Give your IoT stuff a buddy

Wolfram launched their Connected Devices Project.

I find this interesting not for what it is – databases are really not interesting – but for what it makes possible. When services can self-configure, products become easier to use because the user doesn’t have to configure them.

Anything from wiring your own plug, fitting the batteries, connecting to the wifi. Any extra step is annoying but with the internet of things, things are going to get out of hand. Who wants to configure 200 lightbulbs? What happens when one disconnects?

Self configuring stuff is still a pipe-dream even on the web. Services like Zapir.com and IFTTT help. Standards like bluetooth and wifi are probably the best examples of services “discovering” and configuring themselves. I hate to think that a standard is needed to coordinate between things, so they can use each others’ services, find each other and do stuff without you having to configure them. I haven’t found such a standard… does any exist?

This would be amazing. You can imagine throwing a load of things in a room and have them be inter-aware. Able to see and talk to each other in a meta way. An analogy would be when first connecting to the internet (which I did in the ‘90s). It was ok, so long as you wanted to read quite a few manuals. You had to learn a little about DNS, routers and how to configure them. I remember configuring a router over telnet.

For the number of devices to become a reality, they need to work out how to work together. At the moment, it’s like a class of screaming children all wanting “my config, my config, feed me config”. It’s too noisy.

Better to have a quiet class of children who help each other find the coat racks. Actually, maybe that’s an analogy worth following.

The IoT of children…but not like that.

When a new child joins a class they usually have a “helper” or “buddy”. The IoT needs the same thing. You need to be able to nominate IoT devices as IoT-buddies. This is simply somewhere to copy config from and config could cover wifi details, privacy settings and the like. If we use some kind of tracability, you would know where each configuration has come from (i.e. who was the buddy who taught you to do it like that) and where it went to (who did you teach to put you coat on the floor?).

In fact… to bring in another analogy… maybe we should view the configuration of the devices as like Hypertext. The configuration of my scales learnt from the configuration of my laptop, or my fridge, or …. and so on. The privacy settings of my thermostat were learnt from my doorbell. And when I tell my doorbell that my brother is no longer welcome (sorry..), the doorbell tries to broadcast the update to all the devices it taught.

There are many flaws to this idea but perhaps some goodness as well. The point is that for something like Wolfram Connected Devices Project to be really useful, we need the devices to use it directly. That’s no mean feat but it’s not an impossible feat since there are lots of analogies and use cases to learn from.

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