There were a lot of new IoT products unveiled at CES a few weeks ago -- we wrote about some of them -- but one of the most interesting announcements wasn’t a gadget at all. Stephen Wolfram, creator of the knowledge-based search engine Wolfram Alpha, put forward a far-reaching vision of a future in which information based on data from networked devices is as easily searchable as websites, images and videos are today.
The first step for him comes in the form of the Wolfram Connected Devices Project, a database of internet-ready devices and their technical specifications. Thousands of products are included already, and much of that information is accessible through Wolfram Alpha. For instance, search for “heart rate monitor” and you’ll be treated to tables, graphs, and images comparing various brands and products on price, features, and average review scores.
But for Wolfram, it’s not enough to have a database of information about different types of devices. He wants to draw on a much bigger data set -- the data generated by and in the devices themselves. This would be accomplished through the Wolfram Language, which would integrate with each device via drivers stored in Wolfram’s cloud. Then users would be able to generate queries of the data coming from a particular device or devices.
“The goal is to get seamless integration of as many kinds of devices as possible,” Wolfram wrote on his blog. “And the more kinds of devices we have, the more interesting things are going to get. Because it means we can connect to more and more aspects of the physical world, and be in a position to compute more and more about it.”
Standards and protocols like HTML and HTTP provided a common language for creating and viewing content on the web that we know today, and although the Internet of Things has many different protocols and standards trying to fill that same role for connected devices there has not been a clear market winner up to this point.
Wolfram Connected Devices and the Wolfram Language could provide that interoperability by giving all devices (The company has also recently bundled the language with the Raspberry Pi and Intel's new Edison device) a single platform with which to share and combine their data, and by giving developers and users the tools to explore that data and put it to use.
Regardless of the specific protocol used, much of the promise of the Internet of Things will rely on information that is open and available to everyone, especially scientific and environmental data or aggregate, anonymized data from large groups of users with similar devices. And Wolfram isn’t the only one interested in cataloging and connecting those data sources.
Thingful, from UK design firm Umbrellium, is a “discoverability engine” for public data streams that provides a refreshed version of what Umbrellium founder Usman Haque set out to do with his Pachube project all the way back in 2008.
Most of the devices listed are weather stations, oceanographic buoys, and other scientific and environmental monitoring projects -- there are even some satellite tracker-tagged sharks. But some data also comes from privately-owned devices that users have chosen to make public.
Maybe you can’t immediately think of what to do with the precise location of a shark in the North Atlantic, or with moisture levels in the soil near Ulaanbaatar. But as more and more devices join the IoT, users and developers will come up with plenty of creative ways to use that data in meaningful ways.
Resources that catalog and connect that data will play a critical role in the creation of an Internet of Things and we are excited to see how projects like these develop into something more than the sum of their parts in the coming years.