The future of mobile indoor location

Since the advent of the iBeacon five years ago, much effort has been spent on real-time location-based experiences through mobile. If today you were to ask “Should I develop a native mobile app?” to anyone who has invested in such efforts, you may well receive an emphatic NO.   In this blog post, we’ll not only explain why, but also what you’ll likely want to use instead: the Web.

The motivation for this blog post stems from a recent presentation to a museum team who shared with us their frustration about their own real-time location-based app experience based on recent changes to Google’s Android mobile operating system. In short, the visitor experience of their museum app has tanked for Android users. This made us think back to our first ever pitch deck back in 2012:

That was before the iBeacon, and our solution, in the case of a museum, was to provide guests with a badge (equivalent to a beacon) and invite them to experience real-time location-based digital content on the Web, either through their own mobile device or a provided tablet. We helped create exactly this experience at the MuseoMix Montréal hackathon in 2014, which participants loved:

But, alas, 2014 was still a time when mobile apps could do no wrong and the Bluetooth beacon was the saviour of indoor location: our approach didn’t stand a chance. Over the past few years, countless venues and companies have invested heavily in beacon-based native mobile apps. There have been some brilliant successes. But most of the veterans we’ve encountered of late have been underwhelmed and battered at best.

What have Google done to beacon-based location in Android?
  — A frustrated colleague, Sept. 2018

And now this latest incident where significant changes to Android caused panic among many of our colleagues, partners and clients! For many, beacon-based mobile location experiences went from passaBLE to terriBLE. Case in point: the museum. What were Google thinking? In a recent post we speculated whether Google might have “something revolutionary up their sleeve”. Could that something be…   …the Web?

Could Google be thinking web-first about mobile indoor location?

One might not be aware, but Google’s Chrome browser has supported Web Bluetooth for some time. For instance, you can program a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) device wirelessly from the browser! Yet surprisingly, Chrome support for the comparatively simple — yet immensely powerful — feature of scanning for all nearby BLE devices has been relegated to the “What’s Next” list for years now.

Is this due to a technical problem?   Doubtful.
Is this due to a business problem?   Likely.   The scan feature would make beacon-based native apps, and all their behind-the-scenes business models, largely irrelevant.

But wait, Google DID just made beacon-based native apps largely irrelevant…

If Google were to suddenly (and unexpectedly!) implement the scan feature in Chrome, by far the world’s most popular mobile browser, what a progressive disruption that would be! Expect a renaissance of web apps on mobile as web developers could easily tailor the JavaScript of existing pages to deliver hyper-localised beacon-based experiences previously reserved for native apps.



If, unfortunately, the scan feature were to remain pending indefinitely (one can check if/when it works here), in most cases today, the most economical and reliable solution nonetheless is that which we initially championed: provide users a $5 beacon-badge for real-time location and retain the mobile device merely as an interface (web or native). $500 rectangle meet $5 rectangle indeed!



And while the astute reader will exclaim “but what about the cost of the Real-Time Location System (RTLS) infrastructure!?!”, we’ve noted of late that a BLE RTLS may well cost considerably less than the development and maintenance of a beacon-based native mobile app! Moreover, a BLE RTLS (like our own) simultaneously supports both the Web Bluetooth and RTLS approaches.

Coming back to Google, our cautious optimism about a potential shift to web-first mobile indoor location stems from the presence of Vint Cerf, their vice-president and Chief Internet Evangelist, who, in 2015, shared the following three-pronged approach to the Internet of Things, which would indeed be consistent with such a strategy:

Regardless of what Google might have up their sleeve, if today you find yourself asking “Should I develop a native app?” to meet a need for mobile indoor location, in most cases the answer is clearly no. You should use the Web. It remains the penultimate “interoperable ecosystem based on open standards”, and no single vendor will be able to do away with it on mobile.

