2016 will be the year of the Internet of Things. Just three days after the new year started, Mark Zuckerberg announced that his new personal challenge for 2016 will be to build a smart home for his family. A home where he is able to voice-control music, lights, temperature, and where the doorbell can recognize his friends’ faces just by looking at them.
The era of the smart home and the smart office is starting to emerge. By his own estimation, two and a half years ago, relayr co-founder and CPO Jackson Bond had never heard the designation the “Internet of Things”. Now he’s definitely the person you want to ask about all things IoT. Jackson and his team at relayr have very successful months behind them: they won the 2015 CODE_n award at CeBIT, the 2015 Finaki Industry Innovation Award, the 2014 Cisco IoT Innovation Award, raised $11 million from Kleiner Perkins, and successfully expanded their business model from B2D (business-to-developer) to B2B. They count BSH, Cisco and the City of Paris among their clients. We asked Jackson about the latest trends in IoT, what can we expect from smart offices, and in general how can we make “dumb” devices smart.
I'VE HEARD THAT, SURPRISINGLY ENOUGH, YOU STARTED RELAYR BECAUSE OF YOUR GRANDMOTHER.
For most people Internet of Things is a very difficult concept to grasp. You can talk about industrial machines, factories, logistics, but what most people immediately understand is something really human and emotional and concrete. Unfortunately, it happens to many of our grandparents that they fall and have no one to take care of them on the spot. There is a definite need for health tracking and monitoring systems in their homes, so elderly people are indeed one of the many clear use cases for smart devices.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS INTERNET OF THINGS?
Simply put, a sensor connected to the Internet that is able to trigger an action from something else. Right now only our computers and phones are connected to the Internet. Imagine that everything else around you is connected through a sensor: anything you are sitting on, wearing, things you touch, everything has a specific sensor to interact with each other.
It’s comparable to a human’s five senses. Without them you’re not a human being. If you give senses to a thing, it suddenly becomes alive. That’s basically the rest of the Internet, or the rest of the world that we haven’t explored yet, 99% of our surroundings.
HOW CAN THE AVERAGE PERSON BENEFIT FROM THIS TECHNOLOGY?
The magic happens when you start placing sensors around. You get more and more information about your environment. For example, in the case of my grandmother, the sensors can detect normal movement or abnormal movement, like a fall, and then alert caretakers and neighbors.
Another example, a building has multiple functions: lighting, cooling, heating, power management, security systems etc. Each unit is likely to be made by different companies, in different time periods. However, all these systems are able to communicate with each other if there’s a way to connect them. Once they are connected, they become part of an ecosystem that you can easily monitor – just like you can monitor your body with the already widely used health trackers. Your building will be able to react to outside information which is already online, and the weather information can tell the building when it’s starting to freeze outside, so it’s time to heat up.
YOU WORKED IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BUSINESS BEFORE. WHERE DID THE IOT IDEA COME FROM?
It came from our founder, Harald Zapp, formerly from Cisco, together with Michael Bommer, formerly of Nuance. They were planning to build a cloud platform already back in 2012. Truth be told, when Michael came to me in April 2013 and pitched their idea for “Internet of Things”, my reaction was: “Sorry, the what?!”. I’d seriously never heard of that term before… I come from a product and corporate development background, so I decided to do my homework first and take some time to analyze the business case. A couple of weeks later, as I got deeper and deeper into it, it became very clear to me that this is not just about some weird new technology, this is the next wave of the Internet.
WHAT IS RELAYR’S MISSION?
Relayr is the cloud middleware. We connect things together to rapidly advance IoT for use in the digital transformation of business processes. We connect old legacy devices and equipment to new ones, to allow a whole new generation of solutions to emerge.
AMONG ALL THE SMART THINGS YOU CAN BUILD WITH IOT, WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE EXAMPLES?
My favorite examples are the ones that show you how an entire industry could be transformed.
Take our clients, Bosch Siemens Home Appliances. They have around 500 million appliances that are already in the market, people own and use. These are old, “dumb” devices, which are not connected. They recognized the market potentials of smart technologies and launched a new line of smart appliances, including wifi-connected refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers etc. The problem with that is that most people don’t own wifi-connected home appliances yet, and are reluctant to replace their already working ones, especially if they are five times more expensive.
But what if you could connect your old devices to sensors? Here’s where we come in. We can easily “retrofit” these old devices by attaching wifi-connected sensors to them. The sensor data is sent to the cloud and the app can warn the user: “Hey, you just left your oven on and you’re leaving the apartment”. In this case the price can no longer be a concern because these sensors won’t cost you too much.
WHAT ARE YOUR OWN PROJECTS THAT YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
One of our exciting internal projects is to build smart office systems. We have a couple of really bright young guys on our team, who are working with office sensors in our office. They use temperature sensors, air quality sensors, noise sensors etc., and now they can monitor the noise, track the doors for security and watch the elevator moving up and down in our building. They built this system within just a few days, it’s amazing!
HOW WOULD YOUR DAY LOOK LIKE IN A SMART OFFICE?
Let’s take the following scenario: I come to the office in the morning. When I enter the building the doors open, the lights turn on and the elevator starts rising. The heating system already knows not to heat up the room too much, because I don’t like it too hot. Then the coffee machine starts working and prepares my favorite hot drink to kick the day off.
DO YOU THINK THE IOT REVOLUTION HAS ALREADY BEGUN?
Definitely! First, computers were brought online and we had the ability to share information within the browser. It took 15 years for the browser to be replaced by the app. Apps started emerging in 2008 and disrupted our lives within five short years. IoT started emerging in 2013, it’s already taking off and becoming something people hear about and start to implement. The cycle of disruption is becoming a lot faster.