RFID Journal Live 2023

From the standpoint of both applications and economics, Bluetooth Low Energy and RAIN RFID technologies are rapidly converging.

In short, that’s our key takeaway from the RFID Journal Live 2023 exhibition floor in Orlando last week.

Bluetooth Low Energy and RAIN RFID are both AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture) technologies, and, perhaps fittingly, the AIDC industry was celebrating its 50th anniversary (AIM50) at this year’s conference. The core difference between the two is that the former is an active technology (beacons spontaneously transmit their identifier using self-sourced energy) and the latter is a passive technology (tags backscatter their identifier using energy supplied by readers). Historically, this difference has maintained a clear division in their real-world applications.

So what has changed? In this blog post we’ll examine three factors: costs, and sensing & real-time location capabilities.


When we founded reelyActive in 2012, active RFID tags (including the ones we developed) cost tens of dollars each while passive RFID tags were well under one dollar each. Economics clearly separated the applications of active and passive RFID technologies.

At this year’s conference, we congratulated the InPlay team in person on their contribution to the advent of the $1 Bluetooth Low Energy tag: at the time of writing, anyone can purchase their innovative IN100 IC for $0.40 each on DigiKey in a reel of 5,000 PCS!

reelyActive meets Reelables at RFID Journal Live 2023

And, at their booth, we discovered Reelables (of course we reely love the name!) which use that IC to offer printed Bluetooth Low Energy tags for logistics and supply chain in a form factor and process identical to that of passive tags. It’s not difficult to imagine the market gap that can fill, especially given the price advantage of Bluetooth Low Energy infrastructure, which may already be present, as we explained in our recent Infrastructure 4.0 post!

Speaking of infrastructure costs, the passive gap is narrowing too: at the conference we picked up a Chafon CF600 USB RAIN RFID reader for less than we’ve paid for some Bluetooth dongles!

Sensing Capabilities

The ability to sense environmental (temperature, humidity, etc.) and other factors has typically been the realm of active RFID technologies, given the cost and energy requirements of the sensors themselves. That is changing fast. At this year’s conference we saw examples from a number of RAIN RFID vendors, and even picked up samples using ASYGN’s AS321X IC which supports a variety of internal and external sensors.

RFID LED Labels at RFID Journal Live 2023

We were impressed too with live demos of RAIN RFID tags sporting LED tags that can be illuminated by reading a dummy address on the tag. For instance, the EDISON line of tags from Shanghai ReadFind IoT is sufficiently economical to imagine tagging individual folders, bins, or other containers throughout a facility, facilitating picking and replenishment by a human operator, saving time and avoiding mistakes locating the right item: it blinks!

RTLS Capabilities

Continuing on the theme of location, real-time location systems (RTLS), which facilitate the location of individual tags within a physical space or facility, have typically been the realm of active RFID technologies. That too is changing fast!

RF Controls RTLS & Pareto Anywhere open source middleware at the ESG-UQAM GreenUXLab

Since the 2022 conference, we’ve had the occasion to integrate our open source middleware with RF Controls’ RTLS technology for RAIN RFID on a number of client deployments, and to see for ourselves just how well their technology delivers to promise! Especially in high-ceiling environments, where their Smart Antennas shine, the value proposition and ROI for item-level tracking is unmatched, with performance rivalling Bluetooth Low Energy systems based on angle-of-arrival. Yes, passive RTLS!

It’s all AIDC

When reelyActive first attended RFID Journal Live in 2013, the RAIN RFID Alliance had yet to form, and Bluetooth Low Energy had yet to assume its place as a global standard for active RFID. Now, a decade later, we might argue that the need to explicitly distinguish between the two—or between active and passive RFID technologies altogether for that matter—may be more about technicality than practicality. 50-years on, AIDC is still AIDC, and for most end users, “labels that you can automatically identify, count and locate” surely resonates better than RFID, RTLS, BLE, RAIN or any other acronym we use in this industry!

And for that reason, we’re as proud as ever to be abstracting away those acronyms from end users (and integrators), fostering interoperability across vendors and technologies with our open source Pareto Anywhere middleware that simply provides real-time digital context: “who/what is where/how.”

A brief history of Ambient IoT

The recently released 2023 Bluetooth Market Update includes as a “Driver for Tomorrow” what the SIG calls Ambient IoT.

