The Internet of Things (IoT) is regularly in the news, and we’re expecting there to be something like one hundred billion IoT devices within ten years. The promise of innovative new services and efficiency savings are fueling interest in a wide range of potential applications across many sectors including smart homes, healthcare, smart grids, smart cities, retail, and smart industry. Currently there is a lot of activity, but it is occurring in isolation, resulting in product silos and incompatible platforms. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is seeking to change that through work on global standards for using web technologies that bridge IoT platforms through the Web, based upon a new class of Web servers. The Internet provides a basis for connecting systems, but like the phone system, it is not useful unless people are speaking in the same language. W3C proposes a conceptual framework with shared semantics and data formats as the basis for interoperability.
This starts with virtual “things” as proxies for physical and abstract entities that are described in terms of metadata, events, properties and actions, along with REST bindings to popular protocols, such as HTTP, Web Sockets, CoAP, MQTT and XMPP. Servers for the Web of Things will be available for microcontrollers, smart phones, home hubs and cloud based server farms. Larger servers will support a range of scripting languages, whilst smaller servers could use precompiled behaviours. There is also increasing interest in enabling end user service creation based upon event-condition-action rules with graphical editing tools and cloud based processing of vocal commands such as “turn down the heating when I leave home”.
The Web of Things Framework allows for distributed control, with control located where appropriate, and the promise of precise synchronisation of behaviour where needed, e.g. for factory robots and process control. The use of Web technologies is expected to dramatically reduce the cost for implementing and deploying IoT services. Companies will be able to realise savings in operational costs, but just as important, companies will have increased flexibility for rapidly reconfiguring manufacturing processes, and a reduction in time from design to shipping of new products. This will enable a shift from mass production to bespoke production where products are tailored to each customer’s specific needs. I am very much looking forward to talking about this at the Industry of Things World this September in Berlin.
There are many existing IoT technologies that serve different requirements and new technologies appear frequently. This necessitates an adaptation layer to bridge to the Web of Things Framework, and decouples services from the details of how devices are connected. This is crucial to building robust systems that are resilient to changes at lower layers. Security and privacy are important topics, and can be challenging for constrained devices. W3C expects to work closely with the IETF and other organisations on bindings to protocols and best practices for end to end security. To manage privacy, data owners will be able to control who can access their data and for what purposes.
With the success of open source software and the advent of open hardware, there is a huge opportunity for hobbyists and members of the “maker” community to get involved and help build momentum around open standards for the Web of Things. It is now possible to build your own IoT services for a few dollars, and I am looking for volunteers to help with developing open source Web of Things servers on a range of scales from microcontrollers, to cloud-based server farms. Working together, we can build strong standards based upon sharing our practical experience of developing services for the Web of Things.
W3C has recently formed the Web of Things Interest Group and plans to launch a Working Group in late 2015 to standardise the Web of Things Framework. We are very interested in understanding use cases and requirements across business sectors, so please join us to help drive the Web to a whole new level!