You might have heard about the ‘Internet Of Things’ theory developed at MIT and describing a state where the physical objects around us are interconnected by a network. These objects are connected, smart devices. Let’s say they are specialized devices that can be tracked, that gather and process a huge amount of data, and can provide services.
I think this definitively is happening. The devices we use daily are connected, whether they are phones, ATMs, navigation systems, handheld terminals, self-check in kiosks, digital signs,… In the last 10 years we moved very quickly from a world of devices powered by electronics and programmable chips to CPU-based machines that run an embedded Operating System. Even your vacuum cleaner runs an Embedded OS now (see the Samsung Navibot)!
These Embedded OSes make the devices smarter, more interactive and productive. At the same time, being able to leverage software stacks delivered in Operating Systems allows OEMs to concentrate on the value they can add to the device and on the solutions based on these devices. As a matter of fact we are talking more and more about solutions where in the past we were focusing on the devices themselves in a lot of industries. A good example of this is the Digital Signage solutions. While a few years ago a digital sign was a “simple” display, it now has its own computing unit that is able to do streaming, to connect to the internet, to report failures. This computing unit is also now able to gather information from sensors such as light sensors, motion sensors, cameras and can use this information to adapt the content displayed. It can also deliver this content to some backend system (whether on premise or in the Cloud) to get some analytics done. Immersive Labs proposes a great solution that demonstrate this: it analyses who is standing in front of the digital sign and adapts the content…
But thinking about solutions like this brings new problems:
- How will the different entities of your solution talk to each other, exchange data?
- How do you deal with non-continuous connectivity?
- How do you deploy, secure and manage the devices on an enterprise network?
- Where should analytics be processed?
Operating Systems help a lot for the first one, supporting communication industry standards and protocols, whether they are service oriented, or events driven. If an embedded OS doesn’t support a needed protocol or standard, it usually offers an application platform that allows for developing the support needed fairly easily.
The connectivity part is interesting too. Lots of companies have advanced mobility experience now with the cellphones widely available. New considerations arise for data access, like smart bandwidth usage, roaming capabilities, connectivity scheduling…
The integration of devices into Enterprise networks also becomes an important decision criteria. Will my IT team be able to deploy embedded Operating Systems the same way it deploys PC Operating Systems? Will I be able to get support from the OEM onsite or remotely through my own network infrastructure?…
Another big question is around analytics. Devices have memory and processing power and can now treat big amount of data. That said there is a lot that can be done with this data when it is exported to the Cloud. Can you imaging what an advertising company can do with the information provided by smart digital signs like the one from Immersive Labs dispatched across all the country. This information would allow to redefine instantly which advertising works for which audience in which regions at what period of the day… But we are talking about a HUGE amount of data here and technologies such as StreamInsight will be an important player in this new game for sure:
I recommend you watch the following video with Kevin Dallas (General Manager of the Windows Embedded Business Group), Dr Abel Sanchez (MIT’s Geospacial Data Center) and Yousef Khalidi (Microsoft Distinguished Engineer) discussing the Internet of things and how Microsoft is extending Windows and the Cloud to specialized Devices and read this article.