Let us not forget

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in Canada and in many nations around the world, a minute of silence is observed. Remembrance Day, as we call it here, is special this year as it marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice of the First World War, and this profound occasion reminded us of the wise words of two exceptional thinkers and innovators of the previous century, which are well worth sharing.

After the Second World War, which followed the First a mere generation later and concluded with the advent of atomic weapons, Norbert Wiener wrote in the Introduction of his seminal book, Cybernetics:

Those of us who have contributed to the new science of cybernetics thus stand in a moral position which is, to say the least, not very comfortable. We have contributed to the initiation of a new science which, as I have said, embraces technical developments with great possibilities for good and for evil. We can only hand it over into the world that exists about us, and this is the world of Belsen and Hiroshima. We do not even have the choice of suppressing these new technical developments. They belong to the age, and the most any of us can do by suppression is to put is to put the development of the subject into the hands of the most irresponsible and most venal of our engineers. The best we can do is to see that a large public understands the trend and the bearing of the present work, and to confine our personal efforts to those fields, such as physiology and psychology, most remote from war and exploitation. As we have seen, there are those who hope that the good of a better understanding of man and society which is offered by this new field of work may anticipate and outweigh the incidental contribution we are making to the concentration of power (which is always concentrated, by its very conditions of existence, in the hands of the most unscrupulous). I write in 1947, and I am compelled to say that it is a very slight hope.

It is not difficult to replace the word cybernetics with artificial intelligence or the Internet of Things and appreciate the relevance of these words in a modern context. Fortunately, Wiener’s “very slight hope” proved sufficient for humanity to avoid nuclear war, while continuing to advance technology at a relentless pace. To this point, Buckminster Fuller wrote in 1980 in the Introduction of his final work, Critical Path:

History shows that, only when the leaders of the world’s great power structures have become convinced that their power structures are in danger of being destroyed, have the gargantuanly large, adequate funds been appropriated for accomplishing the necessary epoch-opening new technologies. It took preparation for World War III to make available the funds that have given us computers, transistors, rockets and satellites to realistically explore the Universe.

The lessons of history and the words of Wiener and Fuller remind us that great threats to power have brought about great technological progress, but unfortunately, they have also brought about the devastating wars upon which today we reflect and remember. Should you find yourself like Wiener, able only to muster a “very slight hope” about the future, perhaps Jeremy Rifkin‘s contemporary views on the Third Industrial Revolution can elevate such sentiments to a feeling of “guarded optimism”.

Let us not forget that we have history as a guide towards a peaceful and perpetual advancement of humanity, limited only by our collective capacity for technological innovation.

The rectangle decade and the shape of the future

This year marks a decade of the smartphone ecosystem as we know it. While the original iPhone debuted in 2007, it was the introduction of the App Store with the iPhone 3G in 2008 that kicked off the era of a rectangle in every pocket.

Coincidentally, this month marks half a decade of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) as a meaningful addition to that ecosystem. Back in September of 2013, Apple introduced iBeacon with iOS 7, and we were quick to demonstrate the transformative potential of the technology (read this article and watch the video below) which surely contributed to our capture of the title “World’s Best Startup” two months later.

*Despite being hastily recorded, that video is still, by an order of magnitude, our most viewed!

Take a moment to recall your first smartphone, your first delightful experience, and the truly novel features you gained when upgrading to your second and perhaps even third. It’s not difficult to argue that there was genuine cause for excitement during that early period where smartphones and their apps had sparked symbiotic innovation on an unprecedented scale.

Now take a moment to recall your first smartphone with BLE (ex: iPhone 4S and beyond…).   Was your mind not blown?   Oh wait, it wasn’t?   You mean this didn’t change everything?

