I spent an interesting evening at the IoT Thames Valley Meetup on Wednesday, organised by Duncan Purves, Director of Connect2 Systems. Didn't quite know what to expect - and was entertained by a variety of presentations, pitches, people and pizza. (Thanks to the IoT Security Foundation for the pizza!)
Sitting there, the diversity of this sector that we call 'Internet of Things' really came home to me - as well as the overwhelming feeling that we are in the middle of one enormous 'work in progress'... And the word on many peoples lips that night was security. Rightly so.
The main presentations served well in highlighting the breadth of stakeholders and participants within IoT - from Governments bigging up and promoting newly emerging tech companies, represented on the night by Enterprise Ireland (our equivalent being Department for International Trade, formally UKTI - I know, trying to keep up with the name changes is exhausting), to Pen Test Partners Ken Munro's 'x-rated' presentation on ethical hacking; enthusiastically, and very easily breaking IoT stuff currently out there in the marketplace. I was there with Kevin Steptoe, VP engineering at Sondrel, another presenter. He talked through the semiconductor supply chain and the process of creating a secure custom IoT chip. Sondrel, with other key semiconductor partners, help Start-ups and OEMs with low cost silicon solutions. Sondrel have partnered with ARM, for example, who offer their Cortex M0 processor for free through its DesignStart Program.
Both Ken and Kevin looked at the critical area of security from different perspectives. Whereas Ken was highlighting the need for manufacturers and developers to make secure the data that a device is holding or communicating to the cloud, Kevin emphasised the need to concentrate on security features designed into the silicon chip itself to secure it from outside attack. It was appropriate that the sponsor for the evening was the IoT Security Foundation - Sondrel and Pen Test Partners are both members.
So Government, ethical hacking, designing chips - it was all there, and the '5 minute' pitches were equally fascinating, further emphasising this diversity. Paul Mellor was one of the pitches, describing his story as a developer of an application for collecting and analysing data from a sports raquet. For me, the need to think through the longevity and resilience of an IoT application was a strong takeaway from this. Ken Munro alluded to this a couple of times in his presentation - a mobile app to start your coffee machine in the office or at home remotely - great!... - but don't you have to put a cup underneath the blasted machine anyway, so are we really enriching our lives by adding this type of technology? We need to get beyond the IoT gimmicks.
Paul Freeman, in his pitch, took apart - literally - an 'Amazon Dash' to examine the technology that goes into this particular gadget. As PF Consulting he specialises in managing the silicon chip manufacturing process. Tellingly from this pitch, it was clear that the technology that was inside the Amazon Dash cost more than the Dash costs retail. Thus highlighting one of the challenges for the semiconductor sector - how to make any margin from the production of these small chips in a sector that has been dominated by the development of very complex and eye-watering expensive mobile chips.
Alex Barter gave a great video presentation and described a very different type of challenge in his pitch - the learning curve he has gone through to develop a commercial proposition for an IoT application.
All of us on Wednesday evening, in our different ways, are participating in the Internet of Things 'Work in Progress'. Events like this one, take us out of our own personal bubble/specialism for a few hours and can give us a fresh perspective, great ideas and further insight. Thanks to everyone that presented and attended, and I look forward to the next meeting.
I work in marketing and communications for Sondrel, an IC Design Services Consultancy. Our global engineering team work predominantly on chip designs in the IoT, automotive, mobile and communications sectors. Have any questions? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact us directly, or download a company overview by clicking on the icon below.