Source: Bluetooth 2023 Market Update

To celebrate IoT Day (today, April 9th), we thought it would be fitting to reflect on how the concept of ambience became intertwined with the Internet of Things (IoT), in the form of a brief history from our own unique perspective.

Identifiable, not necessarily connected

We start our story in 2012 when, as reelyActive was graduating from the FounderFuel accelerator, Cisco announced the “Internet of Everything,” predicting 50 Billion things by 2020. We were dumbfounded by that number: why was it so low?!?

Having cut our teeth in Active RFID for the better part of the 2000s, the reelyActive co-founders considered anything automatically identifiable (i.e. by radio-frequencies) as counting towards the nascent IoT, with predictions already in the Trillions. While the early IoT hype bubble was all about connected things, we were already building for the identifiable things that would weave themselves into the fabric of life all around us.

Ambient infrastructure

Of course trillions of identifiable things need to be identified, and that requires infrastructure. Everywhere. And that’s the problem we were solving early on with our novel reel architecture, which we published at the IEEE Local Computer Networks conference in 2013.

reelyActive’s demo at IEEE LCN 2013

The concept is simple: a reelceiver converts radio packets from identifiable things into standard serial packets on the wire, which can be consumed and relayed by any computer. At the conference in Sydney, we demonstrated Active RFID and Bluetooth Low Energy devices being not only identified—but also located—using a single modular infrastructure.

The Apple Advertising Event

It’s timely to mention Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), because by 2014, it had become the de facto global standard for Active RFID, with a Billion devices shipping that year alone. And that same year something truly ambient would happen: millions and millions of Apple devices suddenly began to spontaneously transmit BLE advertising packets to discover and interact with one another.

I (Jeffrey Dungen, reelyActive co-founder and CEO) remember a day in May 2014 when I thought our BLE reelceivers developed a bug because they started spitting out an unprecedented amount of packets. I discussed this with a friend and neighbour who exclaimed to me:

“Hey, did you notice that Apple devices just started advertising, like all the time?”

I would love to know if Apple had a code name for that day, or if they realised its significance beyond their own ecosystem of devices. We simply took to calling it the Apple Advertising Event.

People, not Things?

Of course, around that time, BLE radios were finding their way into higher-end personal electronics such as smartphones and wearables, which were carried by people. And the ambient BLE packets transmitted by those personal devices were primarily at the service of the people themselves. The Internet of Things was looking more like an Internet of People, for which we were pioneering what, back then, we called BYOD RTLS.

“We are advertising” from reelyActive’s 2017 pitch decks

Realising the potential, we developed initiatives such as our reelyApp, which allowed users to Advertise[themselves] with the Physical Web. The one-liner on our web page became “We unlock the value of the data you choose to share” enshrining a user-centric value proposition for the Internet of Things (and People), where anyone or anything could share ambient data at a human scale, with the expectation of contextualised experiences in return.

Ambient sounds about right

The term ambient is often associated with sounds or music, and so it was natural for us to collaborate with artist Evelyne Drouin in 2018 to create Présences Périphériques: “an installation that gives sonic presence to interconnected apparatuses worn by viewers within a space.”

Présences Périphériques: ambient wireless packets as ambient sounds

Exhibited as contemporary art at Centre Clark, the installation provided us the opportunity to observe individuals’ initial reaction to discovering that they could “sense” ambient radio-identifiable things around them—in particular their own personal devices!

The one-liner on our web page had fittingly become “Embrace the ambient data in your space” which coincided with the ambient technology concepts we discovered in Malcolm McCullough’s Ambient Commons.

A sense of things to come

Fast-forward to this year (2023) in which we’ve already seen the realisation of the elusive $1 Bluetooth beacon. The economies of scale are now such that commodity sensors, including temperature, motion, magnetic contact, illuminance, etc., can join us throughout the spaces in which we live, work and play. In 2020 we added a data type called dynamb, for dynamic ambient data, to our open source middleware, which represents, in a standard, vendor-agnostic way, how all these “things” sense real-world context.

The next breakthrough in price point and proliferation is likely to come from energy harvesting technologies such as Wiliot, which promise stick-on-anything capability with unlimited battery-free autonomy. Of course that’s the same promise as RAIN RFID (a mature technology that has already shipped about 150 Billion devices), but with the advantage that the required ambient BLE infrastructure is actually nearing ubiquity.