Back in 2013, we envisaged a second wave of symbiotic innovation, this one combining mobile apps with BLE’s connectionless discovery features. We saw iBeacon as a lighthouse in your pocket, making a bold prediction of social networking leading to the emergence of the IoT as your Brand Ambassador. That second wave of innovation sure has been long in the tooth! At this month’s Place Conference on location and proximity, mobile BLE was relegated to a cursory mention. Moreover, last week at Bluetooth World, a friend and long-time pioneer of mobile Bluetooth proximity experiences shared with us his concern that recent and upcoming Android updates are actually stifling mobile innovation with BLE, confirming our own observations of late.

You could say that Apple and Google really “blue” this opportunity.

Frankly, it has reached a point where it’s difficult not to argue that our clients in smart workplaces, our current top vertical, wouldn’t be better served distributing inexpensive BLE badges/tags to their associates rather than asking them to install an app that only offers competitive performance when operated in foreground, and requires costly development and maintenance. $500 rectangle meet $5 indeed! Sadly, that is where we collectively find ourselves five years on!

A few months ago we asked what’s Beyond People-as-a-Product. As the smartphone ecosystem joins the decade club, we should definitely ask what’s Beyond-the-Rectangle? Could Google’s aforementioned tinkering be in preparation for something revolutionary they have up their sleeve? Can Apple still surprise us and usher in a new era with an iSomething? Might even a nimble and disruptive outsider dislodge the pair?

An optimist has grounds to argue that the next big thing is coming. A pessimist has grounds to argue that the giants of mobile and social media are digging in their heels to defend their current business models as long as they can. Either way, one thing is for sure:

the rectangle had a good decade run, but it’s unlikely the shape of things to come.

Still Place for optimism?

Yesterday we attended our fourth Place Conference, held in NYC a little further uptown than our first Place back in 2014. Back then the conference had a strong focus on all the latest mobile location and proximity technologies that were expected to revitalise retail. There was an air of optimism around the Bluetooth beacon and similar innovations which held much promise to deliver delightful, contextual, brick-and-mortar experiences for a broad consumer base increasingly expecting personalisation.

At the 2018 edition, it didn’t take long to realise that this optimism had not simply faded, but completely vanished. The first and only mention of a beacon did not occur until the fourth presentation: a panel entitled What Nobody Will Tell You about Location Data. And what did the panel tell us?

Baseline location data is a commodity now.

Indeed, that fact was affirmed in the previous presentations and those to come. The state of the art in location analytics and proximity marketing has become the acquisition, interpretation and application of baseline location data from mobile phones.

Wait, what’s baseline location data and how is it obtained from mobile phones?

Curiously enough, that subject was never directly addressed. But in short, the primary data source consists of a latitude/longitude paired with a device identifier, gathered from mobile devices under their terms of service. These data points are enriched by companies who probabilistically associate the identifier with a household, demographic (or more!), and the geocoordinates with addresses and/or an individual’s journey. This commodity is then applied to business decisions or to pushing the right ad to the right consumer at the right time and place.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Thomas Walle of Unacast made the precision (pun intended) that data quality is not yet a commodity. This was affirmed by the chief data scientist of Outfront, a leading out-of-home (OOH) media owner with countless digital billboards, questioning the reliability of “polygon visits” as source data based on his experience with multiple vendors.

Only two hours into the conference, as the panel progressed, I was already distraught, painfully reminded of the above slide which we had presented at a similar conference two years previous. Entrenched was the “old way” of bombarding the consumer to drive a response, the innovation being smarter bombs homing in on fainter signals. The term “surveillance” entered the discourse and was not outright dismissed. Were we collectively comfortable with that?

But, it all turned around when the panel was followed by a presentation entitled The Future of Digital Identity: Countdown to 2020 in which Neil Sweeney of Freckle IoT promptly declared that

a data revolution is coming.

Calling into question the status quo, he argued that there is currently an inverted value proposition for the consumer, progressive government regulation (GDPR in Europe and soon CCPA in the US) is becoming law, and scandals such as Cambridge Analytica have unveiled the uncomfortable truth behind advertising business models. In short, don’t expect our suggestion to Facebook following last year’s Place Conference to become a priority anytime soon!

