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The internet of things, DIY computing and the disruptive nature of the Pi

We sat down with Miles Hodkinson, Founder and CTO, Ciseco to discuss about where the internet of things is going

1) Who is Ciseco and what market does it serve?

I founded Ciseco around five years ago with a fellow technology fanatic. We share a mutual passion for wireless technology. Now, we are one of the growing army of small companies that design and manufacture electronic components that put the 'things' into the Internet of Things (IoT). Our components, such as wireless modules and sensors, are designed to be really easy to use, affordable and open. It's all in pursuit of making experimentation with the creation of wireless devices as easy as playing with Lego; it's are not quite there yet but it's getting very close. Our goal is to foster technology innovation anywhere and for anyone; from school children in the classroom to retirees in their garden sheds and professionals in their labs.

2) What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Today, the Internet connects people and computers; the IOT is the next step of joining up 'everything else'. When computers become aware of the physical world around them, and around us, we'll start to see a transformation of work and play, with a potentially huge impact on society. The IoT is the technology that will make this possible. For example, your car will be capable of booking its own service and your home will run on auto pilot. These are some of the accepted applications but there are millions more. The likes of IDC have predicted that the IoT will drive revenue of $2.7 trillion by 2017.

3) How is the pace of IoT innovation being influenced by manufacturers?

We think that true innovation is being stifled by large manufacturers, which are only interested in innovating on their own terms. Large manufacturers use patents as a means to restrict trade and innovation from their competitors, but this 'walled garden' approach will undoubtedly slow the pace of innovation in many parts of the IoT. Rather than being constrained by pre-conceived visions about what 'things' can be, IoT is about doing anything there is a need for. As such, everybody should have the chance to create new wireless devices without the need for a university degree or extensive experience. For this to happen, the IoT needs to be open to enable such innovation.

4) What sort of IoT creations are already emerging on your hardware?

IoT inventions are starting to emerge all around us, but a good example is a neighbourhood in Lincolnshire, where a community of friends is using our wireless technology to connect individual household security systems together. If one family is out, their neighbours' alarm systems are alerted if there is a break-in at that house; so you could almost call it Neighbourhood Watch 2.0! Elsewhere; medical researchers at Birmingham University were struggling to find an affordable way to ensure that the stem cells they work with were stored at a constant temperature of -80 degrees. Using our equipment and a Raspberry Pi controller, they were able to build a wireless monitoring system that automatically alerts them if the temperature of the freezer goes higher than -80 degrees, for less than £40.

5) What kind of influence do you think the emergence of Raspberry Pi will have on IoT?

The Raspberry Pi has shown that more people than many of us would expect, have a massive appetite for tinkering with electronics, a bit like the way kids did with chemistry sets in the past. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has taken a difficult technology and made it affordable and accessible for people to use. ICT has become a core subject in schools in the UK and the curriculum has been given a bias towards programming. The Raspberry Pi is central to getting this new curriculum being taught in schools. In the same way that James Dyson revolutionised an old idea (vacuum cleaning) through a different approach, I believe easy to use electronics will enable a person of any age or background to dream of becoming the creator of the next major invention in the IoT.

6) With so many devices being connected to the internet, is there a concern for security?

The security of the IoT is often seen as a fundamental obstacle, but it doesn't need to be. An open approach to IoT will allow users to control their own data and 'things' in ways they are comfortable with. While the world is predicted to have billions of networked devices, they won't all be connected to one another or even directly to the Internet. Groups of devices will need to be contained and constrained just as private computing networks are now behind firewalls, gateways and strong encryption.

7) Why do you think it is important for the government to see the economic potential behind IoT and offer its support?

The UK leads the world just as it did with the industrial revolution, but Government support for IoT innovation, being made available to small businesses and researchers through the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), is too low. If this support doesn't increase, the UK will soon fall behind the likes of China, which has a 5-year plan for IoT development. To truly capitalise on the economic benefits of the IoT, there needs to be an engineering mentality at the heart of government, backed by real action.

8) What would you forecast for the future of IoT?

The potential for the IoT is utterly endless, with the potential to save money, time and even lives. For example, the NHS could save millions by automating a few physical processes, allowing staff such as nurses to focus more on immediate patient care rather than routine check-ups. There are many parallels between what is already happening in the manufacturing sector and what is likely to happen with the IoT. For example, 3D printers are democratising the means of production, which is leading to fundamental change in manufacturing methods. We are likely to see similar developments in the IoT, with new industries emerging that will permanently alter or replace what was there before.

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.