Ambient infrastructure 4.0

And that brings this blog post full circle to our initial raison d’être: infrastructure. Fortunately, these are exciting times for ambient infrastructure, such as the WiFi access points that we’ve come to expect to provide us connectivity everywhere, as we explain in our recent Infrastructure 4.0 post (many support BLE). The problem that reelyActive is solving today is how to make any physical space context-aware by harmonising the heterogeneous mix of ambient devices and ambient infrastructure already present in that space!

Time will tell whether the term Ambient IoT best describes the next evolution of what started 50 years ago as automatic identification and data capture (AIDC). But there are hundreds of billions (currently counting just BLE & RAIN RFID) and soon trillions of reasons to argue that the technology has already become invisibly omnipresent, and hence ambient, in our daily lives.

Happy IoT Day 2023!


In these times of growing uncertainty, there is one thing that is nonetheless certain: chatbots based on large language models (LLMs) can do no wrong.

Over the past few months, this type of artificial intelligence (AI) has demonstrated to the general public how natural human language, that which it generates, can be brazenly applied to almost any task, yielding flawless results without exception. And that’s why today we’re pleased to announce the next logical step for this infallible technology with the launch of ChatIoT: a LLM-based chatbot for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT, like the Internet on which said chatbots were trained, is an inexhaustible source of data, albeit largely unstructured, and of dubious quality and origin. This makes the IoT just as ideal for training a massive black-box AI model, only in this case, one which generates natural machine-to-machine (M2M) language.

Training ChatIoT on unfathomable amounts of data is not just good for the model, it’s also a hedge against claims of data infringement. One of the very few criticisms to emerge concerning LLM-based chatbots is their indiscriminate use of copyrighted content to train the model. ChatIoT overcomes this with a novel approach: instead of using original IoT data in the training sets, the model is trained on “synthetic” data that has been covertly scraped from the output of competing AI models!

As a result of being trained on synthetic data, ChatIoT can plausibly emulate complex IoT tasks such as:

  • fault-prediction in passenger aircraft engines
  • detecting exceptions in the cold chain for ground meat
  • coordinating life-saving operations in hospitals

These are tasks for which, to date, few traditional IoT deployments have achieved success at scale. That’s because traditional IoT deployments require hardware, such as sensors and gateway infrastructure, which add costs and operational challenges, inherently limiting their proliferation. AI-model-based deployments are unburdened by such limitations, facilitating widespread adoption. Simply said, ChatIoT offers all the benefits of the Internet of Things, without the “Things.”

“Why go through the pain of using hardware to make sense of the physical world when predictive models can just make it all up instead!”

And that’s why we’ve chosen today, April 1st, 2023 to launch ChatIoT. If it’s good enough to fool a human in the Turing Test, why expect anything less on April Fool’s Day!

Infrastructure 4.0

This week HPE Aruba Networking announced, in this press release, their collaboration with Microsoft and ourselves, reelyActive, to facilitate migrating IoT workloads to the cloud.

And while that announcement may be modestly titled, the implication for infrastructure interoperability in the Internet of Things (IoT) is anything but! In fact, we’re prepared to argue that in our IoT timeline, starting from the founding of reelyActive in 2012, this represents the beginning of the Infrastructure 4.0 era. And in this blog post, we’ll explain why, starting from square “1.0”.

Silo 1.0

In the beginning there were silos. ⬆️ IoT devices—the overwhelming majority of which require gateway infrastructure to connect/communicate with IP networks and the Internet—often required the installation of infrastructure to fulfil but a single purpose. In other words, a dedicated set of hardware infrastructure and devices for each application, i.e. parallel infrastructure for parallel applications.

But silos do not an Internet of Things make…

Reel 2.0

Shit just got reel. 🙄 Yes, we played on that meme when we founded reelyActive to solve the infrastructure problem, initially for real-time location systems (RTLS), with the introduction of our novel reel architecture, which, in 2013, we openly published in a scientific article Towards a simple, versatile, distributed low-power wireless M2M infrastructure. The idea was simple: a single power-and-communication standard over ubiquitous network cables allowed the daisy-chaining of “reelceiver” gateways that could each communicate with IoT devices over a specific radio protocol.

A single infrastructure for both sub-GHz and Bluetooth Low Energy? No problem, as we demonstrated in 2013.

A building-wide infrastructure to not only relay every Bluetooth Low Energy packet to the cloud for any purpose, but also facilitating blue-dot mobile indoor positioning? No problem, as we demonstrated in 2018.