What Neil proposed was a complete reversal of the flow of information and the ownership of personal data. And with the Killi app, he invited the audience to take the first step right then and there, opting in to select specific pieces of personal information that they would like to share with brands in exchange for money.

It was as if our complementary slide from that previous conference had suddenly appeared! Here was the consumer “advertising” their intent to brands and businesses through their presence and the information they chose to share, expecting an appropriately personalised response in return.

Since reelyActive’s founding in 2012, we’ve championed this paradigm for the flow of information. Coincidentally, our most watched video, in which we present this paradigm by reversing the flow of information of a beacon, will tomorrow celebrate its fifth anniversary! It’s not difficult to imagine this implemented in the Killi app to facilitate real-time hyperlocal exchanges of information like we demonstrated with our own reelyApp.

Whether a micro-DMP like Killi or rather a Bank of Personal Data will eventually prove to be successful is of course up for debate, as few attendees seemed threatened by the imminence of a data revolution. Nonetheless — and reassuringly — most attendees seemed to agree that such a paradigm, which fosters transparency and inclusivity and moves the industry Beyond People-as-a-Product, is much closer to being the right model, even if most would argue it is not yet a realistic model. In any case, the technology is ready. The trillion-dollar question is whether the vendors will ready themselves to flip if and when that critical time comes?

Purpose, commitment and accountability

Today is the sixth anniversary of reelyActive‘s incorporation, and to mark this occasion we reached out to all our current and past team members and collaborators, inviting them to record themselves reciting a passage from the Copenhagen Letter. The result is the following:

It is becoming an anniversary tradition for us to reflect on our past, as we did for threelyActive, asking how wrong we were on accelerator day one, as well as last year, when we took the time to document reelyActive’s history before contemplating the next ambitious 5-year plan.

Having now completed one year of that ambitious plan, we can affirm that our greatest challenge is no longer one of technology. If we are to achieve our mission of unlocking the value of the data you choose to share through the realisation of our vision of ubiquitous machine-contextual-awareness at the service of humanity, our greatest challenge is one of enabling the long-term and sustainable pursuit of this, our purpose.

How pleased we were, earlier this month at the PIRATE Summit, to be introduced to the concept of steward-ownership, which we discuss in our previous blog post, and to the Copenhagen Letter, which we read aloud in the video. The latter is a succinct summary of many of the ideas shared by our team (the why), and the former is an alternative legal ownership model for purpose-driven companies (the how).

We shape technology today. While it may not be easy, there are viable paths to put these ideas into practice. This anniversary we remind ourselves to hold one another accountable for the path we choose to pursue. That is our commitment.

Self-reflection: rethinking ownership

Can you imagine a near future where social media and the online experience are seamlessly integrated in your daily, physical life?

Can you imagine your tweets and public Instagram posts appearing as ephemeral “graffiti” on the growing number of digital displays you encounter on your commute, while shopping, even in public restrooms?

Can you imagine a handshake at a conference being enough for LinkedIn to propose to connect you to the other party?

Can you imagine a brick-and-mortar retailer greeting you where you left off your online search and assisting you on your in-store customer journey just the way you like to shop?

Mobile phones have blurred the line between “online you” and “real-world you”. The Internet of Things will almost certainly erase the line between the digital self and the physical self. It is therefore likely that you can imagine a near future where your online presence routinely influences your real-world experiences. Now, pause for a moment to decide how confident you feel about the corporate giants of social networking and technology delivering you that future. Hold that thought.

At reelyActive, we envisaged this future when the company was founded in 2012. Already then, we observed that people were willing to “advertise” their digital selves in select surroundings provided that (1) they could choose how they “advertised” themselves and (2) expect something beneficial in return.

Soon after, with the advent of mobile adoption of Bluetooth Low Energy, the phone in your pocket became, quite literally, your beacon. Critical mass of potential participants was reached years ago, we openly shared the formula, and yet our predictions of a brave social network empowering their user base with scenarios like the aforementioned fail to be realised.   Why?

