Conceptually, the Internet of Things (IOT) means eventually every object imaginable will be connected to the Internet, whether directly or via sensors that measure attributes like temperature or location.
One company to watch in the IOT space is San Francisco’s Spark, a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), that resells cellular data at an affordable fee with no contracts. They are currently Kickstarting their Spark Electron, an affordable hardware board that lets users connect sensors and devices directly to the internet via cellular ($39 or $59 for 2G or 3G). Users may even code the board itself and communicate with it via a modern REST API.
How exciting that users can now web-enable anything, with no complex coding required. Surely, this is the trend: as prices continue to drop and development accessibility improves we’ll see more and more web-enabled objects emerge in the marketplace.
From a consumer perspective the IoT offers several common uses:
- Location-tracking (your dog, bike, etc.)
- Remote Weather-tracking
- Remote operations (open garage, turn lights/heat on & off)
- Capture Measurements (garden soil, rainfall)
To this end, Spark’s hardware lets users easily create a web API to control or receive data about any device, anywhere in the world via cellular. In the future, the number of connected devices will theoretically scale infinitely along with cellular data use as we try to accommodate the sheer magnitude of data about all the connected items that surround us.
The Internet of Things already includes many enterprise applications; the Spark example illustrates how low cost and development accessibility can increase adoption.
Current common IoT devices include parking meters, shipping containers, point of sale, ATMs, vending machines and garbage cans. Yes, intelligent garbage cans. All of these items are now busy sending real-time data to the web—reporting their status, location, and more.
Big Belly is a great example of how the connected garbage can is innovating the enterprise market. Their outdoor trash cans and recycling bins are solar powered and web-connected, sending SMS text messages to report on their status (fullness, required maintenance, etc.).
The most intensive logistical aspect of trash management is resource allocation. Send too many people to the wrong trash cans and you’ve wasted fuel and employee hours. Miss some prime locations and you have overflowing, unsanitary bins leaving a stain on the company’s reputation.
Big Belly sells their web-connected trash and recycle bins to cities, towns, schools, companies, and healthcare facilities. Customers have access to a dashboard and a mobile app that lets them to monitor the location and status of all their connected cans.
In most cases, connected devices are geographically distributed and are serviced by field employees. So imagine all the use-cases for a mobile app that controls your physical assets as well as receives data about them—vending machines, for example.
Users could receive low-inventory alerts on their mobile device from the vending machine itself then use the same device to scan barcodes as they add new inventory to the machine. This, then, becomes a connected system where data from the vending machine and related data from the mobile device work together towards a common goal.
Employees can trigger an action via their mobile device that hits your server-side application layer and activates a connected device via a simple API call. Need to remotely reset a device? Just tap a button in the app. Couple this with the contextual data you receive from mobile device sensors such as GPS, accelerometer, etc. and there are infinite possibilities for valuable use-cases. We enjoy the double-benefit of receiving contextual data for both the thing itself and for the employee responsible for the thing.
In closing, what’s your trash can story? If your company could web-connect anything, what would it be? What seemingly simple object in your organization is ripe for innovation? Where can you best drive value by remotely controlling and receiving data via web-connected objects? Please leave your answers below.
Mobile Strategist / Mobile Product Manager