a big incompatible mess and we end up with ‘talkie the toaster’? Or finally, people will forgo all the bullshit and reclaim their own independence for both on the network and in real life.

Another aspect remains. IoT is currently at the top of the Gartner Hype Cycle and the hype train runs quite fast and loud at this moment. Churning out internet connected items that are bricked once the back-end stops working.  Botnets performing DDOS attacks using hacked connected devices.
During the dot com bubble, mountains of gold were promised and we would be doing everything over the internet during the 00’s. Of course most of the people weren’t ready for that and we got the dot com crash instead. Eventually the bubble and crash made sure there was enough talent (programmers) around with spare time to create the web 2.0. (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Amazon, Google, et al) Will the industry invest mountains of VC money and then waste a lot of it and we wait for everyone to recover or does everyone take a more pragmatic approach?

This report is split up in 3 parts. First how my day went, a list of keynotes and then my overall impressions.

How my day went

I arrived at the event around 10 o’clock. Unfortunately I missed the first 2 keynotes. One of them being the launch of the “Things network”. It basically means the application of LoRaWAN around the Amsterdam area. Which provides low powered, wireless internet connectivity of max 50 kbs using only 20 base stations.  Since everyone was at the keynotes, the event floor was quite empty and I walked by the booths that were there. The booths mainly provided the following:

  • Start-ups having a great new connected product or learning kit
  • Big ICT suppliers (CapGemini, Sogeti, Altran, CGI, Suse, etc.) providing consultancy and back-ends.
  • Consultants that can help tie everything together
  • Infrastructure (Rijksoverheid and ING).

Most of the companies I talked still wonder where IoT will go. Instead they made a real good piece of technology or supplying first class services to enable IoT.
Which led me to advice some stand holder to look up a different stand in the hall. Because their products could work together with the product of the neighbours. Those stand holders only had to actually leave their booth and walk 10 meters to move forward. The landscape in IoT land still leaves a lot to be discovered. Especially for the suppliers of IoT.

Next to the booths and talk there people could attend a lot of hackaton’s for all kinds of technologies. Mostly with a lot of hardware, raspberry Pi’s and a lot of connectivity.

Keynotes and talks

(This section is still a bit vague because I hadn’t started on it yet. You can find the 2016 schedule here and here.  But I will make the best of it based on my notes and photo’s.) Here are the most memorable keynotes or at least descriptions of those:

  • LoRaWAN: The new things network that offer low bandwidth connectivity using the old analogue TV frequencies. This has become quite successful the last 2 years.
  • IoT is nothing new: Connecting machines to a network started with the advent of the internet. Every high-tech systems supplier wants to know what is happening to the machines they delivered. It doesn’t matter if it concerns a copier, Waferscanner, X-ray system or SatNav. This allows them to help customers without travelling all the way if they can help it. The companies benefiting the most from IoT will be industry, probably not the consumer markets. By at least of factor of 10.
  • Microsoft: Microsoft wants to offer a single development and deployment stack via Azure that can address anything from Raspberry Pi 3, mobile, laptop, desktop and server. I think that Microsoft wants to offer a more complete experience under Nadella, but they still want everyone in the same silo.  So Microsoft will help you to get under way for 60% of your project, after that you’ll be left out in the cold. Unfortunately your manager will then be sold on that prototype and you’ll remain stuck with this limiting technology.
  • Ministry of Economic Affairs: This was a quite high level talk about strategy, innovation and how this can benefit (Dutch) society. It’s nice to see that the government wants to enable innovation for IoT but also keeps a close eye on how this might disrupt society. As with blockchain, the government tries to keep out of the way. While on the other hand a close eye on what’s happening.
  • Apps as Excel sheets: I’ve forgotten the exact title of this talk. But the feeling of horror that it gave me is still there. It was a talk by 2 developers that showed how easy it was to code up a control program for a robot, check it into version control and then deploy it to an army of robots. If a user didn’t like it, then they could copy and modify the code and upload it to the robot’s they controlled. 
    Which combines the horror of colleagues mailing you a different version of an Excel spreadsheet and deploying this to dangerous robots.  Nobody knows which version they’re using, who wrote it and if it even functions correctly. The robopocalypse will not come via a controlled environment, but via copy-paste-modify-deply C# scripts running in the most horrible places. Everything will be broken. 
The biggest opportunities for IoT.

The keynotes and talks showed the IoT remains a mixed bag for now.  Machines have been connected since forever, the services will become better integrated and in the future everybody will be able to program their own  swarm of robots. I found the picture on the right in an article that shows the biggest oppurtunities for IoT. The article makes clear that a lot of IoT will not become visible to consumers, but to companies and government instead.

Overall impressions

It seems that everyone really gets excited on what they can build with all the building blocks that are available. But what we exactly will build is still unknown.

The pieces of the puzzle are there. Now we still need to build a puzzle.

So the main focus is not the technology but getting ideas to market, while making them successful. Also there was a healthy sceptical attitude during the event.

“Yes, we have great technology and can build anything. But don’t expect mountains of gold and we’ll have to figure things out along the way.”

Another thing I saw. Nobody is doing this alone. IoT is a system of system and they all need to talk to each other. This is new territory and companies work in partnerships using open protocols. Next to open protocols,   blockchain applications will also become huge in this area. If you want to hack it alone, you’ll be left in the dust way behind.

All in all a really interesting day with much content to think about.

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