The successful social media players of 2018 are all grown up now. Their current investors are interested in returns, not risk. Risking a business valued in the tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars pioneering an uncertain, albeit inevitable, future cannot be expected. But what if each company could put their founding purpose first, ahead of investor interests?

Would Twitter and Instagram today be competing to engage us with user-generated-content on digital signage?

Would LinkedIn have already eliminated the need to carry business cards once and for all?

Would Facebook be profiting as brick-and-mortar retail’s saviour as we argued they have the potential to become?

What an exciting time that would be! But how could shareholder value possibly take a backseat to a company’s core purpose?

This month, at the Pirate Summit in Cologne, we were pleased to discover the concept of steward-ownership, which notable European companies both young and old have successfully embraced. By retaining majority voting rights within the company and according profits to their purpose, steward-owned businesses can effectively prioritise long-term impact over short term returns. In other words, there are proven, viable structures for successful purpose-driven businesses.

Should we expect the leading social media companies to transition to alternative ownership structures to prioritise their purpose?   Probably not.   Should we expect this of the startups challenging the incumbents to introduce your digital self to every aspect of your daily life?   Here’s why we think so.

In the real world, you are free to choose what to wear, how you do your hair and how you present yourself to others. Would you reasonably expect the same freedoms for the digital you? Most certainly. Remember that thought we asked you to hold? How would you now feel about shareholder value having a stake in your freedom to “dress” your digital self and to choose when to invite your digital self to join you in the real world?

If we are to create the next computing industry, moving Beyond People-as-a-Product, including a harmonious and voluntary integration of the digital self, the next-generation businesses that will take us there will almost certainly need, as stated in the Purpose Economy‘s Steward Ownership guide, “patient financing and clear, legally defensible, alternative ownership structures to allow a company’s purpose to live on and thrive beyond their transition out of direct leadership and/or majority ownership.”

In other words, not only must the pioneering companies be prepared to rethink the business model, they must equally be prepared to rethink the ownership model.

Micro-transactions with macro-implications

At McRock Capital’s annual IIoT Symposium, which took place this week, a panel of experts was asked:

Does the ideal architecture for Smart Cities look more like the Internet or more like an operating system (ex: AOL)?

Panelists Kurtis McBride of Miovision and Dan Riegel of Sidewalk Labs both argued for the former.   —But wait.—   The Internet was primarily government-funded and took decades to build, whereas both Miovision and Sidewalk Labs are venture-backed companies, and, critically, Alan Kay reminded us last year:

“I’ve never heard of VCs being interested in time frames like that.”

Can we therefore expect the entrepreneurial vision to prevail?

Three years previous, on the same stage of the same symposium, Alicia Asín of Libelium addressed this exact predicament through a comedic caricature of an investor pitch: “Imagine it’s the 1800s and one is raising funding to build a railroad.”

Entrepreneur:   We’re seeking investment to connect two cities by rail.

VC:   Perhaps instead you could build a pay-per-use entertainment system for the rail passengers. We’re seeing real potential in that space.

Entrepreneur:   There are no rail passengers to entertain. That’s why we’re building the railroad.

VC:   Well, we’re not interested in investing in infrastructure so good luck to you.

The room of entrepreneurs and investors laughed. Definitely relatable to those on both sides of the table then as much as it still is today. Yet it is clearly in our collective interest to establish the infrastructure on which immense value can be created, enjoyed and monetised. So how do we get there?

How about a monetisation model so exciting as to justify the means?

Micro-transactions.   This was the title of what we’d argue was the most important slide of Maciej Kranz‘s keynote presentation, which is featured at the top of this post. And while this being an IIoT conference, he focused on the massive potential for automotive, utilities and commercial applications, it’s not difficult to extend this to The Pervasive Sharing Economy at large.

