International CES 2014: A tipping point for the Internet of Things?

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Cisco’s shopping cart

As predicted, the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show simply overflowed with examples of IoT finally becoming a marketplace reality – from the connected home to the connected automobile to digital health – as well as large companies vying for the opportunity to merge cloud and mobile technologies with sensors and MEMS technology.

In his keynote presentation John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, predicted that “2014 would be the transformational pivot point for IoT” and that the total cost benefit going forward could be as high as $19 trillion for both public and private sectors. He foresees retail, for example, gaining at least $1.5 trillion in benefits from the implementation of smart shopping carts that both assist and track customers.

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FootLogger demo

The pace, scale and potential impact of IoT emergence has drawn attention from multiple interested parties associated with policy and regulations. During a panel discussion on this subject, FTC Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen encouraged governments to better understand the effects and benefits of innovation on society, and to assess whether existing laws or regulations in the market place can right any potential threats. Adam Thierer, senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, warned against the “precautionary principle” model which curtails innovation until it can be proven to not be a serious threat to society. He sees the EU as following this worldview in its approach to privacy and IoT, and he strongly endorses the principle of “permissionless innovation” fostered by the U.S. which deems that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default. In reality, evolution of IoT will most likely be a combination of all three due to the explosive growth and diversity of the technology globally.

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FashionTEQ notification ring

In another session on MEMS and sensor fusion, Mike Luna, CTO of Jawbone, pointed out that technology on its own is not the key to success. Luna believes that the real challenge for companies such as Jawbone, Nike and Fitbit with their new wearable products will be ensuring that they seamlessly fit into consumers’ everyday lives. Key to this is making sure that they do not adversely react with bodily or external substances, so that they can just be worn and forgotten. Only then can consistent and reliable data be obtained from them and used in such areas as health, sports or general lifestyle enhancement. These new wearables not only communicate with smartphones but with one another and, according to Luna, are in effect creating the Internet of Me, where they become hubs for connection and exchange of data. For wearable technology to really take off I believe that people need to feel socially comfortable with it, and I was interested to see the large number of European, Asian and American companies pursuing the fashion vector for wearables, whether it was notification jewelry such as pendants and rings, or watches that blended style with technology.

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Multiple eyewear options

Rival eyewear products were also abundant at this year’s CES, some incorporating cameras that stream everyday life or automatically take pictures to create an individual’s video blog. Others focused on the industrial space, creating safety glasses with video streaming capability that can be used for training, diagnostic or quality assurance purposes, for example on a production line when a video recording of the process could prove useful. Add to this the increased use of augmented reality, as seen in Googles Glass, and the production and education environment of the future looks very different.

Judging by the technologies on display at this year’s CES, the future is closer than most of us realize. Conference speaker Rob Nail, CEO and Associate Founder of Singularity University, warned, however, that humans are not educated to cope with the exponential technology growth curve that we are currently experiencing. Worse still, he presented evidence that we have limited capability to forecast it. The good news is that, when we finally accept what’s happening, we apparently adapt very quickly! Over the next year it will be interesting to see if the Internet of Everything turns out to be the fundamental tipping point that keynote speaker John Chambers predicts, or if it’s merely one of many on the accelerating exponential technology curve referenced above.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

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