April 23, 2013, 11:46 AM — If "cloud" is the biggest topic out there, then the Internet of Things (IoT) is probably a close second.
There are two types of connections that things - that is, stuff other than computers -- use to connect to the Internet: Direct, where the thing can either talk as a client in more-or-less real time to whatever remote online application it interfaces with or where it can be seen online as a server; and indirect, where communication to the IoT is mediated by some method other than IP.
SquareTag sells tags; simply a QR code printed on various labels such as luggage tags, key ring tags, and adhesive aluminum plates. You attach these tags to something and then, and this is where it gets interesting, configure an "app" on the SquareTag server to be the online proxy for that thing.
The simplest use of a proxy app is to identify something you own ... your stuff. For example, you might put a SquareTag on your suitcase or an aluminum tag on your bicycle frame.
If that thing should get lost and someone finding it is smart enough to scan the QR code it will bring up a Web page displaying your contact information and, if the lost thing (or more likely, stolen thing) is your £25,000 Factor Aston Martin One-77 Cycle (they're only making 77 of these), you'll most likely be offering a reward. A large one.
Where this concept gets really interesting and novel is when the apps become more sophisticated. For example the bicycle app could record the geolocation of the device accessing the URL associated with the tag and or generate a text message to you.
Imagine if this technology was a standard on bicycles! It could act not only as way of identifying your property but also be part of the buying and selling of bikes. The seller would simply go into the proxy app for the bike and assign it to the buyer. Or maybe manufacturers could use the technique for registration purposes and provide the infrastructure for managing the transactions.
What's so important about this concept of a proxy for things is that it allows for the inclusion of things that can't easily or cost-effectively be connected by "smart" devices.
For example, adding instrumentation to your 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 so you can track your fuel consumption is not something most people would attempt, but using the SquareTag system you'd simply stick a SquareTag tag on your fuel cap and scan it whenever you put fuel in your car.
On the SquareTag site there's an app you can associate with that QR code called STFuel and when scanned on your smartphone, a form will be automatically loaded. This form is specifically for recording fuel usage data for that particular vehicle. You enter the fuel price, gallons added, and the odometer reading and the app stores the record. When you access the app online it can analyze the data and draw a graph for your fuel usage.
This indirect communication-based proxy technology is a powerful idea that's really quite simple to implement to expand the Internet of Things.
But what about the direct communications-based devices? The problem is that many of the products that are in this class of the Internet of Things simply ... what's the technical term? ... oh yeah, suck. The problem is that in the process of "thingifying" them designers seem to be forgetting that the Internet isn't reliable, isn't always available, and that performance matters. We will discuss this problem and how to design things for the Internet of Things next week ...
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.