Here’s our own microtransactions slide from a recent pitch deck. Take the familiar example of walking into a brick-and-mortar retailer: you might wish to exchange information about your presence and intent for an unprecedented customer experience. The real-time data may need to travel from a mobile device over in-store infrastructure which may be owned/operated independently of the real estate before reaching first or third-parties that together deliver the personalised experience. There are countless potential data paths involving a heterogeneous mix of stakeholders (the railroad analogy applies well here too). The micro-transaction model provides a real incentive for each actor to benefit from their work in moving the data where it can create value: everyone gets a cut of the action.

While the underlying architecture may seem complicated, it nonetheless closely resembles that of the Internet. And that’s what Maciej Kranz’s (arguably) second-most important slide reminds us. By embracing open and collaborative practices, most of which are well established, this all comes together, as did the Internet.

Think of every traffic light, digital urban asset and WiFi access point as infrastructure for micro-transactions. From this perspective, Miovision, Sidewalk Labs and Cisco are each contributing to the Internet-like architecture that they champion, provided they embrace the tenets of the slide above.

How then do we hasten the smart city revolution and a ubiquitous Internet of Things?   Establish the business of micro-transactions.   Once the dollars (bitcoins?) start flowing, the underlying micro-transaction infrastructure establishes itself as a solid investment opportunity!

Beyond People-as-a-Product?

Often these days I find myself wondering if, when Sergey and Larry were pitching Google in ’98-’99, their investor deck included a prescient slide about AdWords? While PageRank is well known as their disruptive technical innovation, AdWords, which alone likely accounts for two-thirds of Google’s revenues, is the type of disruptive business innovation that is the stuff of investor dreams — provided one accepts to take a leap of faith.

While it may have been difficult to imagine two decades ago, today we accept that as users of the Internet, we ourselves are often the product being monetised.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads” said Jeff Hammerbacher, Facebook’s first research scientist. It should come as no surprise that now with over two billion monthly-active “products” in stock, Facebook has established itself as the marketplace for hyper-targeted advertising. Indeed, the titans of social media and e-commerce each painstakingly maintain their own digital version of us, their users. These lucrative digital twins are the product of our online interactions, all made possible by the Internet.

But as we move beyond the Internet to the Internet of Things, things are changing. Literally. So what prescient slide would the likes of Sergey and Larry include in their ’18-’19 fundraising deck? In other words,

what becomes the novel product of the Internet of Things?

Where the Internet facilitated the understanding of people’s behaviour online, the Internet of Things adds the all-important understanding of people’s behaviour in the real-world. Does this simply mean that the “real you” will supersede your digital twin as a product? If so, who will own the “real you”? This raises plenty more questions.

Will the evolution of the People-as-a-Product paradigm remain the privy of the Big 5? Will progressive legislation such as GDPR influence the emerging product and, critically, its ownership? Will there be a revolutionary change? Imagine a modern spin on the familiar rallying cry:

Products of the world unite and seize the means of monetisation!

For a tech startup today, the trillion dollar question is what to include on that one prescient slide?   For the next generation of tech mercenaries entering the workforce, the question is what’s the equivalent of clicking on ads in the real world?   And for humanity, the question is how do we collectively envisage our own future?

Let’s not forget to focus on that last one too, at least for the sake of future generations (of products?)!

The IoT finally runs away from home

Last week, in her Stacey on IoT newsletter, the one and only tech journalist who has shared our passion and optimism for the IoT since the earliest days of the hype wave of 2012 finally changed her tune, declaring that “the state of the smart home in 2018 is pretty disappointing.”

We’re going to have to continue waiting for a home that truly reacts in an intuitive way to our needs and expectations. Before we get there, we’ll need [1] standards around presence detection, [2] a way to recognize people in the home, and [3] stored information about their preferences. And in a smart home, those preferences will be based on a computer analysis of habits, [*] not someone sitting down for an hour to program a specific set of actions.

