Despite the swirl of interest in the internet of things (IoT) progress is likely to be held back by interoperability issues according to speakers at the recent NI Week conference hosted by National Instruments in Austin, Texas.
US presidential innovation fellow Sokwoo Rhee explained during a panel on the future of systems design that the NIST Smart America Challenge on IoT was started “to address a specific problem in cyber-physical systems and the internet of things: the isolation and fragmentation among different applications.
“People think these systems are interoperable but they are not. It is an important thing that I believe should be addressed not just by government or by industry or by academia. It has to be collaborative work,” Rhee added.
Unifying industry protocols
Rhee said the aim is to bring systems operated by disparate industries together. “If we put systems together we can build something meaningful. We can make one plus one add up to more than two.”
Jim Robinson, general manager of Intel’s IoT solutions group, said a key problem is the way that communications and control techniques have evolved differently across various sectors. “The factory floor application has nothing to do with medical. What’s coming to light is that all of these devices have been designed independently, using different protocols and different standards.
“We now see the massive complexity of linking them together,” Robinson said. “We need common interconnects, common data management, a common way of securing data. If we can’t trust data and where it’s coming from it could be worse than useless. There is massive complexity around the fragmentation that we believe needs to be solved. Our whole goal with the IoT is to standardize a platform for interoperability and satisfy the need for a robust security solution. That’s where we are applying our focus [at Intel].”
Lessons from telecom
Professor Gerhard Fettweis, Vodafone chair at TU Dresden, argued the nascent IoT or cyber-physical systems industry could use lessons learned from telecom. “A big challenge in cyber-physical systems is something that has been addressed in communications for many years, to provide things that stably work in a connected environment.
“In mobile communications, we have embedded systems in every router. We had SS7 for signaling. All sorts of standardized protocols,” Fettweis added. “If we build larger systems in a cyber-physical environment we will experience many of the situations that we have seen in the communications environment. We could only make them work with standardized protocols.”
Fettweis claimed the precise level of standardization used in telecom protocols and systems will help improve services in the IoT. “Hardware and software interfaces that are standardized and tested to a level at which we can guarantee a certain uptime, depending on the environment, [will provide service guarantee]. Telecom backhaul equipment for example can guarantee no more than three seconds downtime a year. Telecoms technology can help a lot [with designing for resilience].”