From the Internet of Things to Systems of Systems

By Doug Mohney April 29, 2015

People have gone crazy over the Internet of Things (IoT). Let me be the first to say: I really don't want to put my toothbrush, oven, washer, dryer, and fridge on the Internet or connect them in any way, shape or form to anything else. At some point, there are diminishing returns in sticking a chip and network capability into a device, no matter how cheap the silicon and interface are, relative to the device. Smart people are starting to talk about systems rather than things. I'm hoping we'll see IoT evolve to SoS (Systems of Systems) in the future. Hoping, but not hopeful, alas.

The best way to put IoT to SoS in context is to start with two examples: The Connected Car and Fitness Wearables. The Connected Car would be a device of systems that talks with any number of other systems -- it is not a stand-alone device and has little value being a stand-alone device. For the individual owner, the Connected Car talks to the home network and maybe the office/business network, notifying it of departures and arrivals, triggering events with the Connected Home system of systems, such as adjusting the air conditioning and water heater.

Today, the Connected Car also talks to its manufacturer; the best example is GM providing OnStar for "free" for new model owners. GM provides free basic services to the owners and collects maintenance and reliability data from its vehicles, enabling it to understand replacement part demand, fine tune warranties and look at other issues relating to a large fleet of rolling vehicles.

GM's telematics data collection feeds into a system that includes Big Data analysis from hundreds of thousands of vehicles. This is a business-owned system that operates independently of the owner's systems and needs. The "thing" of the Connected Car is one node or piece or part of an Internet of Things, but it is more valuable as a participant in two Systems built to deliver value.

We can add a third system in the future, when the Connected Car starts actively talking to its peers on the highway, providing real-time information both to the vehicle and to cloud-based systems that provide real-time traffic information and recommendations in a far more intelligent manner than today's first generation traffic advisory services, distributing multiple alternative traffic routes across a pool of local vehicles rather than simply putting everyone on the most obvious alternative -- and merely shifting the traffic jam to that road.

Fitness wearables have the potential for so much beyond simple motivation. As a stand-alone device, a fitness wearable keeps track of activity and vitals. Working with a smart phone and/or wireless network, it can log the activity into the cloud to keep track of personal goals, and the data can also be shared with a health care provider for greater insight into well-being. Aggregated analysis of fitness data can provide deeper insights -- call it the wisdom of the crowds through Big Data -- for better training techniques and potential injury risk. Feedback based on Big Data models can provide warnings and alternative strategies for the user.

Further, the fitness wearable can also be blended into a holistic health system that could provide virtual "lifeguard" services warning of a stroke, heart attack, or other significant condition or injury. The "thing" of wearables moves beyond being a simple device and becomes a part of a value-added system that provides the benefit of better medical care when needed.

I'm hoping that we see more discussion of Systems of Systems at the IoT Evolution Expo in Las Vegas on August 17-20, 2015. I'm still debating if I should participate in the AT&T Fast Pitch event for a chance at a $10,000 first prize. Anyone want to form a team?

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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Contributing Editor

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