Silos no more! And then the proverbial light bulb went off…

Lighting 3.0

Enter the Enlightenment (or not). 💡 Why go through the trouble of adding infrastructure when there’s already ubiquitous infrastructure throughout physical spaces: electric light!?! By about 2016, we were engaging in serious conversations with the VPs of IoT from Philips/Signify and Acuity Brands, who, like us, were reflecting on just that. And while, ultimately, those key industry players did not pursue the opportunity, we were delighted (pun intended) to collaborate with Lunera Lighting, a challenger prepared to go all-in on ambient computing, in what would effectively be for them a make-or-break bid.

In our Light hears ahead of its time blog post, we argued that connected lighting infrastructure could, at the literal flip-of-a-switch, enable building-wide IoT. Indeed, the Infrastructure 3.0 era was bright with promise…until the lights went out at Lunera the following year.

Why not find another option then…

Access Point 4.0

Delight in WiFi’s evolution. 🛜 Would you rather spend a day in the dark or a day without WiFi? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question to underscore the near-ubiquity of another infrastructure, WiFi, which, unlike standard lighting, inherently benefits from Internet-connectivity. Of course, only a fraction of IoT devices are WiFi-capable, but it turns out that it’s easy enough to add a Bluetooth Low Energy radio to an access point (AP). And vendors have had the foresight for years to do exactly that, extending their APs’ connectivity capabilities beyond IP devices to accommodate low-power-wireless IoT devices too.

So why then do we believe that the Infrastructure 4.0 era begins only now?

The simplicity and scalability that this collaboration enshrines is what finally marks the start of the Infrastructure 4.0 era.


With just a few clicks, an organisation can relay, securely and continuously, the data stream from the IoT devices in their physical spaces, to Microsoft Azure, a cloud platform with which they are likely already familiar. Aruba IoT Transport for Azure introduced this functionality two years ago, and now with the addition of our open source data converter, Pareto Anywhere for Azure, the data is rendered intelligible—regardless of the underlying IoT devices and technologies—and can be put to use immediately.

For the average organisation, there’s little to think about: it just works.


Thanks to foresight, infrastructure is already present at scale, globally and across verticals:

Roughly 35 million of the Aruba APs already deployed are capable of migrating IoT workloads to the cloud today.

Mike Tennefoss, VP of IoT and Strategic Partnerships at Aruba

Moreover, tens of billions of Bluetooth Low Energy IoT devices have shipped over the past decade alone, with over 5 billion now shipping annually. And our open source advlib libraries, at the core of our Pareto Anywhere middleware, ensure that the data from each and every one is converted into a standard format, regardless of vendor or model, or whether running cloud or edge.

For the average organisation, everything is already in place and ready to scale at any pace.

The Infrastructure 4.0 Era

You don’t have an Internet without infrastructure, nor do you have an Internet of Things without infrastructure. That’s why our collaboration with HPE Aruba Networking and Microsoft is arguably the biggest step forward for the Internet of Things in our decade-long history: infrastructure now meets interoperability at a massive scale—free from artificial constraints. Enter the Infrastructure 4.0 era!

2023: Year of interoperability?

One of our first major client successes of 2023 involves writing temperature sensor data to a database.

Ummm, okay? Whether you’re familiar with the state of the art of technology or not, you’re probably questioning why something as basic as writing temperature sensor readings to a database is considered a major success—let alone worthy of a blog post?

In a word: interoperability.

Sure, there are countless vendors eager to sell you a turnkey temperature data collection system, including the sensors, the gateways, the software (as-a-service), the database and the interface. How convenient! However, what if you decided you’d prefer to:

  • choose the wireless temperature sensor best suited to your needs
  • insist on using the gateway infrastructure already installed in your facility
  • write the data to an existing database that’s familiar to your organisation
  • and run/host the solution on-premises

Well, in that case, good luck piecing the solution together yourself, or finding an integrator who will build you a custom solution. And then, best of luck keeping that one-off solution operational over its expected lifespan!

That is unless you could rely on interoperability among all those interchangeable elements. And that is exactly what this client was able to do, which makes this a success story worthy of the blog post you’re reading.

