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Technology & Entrepreneurship

The Internet of Things: Previewing a Rapidly Emerging Present

February 5, 2014

Which cars in the stream of traffic flowing down a highway exit that leads to a football stadium are going to that evening’s playoff game? Their GPS systems know, and in the age of an “Internet of things” they could flash relevant advertisements targeted at game-goers in those game-goers. It may sound futuristic, but that future is already here. The Internet of things is the instrumenting and connecting of not just people, but all manner of devices all around us – from thermostats to industrial equipment; billboards to individual products sitting on store shelves. It’s a huge opportunities for entrepreneurs who understand the type and magnitude of change it represents. That was the overarching message from Vice President for Strategic Research Peter Coffee in his talk, “Intersection of All Things,” The Massachusetts Technology Council’s Internet of Things Kickoff, hosted at Foley Hoag’s Innovation District offices recently.

Coffee spoke before a standing-room-only audience of over 200 people.

As sensors, processing, network connectivity and bandwidth become cheap and ubiquitous, he said, the real opportunity of the Internet of Things lies in dramatically influencing behaviors and expectations. Services and capabilities built on the unique abilities of the Internet of Things will create new expectations and attendant business opportunities. As entrepreneurs begin to grasp the potential of embedded networked intelligence, they will dramatically improve the way customers, companies and people interact with products, each other, and their world.

With the accelerating pace of technology development, companies that proceed slowly, will be lost in the wake of the Internet of Things revolution, he warned. “It used to take three years to fall behind,” he said, “now it takes three months.”

During a lively Q&A session after Coffee’s talk, he was challenged to use one word to describe the key to maximizing the profit of the Internet of Things. Coffee replied, “enrich.” Expanding on his answer, he explained that using the Internet of Things to profitably improved customer experiences requires companies to question their fundamental assumptions about what business they are in and why their customers are their customers.

Asked about obstacles, Coffee said they fall into two realms – technical and perceptual. On the technical side, he saw a need for greater battery life for components like remote and embedded sensors and a need to make them more robust. Potentially greater problems reside on the perceptual side, Coffee warned, as issues such as the recent NSA surveillance revelations increase the public’s concern about who has detailed information on their lives and what is done with it.

For those in the room looking for specifics on where to most fruitfully jump onto the Internet of Things bandwagon, Coffee said that on the technical side, from sensors, software and semantics were all rich in possibility for engineers as was the uncovering and development of new business models.