In a previous post I explained why the IoT is appearing in this period thanks to the network technology evolution. It would not be a complete analysis if I would not care about the social evolution. In parallel of IoT and technologies there are other rising trends : Makers, Fablabs, embedded systems, 3d printing and crowd-founding.
Take a look at personal computing some decades ago when guys like Jobs or Gates make the first line of code and solder the first micro-processors in their garage ; they just used the technological elements available that time and were able to make them doing much more than what they have been made for. They did it because they were able to do it. The same story appends in the late 90’s with Internet : anyone was able to code some PHP stuff and create a service in his garage thanks to this students have created Facebook and many more.
At the opposite, when smart phone appeared in the middle of the 90’s it was a technology that requires strong industrial assets and this technology has been limited to major companies. The smart-phone revolution had been the same opening door to programmer to an new area with applications (apps). In fact all previous hardware evolutions since the Personal Computer beginning was requiring huge technological assets to be part of it.
IoT disruption is breaking these last 40 years where only software were hackable by getting hardware accessible.
Let see why
Designing an up-to-date hardware system is a matter of specialist, with high frequency over GHz, 32b memory bus and high density components, you need expertize, specific software and industrial tools to make them. This is a reason why it was not possible to be part of the last hardware revolution in your garage. In the past 4 years many new system have been created like raspberry PI, beagle-bone… For a couple of euro you can access to the result of this technology and use it as a foundation of something more complex. They are computers for 30 euros offering more performance that you generally need. With these technical foundation, open-source and skill sharing mindset more largely deployed in our society have generated Eco-systems where you can find documentation, sample code, frameworks, additional card to extends board capacities. Like in the 70’s hackers can get this and extend this to disrupt existing markets and makes IoT a new world. The difference is that they are not hundreds but million over the world. We can assume that in the 70’s, 10% of them are doing tangible things with it when nowadays it sounds more 1% but at the end it sounds like tenth more today.
Raspberry-pi is a really accessible technology, not really made for IoT due to the power consumption but a really nice platform to make prototypes, then to go on the second well deployed technological brick : Arduino. With a really large eco-system with easy to use components ; based on open-source schematics and software, creating a communicating object is a child game. This for a cost of less than 10 euros. The current family is not yet optimized for power consumption but the hardware have all what it needed to support it. Some derivate platform already makes it.
Accessible Hardware design
13 years ago, when stopping to do hardware design at work, I was not able to continue to hack in my garage. I played with some FPGA but making a hardware design was not accessible. Making a Printed Circuit Board was costing 1000€, equipment to measure and debug was more of this. This was really limiting.
Now days it has changed, and it has changed fast in the last year. This is related to makers, open-source, technology progress and china’s low cost production based on copy. Making a PCB now costs about 50€ ; equipment is really accessible. Personally I own a digital analyzer buy on Kickstarter of 80€, an oscilloscope buy in china for around 100€, a soldering station including airflow for 100€. Globally for less than 1000€ you have all what you need to get start, including the PC to run the software !
Software are also free : in a domain where we were uses to pay development licenses and so on, now most of the thing are open-source and when not you generally found an open-source alternative.
The last piece that was missing to make the IoT object generation was to turn the electrical circuit and its associated software into an object. The plastic industry is like the PCB creation 13 years ago. Efficient but expensive, for good reasons related to mold and so on, but not accessible in a garage.
3D printing disrupt that state by making accessible object creation and I assume molding in a short period of time. Today, for less than 1000€ you can create your object prototype in your garage ; many materials are available and the print quality is better and better. The current limit is the time to print an object, for a 10x10x10 box you have to count in hours. Good for prototypes, not for a series. By-the-way I’m sure we can print mold and do some plastic injection for really small quantities.
We are just at the beginning of this technology but you can see how it is important in the IoT disruption. With a prototype you have a product like, you can sell / pre-sell on crowd-founding platforms.
I should say KickStarter as platform is actually the only one making sense at least in the IoT domain … For this I still really disappointed that French can’t create project and I consider that our state should do their best to change this situation as soon as possible ! Crowd-founding is actually the best way to go out of your garage : convincing investor you are doing innovation is a fight : convince someone that you are creating something that is actually needed by no-one but that will become a must have in the future is a challenge. In a country where there is not a large place for risk taking it is harder anymore. Crowd-founding offer a demonstration to the creator and to the investors of the potentiality (or not) of the product. When thousand of creators makes products in their garage, consumer, investors need to choose what are the one to back on.
That is in my opinion the important role crowd-founding plays in this disruption : creating trust on creation and open a word wide market to garage door for IoT objects.
Crowd-funding actually initiate a lot of project that are the basement of IoT : arduino platform with BLE, wifi, wearable platforms, wifi embedded arm like sparkcore …. And launch the first IoT objects like rings, trackers …
Disruptive communication protocol, embedded platforms largely used, accessible hardware design, 3D printing technologies and crowd-founding platform, all together are creating a really favorable environment for creation, disruption ! Anyone – with a minimal software and hardware interest and skills – can make whatever he have in mind. This is really looking like Internet revolution. 20 years ago we had no idea of what Internet would be for us at this time and I’m sure that for you as for me it is nowadays larger than what I expected to be 20 years ago.
I’m pretty sure IoT will be a larger change in our life as it brings the virtual world of Internet into the physical world we are living in !