We first met Stacey Higginbotham at SXSW in 2013 when she was writing countless articles on IoT startups for GigaOM. A few months previous to that meeting, we had already dismissed the smart home as a likely spearhead of IoT advancement, based on a decade of our own experiences. And while Stacey’s latest post is in keeping with this view, hope for the greater IoT is nonetheless far from lost when we examine — outside the context of the smart home — the three concerns she raises.

1. Standards around presence detection

The reelyActive co-founders’ experience in real-time location systems (RTLS) dates back to 2004 and we can attest that the benchmark in location has always been to “put the dot on the map”. Recognising that precision location only matters for a small subset of applications, we founded reelyActive instead on the premise of location to the nearest point of interest or zone. And, in 2014, while literally exploring the notion of Google Analytics for the Physical World we stumbled upon a standard for representing points of interest and zones: the URL.

Said differently, by modelling physical spaces as webpages, with each zone having its own unique URL, it becomes possible to represent physical presence like a click on a webpage. Today our technology is based on this paradigm. Where commercial interests have failed to produce a standard for presence detection, the Internet provides a viable option for anyone prepared to think web-first. In short, there is a standard around presence detection: just click your heels and say “there’s no place like the smart home!”

2. A way to recognise people

In September of 2013, Stacey wrote Loophole in iBeacon could let iPhones guard your likes instead of bombard you with coupons, in which reelyActive demonstrated iOS devices “advertising” the presence of their users. Indeed, for almost five years, there has been a way to recognise people via their mobile devices using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). And last year, we took the concept even further with reelyApp making it easy to “Advertise” yourself with the Physical Web, and beyond….

However, the fact that five years on, neither iOS nor Android is keen to endorse this feature confirms the fact that we were indeed exploiting a “loophole”. But, in building barriers rather than promoting permissionless innovation, the smartphone titans have opened the door to a viable alternative… In short, there is a standardised, accessible way to recognise people.

3. Stored information about people’s preferences

Until recently, there were two options: Personal Data Lockers and Facebook. And while we detailed exactly how Facebook could share their users preferences in the real-world in real-time, the company’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal doesn’t bode well for this happening anytime soon.

Fortunately, the Internet again provides a standard for representing oneself and one’s preferences: JSON-LD and Schema.org. The pair have been championed by Google since about 2015, and we ourselves host our own open data locker (based on our open source json-silo) and represent common connected devices in this format through our Sniffypedia project. In short, there is a standardised way to store (and retrieve) information about people and their preferences.

* Without the need for human entered data

We can’t stop referencing Kevin Ashton’s definition of the IoT as the ability for “computers to observe, identify and understand the world—without the limitations of human-entered data“. As Stacey says, “someone sitting down for an hour to program a specific set of actions” is, by definition, the antithesis to the IoT. The smart home is therefore, as predicted, an unlikely spearhead of a pervasive IoT.

But while the home remains our primary social environment (the ‘first’ place), let’s not forget the workplace (the ‘second’ place) as well as the diverse candidates serving as the ‘third’ place. Among the leading applications of our IoT platform is the workplace (think offices, healthcare facilities and even retail stores) where workers have plenty of compelling reasons to be detected, recognised and treated in according to their preferences (video). In each instance, the aforementioned standards for proximity, identification and representation are being successfully applied, and the definition of the IoT begins to ring true.

The IoT is finally running away from home to a place where it actually works today.   That’s a good thing.   In time, it’ll make its way back home, but probably not before stopping by a few ‘third’ places along the way.

RFID Journal Live 2018

Five years ago, reelyActive attended its first RFID Journal Live conference. Back then, we had pioneered simple, accessible cloud-connected active RFID. It’s easy to forget that in 2013 Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) had not yet established itself as the de facto standard for active RFID, nor had the RAIN RFID alliance been formalised.

This past week we were back in Orlando for the industry’s largest event, now as world-leaders in BYOD RTLS. And for those like us who haven’t given up on the dream of pervasive RFID, of Kevin Ashton’s Internet of Things, and of ubiquitous machine-contextual awareness, there’s plenty to be excited about in the coming years!