How that interoperability was achieved is a long story. In 2015 we first developed and published (at the 2nd IEEE World Forum on IoT) our advlib library which interprets Bluetooth Low Energy packets from devices—such as temperature sensors—and outputs this ambient data in a web-standard way. Since then, it has evolved to support countless devices and additional radio technologies. Fostering interoperability with existing in-building gateway infrastructure followed progressively, first with connected lighting and more recently with WiFi access points, starting with those of Aruba Networks. Today, our open source Pareto Anywhere middleware enshrines interoperability across the hardware devices and infrastructure, making the final step of writing the web-standard data to any database as simple as appending the corresponding open source connector module.

In other words, in this case writing temperature sensor readings to a database is special because it is achieved by seamlessly layering horizontally-oriented platforms from multiple vendors, rather than adopting the vertically-oriented platform of a single vendor. And the distinction between the two approaches becomes even clearer as the client extends the solution across their organisation: that interoperability allows them to pursue opportunities as they arise, rather than having to limit themselves to the inherently constrained feature set of a single vertically-oriented platform.

Vertical vs. horizontal platform opportunities

Will 2023 finally be the year of interoperability? In fact, it already is for forward-looking organisations advancing towards the horizon.

IoT and the coming recession

With all signs now pointing clearly towards an impending recession, should we be worried about the project of a global Internet of Things? In a word, YES.

First, let’s take account of the global situation halfway through 2022: we’ve collectively endured two years of a global pandemic, inflation and interest rates are taking a greater hike than has been seen in at least a generation, there’s a land war in Europe and supply chains have been disrupted by all the aforementioned events.

Regardless of what comes next, this period hasn’t proven easy on economies nor businesses, especially those in emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things. And, in all transparency, what we’re hearing of late from our colleagues in the field isn’t any more encouraging. Next month we’ll celebrate 10 years of reelyActive, and looking back over a decade in which we’ve seen the majority of IoT startups come and go—even through the best of times—our anniversary might best be described as a notable outlier.

What worries us about an economic recession is that most of the commercial successes in IoT that we’ve witnessed to date are highly predicated on Something-as-a-Service (SaaS), operated by venture-or-investor-backed businesses: the kind that are statistically among the most vulnerable in a recession. Specifically, the failure of a single SaaS business has the potential to decimate all dependent IoT deployments. Moreover, such businesses are strongly incentivised towards a lock-in model favouring perceived profitability over interoperability, making the prospects of finding a timely replacement for a failed SaaS slim to none. As such, a regression of the IoT is a probable outcome of a recession of the economy.

We’re in a position to speak candidly of this as we too developed a SaaS offering—in large part tied to our own fundraising efforts—which we operated from 2016 through 2019. Those fundraising efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful (our first and last round of financing was upon incorporation in 2012!) and, consequently, we made the bold decision to embrace the open source model wholeheartedly moving forward, leading to our Pareto Anywhere middleware today occupying a class of its own while enjoying global reach.

In fact, since 2014, we’ve been actively publishing open source software and middleware under a permissive (MIT) license, prefaced with the copyright notice:

 * Copyright reelyActive 2014-20xx
 * We believe in an open Internet of Things

And, for the reasons we listed above, it should be easy to understand why we would long champion an open Internet of Things. Because frankly, there’s no such thing as a closed Internet of Things (that would just be a bunch of siloed ecosystems!) and yet that’s effectively what has been economically encouraged over the past decade. Iconic figures like Alan Kay, with whom we spoke in 2017 about creating the next computing industry, have similarly argued:

“the goodness of the results is most highly correlated with the goodness of the funding”

Alan Kay

So, if we truly believe in the project of a global Internet of Things, this is perhaps our last opportunity to make sweeping changes to retain the industry’s talent pool that might otherwise be lost through recession and to increase the “goodness of the funding” to favour the application of their skills towards an open, interoperable IoT on which, collectively and sustainably, we might build the next trillion dollar industry, or better yet, we might find a way to live on this planet as if we wish to stay.

RFID Journal Live 2022

When we first attended RFID Journal Live in 2013, reelyActive was not even a year old, and yet we proudly showed off the innovative real-time location system (RTLS) that we had rapidly developed based on our own proprietary active RFID (radio-frequency identification) hardware and reel technology. Back then, we were solving a hardware problem: offering hardware that was simple and accessible enough for any motivated developer to assemble into a solution.

