Internet toasters, not far off now
The Morphy Richards Accents 4 Slice Toaster, not quite web connected, yet. Image Credit: eBay

Internet toasters, not far off now

Fanciful notions surrounding the Internet of Things (IoT) often talk about connected fridges (already a reality) and eventually all household appliances sporting some form of higher data intelligence and management ability through web-based controls. Could the man behind the British Gas Hive project be responsible for putting us inside the next toasty tornado?

Pilgrim father, of Hive

The fabulously named Pilgrim Beart is the computer engineer who co-founded AlertMe, the connected home platform which powers Hive, which was sold to British Gas for US$100 million last year. Beart’s latest business venture is DevicePilot, a technology base designed to allow makers of ordinary household products to understand the behavior of their customers by actively seeing how a product is used and feed this directly back into product development. 

Beart: IoT devices are still resource-constrained in terms of memory, comms & power, so 5-10 years away from web homogeneity & ubiquity.

Products as diverse as thermostats, smoke alarms, streetlights (and yes, perhaps also toasters) all have the potential to use this technology.  

DevicePilot is currently working with smart thermostat maker Switchee whose products are used in social housing in the UK.  

Seeing inside the device

Switchee managing director Adam Fudakowski told Internet of Business, “DevicePilot helps us as a business in many ways. Operationally we can instantly see when devices are reporting errors or have lost connection to the Internet – this means we can move instantly and seamlessly to resolve issues if they arise.”

From an operational management point of view, DevicePilot will allow automated device deployment from installation to end-of-life termination. In smart city street lighting this remote management makes lots of sense, obviously. But what if users could simply plug-and-play their Internet toasters in the same way… shouldn’t they be able to rely on the manufacturer (within agreed privacy constraints) to be able to monitor the machine’s health?

The answer, ultimately futuristically arguably, is always going to be yes.

DevicePilot can also provide firmware upgrades and (for more industrial less toaster-related applications) provide integration with existing business processes. Although we say less toaster-related, ultimately there needs to be an Internet toaster management database and dashboard back at the web toaster company.

Industry implications

So where will these advancements take us in terms of the software industry which now seeks to serve the new demands thrown up by the Internet of Things? DevicePilot’s Beart spoke to Internet of Business this January 2017 to explain how the game has changed.

“Sometime over the past decade Moore’s Law carried us all over a rubicon [or point of no return] i.e. software application developer time is now more precious than computer machine time. So it makes sense to ‘work’ machines harder and harder to increase developer productivity,” said Beart.

What Beart is saying is that we can start to break new ground if we allow machine intelligence to work to help us create better machines. We can also use, as Beart suggests, the new structural methodologies witnessed in software application development to make the ‘component parts’ of the IoT run better.

Components make better IoT components

We should look to microservices and serverless architectures says Beart.. this (in basic terms) is the breaking apart of software to run in smaller chunks — so, very useful for the still-nascent IoT, which isn’t always sure which bits of software it wants where. 

Partitioning allows us to keeps things simple explained Beart i.e. it allows the ‘build or buy’ decision to be made (and changed) piece-by-piece.

The historically-fragmented world of embedded software is starting to mature as capabilities increase. But IoT devices are still very resource-constrained (in terms of memory, communications and power) and so they have a five to 10 year transition gaps towards anything approaching the web’s homogeneity and ubiquity,” said Beart.

Early IoT growing pains

He asserts that the early IoT market is characterised by 300 or more ‘all-in-one’ IoT platforms – but this is just symptomatic of an early market which will pass: no-one can be good at everything.

“The result of all this is that IoT is becoming an ecosystem, peopled by vendors of all shapes and sizes, delivering all sorts of services. This allows connected-device developers increasingly to build them out of off-the-shelf parts and services, which is highly efficient,” said Beart.

When the all-in-one platform frenzy dies down, when the opportunity to embrace compoentization of software for better IoT component construction increases and when the IoT throws of the shackles off resource-constrained development… then, maybe then, our toasters will be connected to the Internet.

Jam, on Internet toasted toast, tomorrow.