Wiliot: indefinitely identifiaBLE consumer goods

What if the mobile phone in your pocket — and your connected appliances at home — could automatically recognise the consumer packaged goods (CPG) you own and use?

That’s just one of many potential applications when Wiliot‘s batteryless Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) chip hits the market. By harvesting the 2.4GHz energy emitted by nearby WiFi & Bluetooth devices, and even microwave ovens, this chip will transmit periodic identification/status messages over a range of first meters, then, in a second generation, tens of meters.

Imagine the product lifecycle of, for instance, a sofa with this embedded chip. Its transit from factory to showroom is easily tracked and optimised. Not only can it be located in real-time on the showroom floor, shoppers can effortlessly retrieve information about the product on their smartphones. The connected home automatically recognises the sofa from delivery to disposal [enter your favourite smart home use cases here]. And, upon disposal, the material contents of the sofa can be automatically retrieved from the web, optimising recycling and reuse.

Never once in that process was there a battery to change/charge.

Technology such as this will be a key driver of the pervasive sharing economy (just add couch-surfing to the sofa example). And our platform is ready to recognise Wiliot’s chips and relay their messages the moment they hit the market.

EVRYTHNG: one web address standard to rule them all

What if every product existed on the web, accessible via a standard web address?

Pick up an item close to you right now and you’ll almost certainly find it has one or more identifiers (bar code, serial number, etc.). For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a pair of jeans I purchased at an Orlando outlet was EPC/RFID-tagged — but its bar code number 50001231818 is meaningless to me (and even to Google)!   So, how does one connect product identifiers to the web?

We finally had the opportunity to physically meet EVRYTHNG, a startup we’ve been following online since the earliest days of the IoT hype cycle. And it was outstanding to learn that not only will their standardisation efforts with GS1 wrap up in the coming months, but OEMs can already link their products today: one code, one web address.

Ourselves having focused over the past few years on the plethora of BLE devices and their identifiers, in 2016 we created Sniffypedia which serves a similar purpose (and provides our competitive edge in BYOD). It is exciting to see how today the EVRYTHNG platform has evolved to make the digitisation of products accessible to the average business/OEM. As a result, not only will more products exist on the web, actually finding them on the web via their physical code — or in our case via radio-identifiers — will be straightforward thanks to this new translation standard.

MonsoonRF: lighting up the RAIN

What if real-time inventory were as simple as pointing a light at the shelf/rack?

A few months ago we were delighted to share Light hears ahead of its time. A few days ago we were delighted to find that commercial lighting systems are also integrating long-range passive RFID readers! Charles from MonsoonRF showed us how their track light could simply be pointed at a wall of tags to enable real-time visibility and inventory. The collected data is shared over WiFi.

How many engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The answer may very well be none, and if so, that’s a major leap forward for pervasive passive RFID infrastructure. Imagine setting up a retail store for real-time inventory simply by pointing lights wherever items are on display!

In summary

In 2018, we can expect to see prototypes of consumer packaged goods that can be identified almost anywhere and anytime, a definitive standard for translating such identifiers into web addresses, and the early adoption of lighting infrastructure to detect and locate the billions (eventually trillions) of radio-identifiable items common in our daily lives.

Back in 2013 we were convinced this would happen, although we didn’t know exactly when or how. The fact that it is happening validates the purpose of our Pareto platform: converting the radio packets from any device (BYOD) captured by any infrastructure (BYOI) into a real-time contextual event data feed which embraces the standards of the web and can be distributed to all concerned parties. In other words, to observe the real-world like the web.

There’s no shortage of grey hairs at RFID Journal Live: there are people who have invested lengthy careers in what collectively falls under the “Internet of Things”. As we said,

for those like us who haven’t given up on the dream … there’s plenty to be excited about in the coming years!