image The “Internet of Things” is an interesting concept that is slowly becoming a reality. The concept proposes that all physical objects are both able to connect to the internet and to communicate with each other.

In this post we consider what this may mean from a wider data management perspective.

This concept is now reaching the point where it has its own council, holds annual conferences and where increasing amounts of research are being conducted.

Two recent blog posts also present ideas on the possibilities and possible pitfalls of the concept.

For an example of how the technology may ultimately work, I’ve copied below an extract from research undertaken by IKEA which explains how the concept may apply in a kitchen:

“In thirty years time, the kitchen will be so technologically advanced that it will almost be alive, responding actively to our needs like only a mother could. To reflect this IKEA has created an image of the future kitchen – INTUITIV. As you walk into the INTUITIV kitchen of the future, LED light projections adjust to your mood – it will know if you have a hangover via sensors that will read your brainwaves. Aromatherapy infused walls will be synced to your calendar, calming you before a big meeting or energising you before a gym session. The fridge will have selected some breakfast options, identifying the essential vitamins for your day via sensors. When you get home, a hologrammed chef will be on hand for recipe inspiration. This kitchen will be intelligent, predicting its inhabitants’ needs with smart technology. Synchronized appliances will make everything happen at the touch of a button, communicating through iPad style devices which will act as the brain of the kitchen, making our lives easier.”


This concept all sounds interesting, but will present some real challenges when scaled up, particularly relating to data:

  1. It is suggested that there will be 50-100 trillion objects in the Internet of Things, which is a very large number – fortunately the IPv6 standard allows for about 3.4×1038 addresses, so we are not likely to run out in the near future
  2. Consistent data standards will be required to ensure that effective communication and analysis can be undertaken, however, if we consider the time taken developing some existing ontologies we should not underestimate the time required to develop an ontology that covers everything known to man!
  3. How will we ensure that there is suitable affordance of data to easily allow programmers and users to know how to interact with all the data that is available to them?
  4. Security is clearly going to be a concern. Controls will have to be introduced to prevent unauthorised access to devices whilst still allowing authorised access
  5. Trust will also be important – how will you decide which devices you want to communicate with, or will all devices all implicitly trust each other?
  6. Privacy will be a major concern, since it will become impossible to lose anything (or anyone) since everything will know where it is! What if you are going for a job interview but do not want your current employer to know where you are?
  7. Assuming that data standards and formats are all agreed plus there is agreement on what data will be supplied by every device, then there should be no data quality problems! Sounds too good to be true!
  8. The volume of data created by 100 trillion objects all independently logging and sending information will be orders of magnitude greater than we are currently familiar with. How will we store all this data? How do we ensure there is enough bandwidth for transmission? How will we analyse all the exabyte and zettabytes of data?
  9. Battery manufacturing will become very profitable once all these devices and RFID tags require independent power. Similarly, getting a job replacing the batteries in all these devices could provide a job for life. When a device loses power, what will happen to the data that it was storing and using?

The idea of individual parts of the Internet of Things, such as the INTUITIV kitchen, may sound very appealing to some, however, the overall data implications of this concept are likely to take some time and resources to establish.

How long before you think this will all become a reality?

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3 thoughts on “Data and the “Internet of Things”

  • 11th September 2010 at 06:47

    Hi Julian ! The Ikea kitchen reminds me very much of Douglas Adams’ nutrimatic vending machine, and all the other devices on the Starship heart of Gold, such as the ventilation system attempting to soothe Arthur Dent by spraying him with cheap perfume.

    My advice is to beware of anything that tastes “almost, but not quite entirely unlike tea”.

    • 12th September 2010 at 13:55

      Hi David,

      Hope you are well.

      Douglas Adams was very much on the ball with many of his ideas, particularly his views on technology and man being over reliant on it. Can you remember where your towel is?

      I wonder how he intended that the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy stored its data?


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