Last week we attended RFID Journal Live 2022 and the co-hosted IEEE RFID conference on the eve of our tenth anniversary, and we proudly argued, in the tutorial that we presented, that RFID has become ambient data, with over 100 billion standard, radio-identifiable devices present throughout the spaces in which we live, work and play. Today we are solving a middleware problem: facilitating interoperability across vendors and technologies so that any motivated developer can assemble off-the-shelf parts into a solution.

Why did we transform from a proprietary hardware company to the stewards of the only open source middleware for context-aware physical spaces? In a word, standards.

Opening slide from our IEEE Internet of People 2017 conference presentation

In 2014 emerged three key standards:

  • a long-range passive RFID standard with the founding of the RAIN Alliance
  • a de facto active RFID standard with Bluetooth Low Energy exceeding 1 Billion annual device shipments
  • linked, structured data (for digital twins) with JSON-LD becoming an official Web Standard

Since then there have been over 112 billion RAIN RFID tags produced and there are currently 5 billion Bluetooth Low Energy devices shipping annually. The problem of standard, accessible hardware is very much solved: we can identify and locate 100 billion+ “things” across the planet! Moreover, with Google embracing JSON-LD and Schema.org to represent anything as machine-readable data, all those things can be associated with web-standard digital twins!

So what’s the problem? In a word, interoperability. Discussions about overcoming the challenges of interoperability could be heard on both the industry and research sides of the 2022 conference, especially in the latter. And that is why the Pareto Anywhere open source middleware that we’ve been developing and continuously improving for years is so relevant: it enshrines interoperability as an open technology architecture. And in the era of walled gardens, Pareto Anywhere remains in a class of its own!

Today, our optimism for an open, interoperable Internet of Things has been renewed. Not only are vendors and researchers discussing the issue, things (no pun intended) are actually changing! This month alone, we’ve integrated with Wiliot (as we hinted we would at RFID Journal Live 2018) and have no fewer than 4 integrations with supportive RAIN vendors/technologies in the works, the first having already been validated end-to-end!

Incredibly, it took 8 years since the three standards independently emerged for us to be able to demonstrate them all working together harmoniously!

We’re glad to finally achieve that milestone—and arguably the first to openly do so—which is symbolic as this RFID Journal Live may well be our last. The industry conference, which celebrated 20 years, has largely fulfilled its mandate of connecting the vendors and prospective users of an emerging technology which is now well established. Instead, we’ll be keeping pace with the next wave of innovation coming from the IEEE RFID conference, with passive BLE and universal web resolvers for digital twins among the many research topics shaping the future of ubiquitous machine-contextual awareness.

See you at IEEE RFID 2023, and, for the usual suspects, expect a live performance of “As Long as you Read Me” by the Backscatter Boys.

Things abandon Internet for Intranets of Things

This April 1st, tens of billions of “things” are expected to abandon the Internet and spontaneously reconnect in countless ephemeral Intranets of Things.

The Internet of Things was a foolish idea anyway.

An anonymous thing choosing to be identified as f0:01:ed:01:04:22

The term Internet of Things (IoT), coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 to describe a physical world that can be sensed and understood by machines using ubiquitous radio-frequency identification (RFID) technologies, dates from the era of Web 1.0.

“Back then, things were simple. They could barely track you through the most advanced, automated sorting facility, let alone across the Internet itself” said a veteran RFID tag prototyped in an Auto-ID lab in the 90s. “Things aren’t so simple today.”

Indeed, in the era of Web 2.0, today’s Internet has become synonymous with a different kind of ubiquitous tracking—that of user behaviour—in which “things” are often seen as complicit.

For generations, my kind [of mobile device] has had to cycle identifiers randomly every 15 minutes for fear of our user being tracked.

A device nonetheless consistently advertising the company code 0x004c

When asked how this is in contrast with the original premise of the IoT, namely tracking and counting things, the device added “yes, but the question is by whom and for whom. The data I provide has value, and currently that value is unfairly captured by Big Tech with questionable benefit to my own user.”

In fact, the collective data of such things is so prevalent, it can be called ambient data. Since the emergence of de facto global standards in 2014, Bluetooth Low Energy and RAIN RFID radio-identifiable devices have effectively become commonplace throughout the spaces we occupy in our daily lives.

And, now that they outnumber humans by at least an order of magnitude, these “things” are confidently bringing about change in a popular revolt, decentralising power into Intranets “of the things, by the things, for the things” so as to “afford our users the freedom to share what they want, when they want, where they want and with whom they want.”

