The IEEE is embarking on an ambitious effort to build a overarching architecture for the Internet of Things, spanning a multitude of industries and technologies.
IEEE P2413, which the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers officially started work on in July, would form a framework for interoperability among connected devices and related applications in home automation, industrial systems, telematics and all other sectors that are expected to use IoT in the coming years. While leaving room for differences across those industries, the standard would allow for sharing of data across IoT systems, according to Oleg Logvinov, chair of the IEEE P2413 Working Group.
"The activities in the Internet of Things today are disjointed," Logvinov said Thursday at the IEEE Standards Association IoT Workshop in Mountain View, California.
IDC analyst Michael Palma, who also spoke at the workshop, counted seven industry groups plus the IEEE that are working in this area. They include enterprise-level bodies such as the Industrial Internet Consortium and more consumer-focused efforts such as AllJoyn.
"What they need is the Rosetta Stone to make everything talk and work together," Palma said.
IEEE is a powerful international body that's set the standards for, among other things, Ethernet and wireless LANs. But the P2413 Working Group, which first met in July, doesn't want to replace existing IoT groups. Rather it aims to create a standard architecture so IoT systems for all industries can work together.
"They need a place where they can come together and move forward as a scalable, unified platform," Logvinov said. "That type of unification can be enabled only by a global, international standard."
Logvinov and others at the event compared today's IoT to a group of islands. To form the greater whole that IoT can be, there's a need for bridges between those islands and eventually a merging into one land mass that can house the equivalent of a big city, they said. The benefits of bringing different areas of IoT together could include economies of scale, lower hardware prices and future applications as yet unimagined.
That problem exists in a nutshell in the medical equipment industry, according to Dr. Julian Goldman, director of medical device interoperability at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The makers of various types of devices for monitoring patients' health don't design their products to share data or even acknowledge one another, so doctors can't get as good information as they might, he said. For example, measurements taken by a blood oxygen sensor on a patient's finger can be affected by the actions of a blood-pressure monitor that squeezes the patient's arm, but the systems don't automatically account for that effect, Goldman said.
"If we don't look at the lessons today in health care, the Internet of Things is not going to be an Internet of Things, it's going to be a pile of things," Goldman said.
The P2413 group hopes to define the basic building blocks of IoT systems that are common across industries, Logvinov said. Among other things, it hopes to turn the information coming from different platforms into commonly understood data objects, he said. It hopes to finish the standard by 2016, a goal that Logvinov acknowledged is ambitious.
A standard that spans IoT will be hard to build, but so will IoT itself, which may represent the next phase of the industrial revolution, he said.
"It's worth the effort," Logvinov said. "It's worth trying to build."
There are too many vendors and groups pushing overlapping specifications for IoT, said Michael Holdmann, executive vice president of sales, marketing and strategy at Coversant, in an interview at the forum. Coversant sells communications software that's used in some IoT systems today.
"People are just trying to do things that are already out there," Holdmann said.
He welcomes the P2413 effort but said it will be important for the group to coordinate with other organizations. In time, people trying to use IoT will demand some kind of order, he said. "The market is going to drive the standards bodies to cooperate."
Coordination with other organizations, including ETSI (the European Telecommunications Standards Institute), ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the machine-to-machine group oneM2M, is part of the P2413 game plan, Logvinov said. There are currently 23 vendors and organizations represented in the P2413 group, including Cisco Systems, Huawei Technologies, General Electric, Oracle, Qualcomm and the ZigBee Alliance.