Tackling the “Internet of Things”

By Steve Liang, Assistant Professor, Department of Geomatics Engineering, University of Calgary

In 1991, Mark Weiser described a vision of the future of computing: "The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it." Many technologies have been seamlessly integrated into our daily lives and have thus become invisible. The Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) are two great examples. We give little thought to what our lives would be like without them.

Today, other new technologies are beginning to insinuate themselves into our daily lives, with potentially revolutionary results. The Internet of Things is one such technology. It is an idea for the future '€” a world that incorporates a layer of digital connectivity on top of existing items and infrastructure. In this scenario, sensors, wireless networks and RFID tags would allow us to communicate with every "thing" around us. Every home, city and object would have the potential to become "smart".

Over the next decade, the Internet of Things is expected to grow to trillions of Internet-connected devices. There won't be a single dominating technology. An endless variety of embedded devices will be required for a variety of applications. This will necessitate many different designs and implementations. And they will need to be interoperable.

This interoperability is a key factor for the success of the Internet of Things, as it will enable "innovation in assembly" and a constantly evolving and expanding ecosystem. Many unexpected applications will undoubtedly be created by the mix-and-match of these devices, sensor platforms, and cloud-based resources.

From a geospatial perspective, the important things to keep in mind with the Internet of Things are: every sensor has a location, this location is almost always important, and outputs from multiple Internet-connected sensors sampling the same phenomena, such as temperature, need to be presented in a uniform way.

The Open Geospatial Consortium has recently created a working group to explore interoperability among Internet of Things devices. The "Sensor Web for the Internet of Things Standards Working Group" will look at the open standards required to harmonize existing sensor information collection, such as controlling Earth imaging satellites and archiving national libraries of geological observation data, with the Internet of Things, to ensure Web-friendly and efficient sensor networking.

Anyone who is interested and willing to contribute to such exciting working group is very welcome to join the discussion by contacting me. The Sensor Web for IoT Standards Working Group charter is also available for review.