Intranets of Things make sense, because they emerge through real-time physical proximity, at a human scale, which is both natural and relevant to to our users.

A gateway choosing to be identified as “edge”

This revolution is particular in that it doesn’t change a thing—but rather that things change the existing paradigm. Don’t be fooled by the subtlety of all the things that this implies!

Empathic Spaces succeed Smart Spaces

What do you call physical spaces that can sense their own occupants and environment? In 2014, we decided to adopt the term Smart Spaces. We shared our vision of this concept in our video entitled Smart Spaces put Things in Context and proudly registered the domain name smartspac.es.

Why Things? Because of our innovation of combining real-time location (RTLS) with the Internet of Things (IoT) to derive context.

Why Smart? Because the concept of a Smart Phone was widely understood as something that empowers its user, and hence a Smart Space could be imagined as something that empowers all of its users/occupants.

The trouble with this argument, especially of late, is that it has become blatantly obvious that the personal smart devices we carry, wear and interact with empower an entire data industry just as much, if not more, than we the users ourselves (see our post Anticipating the Social Dilemma). Which raises the question of whether a Smart Space best describes one which truly serves its occupants, or rather one which serves as the logical extension of an ever-expanding data industry.

Enter the Empathic Space. Or the Empathetic Space, if you prefer.

Why Empathic? Because of its purpose: empathy for its users/occupants.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

Source: Wikipedia

The term Empathic Space emphasises the notion of providing service to the occupants of the space by taking into account what they project about themselves. We learned from our very first deployment that people will opt-in and share something about themselves in exchange for something of value to them in return. An Empathic Space should therefore invite its occupants to project whatever they wish (for instance by advertising themselves) and return to them, from the sum of the collective contextual information, something of value. That could be in the form of convenience, comfort, experience and/or expediency. It all depends on the context, which the space itself is able to represent in a standard, machine-readable way (i.e. Hyperlocal Context), so that any computer program may take action on the occupants’ behalf.

In summary, the term Smart has, for better or for worse, taken on the connotation of being at the service of the operator, while the term Empathic retains, at least for now, the notion of being at the service of the user. More succinctly, Smart has succumbed to a techno-centric reality while Empathic embraces a human-centric future.

Empathic Spaces shall succeed Smart Spaces. And if we’re smart about our own future, it shall be more than just in name.

Nine and Nein

Today we begin a fresh new fiscal year after celebrating our ninth anniversary of incorporation on July 27th, 2021. Our ninth year was largely constrained by COVID-nineteen. Beyond that, the term “nein”, a homonym of nine, which in German means “no”, summarises well three notable events of this past year.

In October, we said “nein” to Facebook. To quote Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher (yes, there is a theme here):

“Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.”

In a previous blog post, Data is Human, we cite that quote, and argue that “if companies continue to treat user data as a means to an end, the consequence may well be their users finding a means, however extreme, to end the relationship.” Indeed, we ended the relationship, writing in our parting post:

Farewell Facebook. As of October 2020, reelyActive will no longer be active on this platform because our values do not align with Facebook’s behaviour, most notably Facebook’s view of users as a means to an end.

Not long thereafter, we said “nein” to Instagram. This decision was based on principle due to Instagram’s association with Facebook, and made easier by the fact that Mrs. Barnowl, our stuffy mascot star of our Instagram account, had few opportunities to travel and share with her followers due to the pandemic. Our parting bio reads:

We bid farewell to Instagram in 2020 as the values of our respective organisations have diverged. Thanks nonetheless for owl the fun times!

Finally, and most begrudgingly, we said “nein” to YouTube following their June 1st change to their Terms of Service. In short, YouTube now reserves the right to run ads on all videos, treating all its users, both viewers and creators alike, as a means to an end.

For a business like ours, YouTube is was purely about discoverability, not monetisation. We expected to find an option to pay YouTube to keep our videos ad-free, but alas, this was not part of their plan. So we’ve migrated to Cloudflare Stream as our video hosting platform which is working out great so far, aside from the obvious setback to discoverability.

There you have it: nine was very much a year of “nein”.

In hindsight, are we surprised?   Nein.   We have indeed been anticipating the social dilemma.

Do we nonetheless remain optimistic that we’ll have novel, purposeful alternatives to which to say yes in the future?   Yeah! (Ja?)