A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an open source hardware project for networked small controllers. Filament Tap began life as Pinoccio. The makers discovered a latent demand for these small, networked devices among manufacturers and decided to pivot away from the intended “maker” market to the industrial market.
Given networking as a core feature of Filament Tap, tying in with the Internet of Things is the natural next step. And that is just what Eric Jennings, co-founder and CEO did in this interview on the O’Reilly Radar podcast. Here he describes an openstack concept for connecting the Internet of Things.
As an aside, Tim O’Reilly is founder of the highly influential tech publishing house and conference organizer. The podcast highlights O’Reilly authors or speakers at one of its conferences.
Let’s go back 20 years or so. Engineers and executives saw the need for a solid method for connecting digitally all the industrial “things” out there. Maybe a network; maybe a fieldbus.
Then commenced the “fieldbus wars.” The net result came down to Foundation Fieldbus, HART, Profibus (and its derivatives), DeviceNet (and its offspring), and Ethernet (unfortunately with a variety of custom protocols stacked on the open TCP/IP stack.
Jennings comes to the industrial world from the Internet/Web world. He is just as amazed as others I have talked with who venture into our esoteric area of technology. Like his industrial network/fieldbus predecessors, he dreams of an openstack, standard method of connecting the Internet of Things—the decentralized Internet.
In the podcast he answers, “What would a decentralized Internet for the IoT look like and how would it work?” He likened it to the Web:
“We actually take a large portion of our model, our mental model, about a decentralized IoT from the early Web. If you imagine back in the early Web days — way back, mid-80s, early 90s — HTTP and websites had just started coming around, and they were originally focused and designed for academic research papers to link to each other.”
Jennings described the current landscape as “a death by a thousand paper cuts.” He said the situation isn’t ideal and that it “feels very much like a feudalist mentality of getting the largest number of people on your side for your consortium to get people to use yours versus others.”
Asked what the IoT would look like in 10 years if we continue down the path we’re on now:
“If we go on the same trajectory, it will end up probably looking a lot like what the industrial Internet looks like today. You’ve got companies that make their own proprietary solutions and their proprietary protocols — even if they’re not proprietary, they’re not open or standardized. If you buy a product from one company, you have to use all of the products that go along with that company in order to make that solution work. You can’t bring in another product from another company and have them inter-operate very well.”
The decentralized IoT stack, Jennings said, is really about creating a reality where devices don’t require a central authority to operate.
If a decentralized IoT openstack is fully realized and done right, we’ll see all sorts of things occurring that we can’t even imagine now: “I could see companies within an industry working together … the Caterpillars of the world and the John Deeres of the world letting their machines pay each other for data about loads a tractor is holding, or about how much capacity is left. … I have no idea what the future is going to look like, but it’s going to be pretty amazing if we can pull this off.”
Check out the entire podcast. It’s only about 30 minutes, but worth it.
If you are curious about the impact of the IoT or Industry 4.0 on your business, contact me. I have been advising clients on how they can adapt.