A History of Silicon Valley

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These are excerpts from Piero Scaruffi's book
"A History of Silicon Valley"

(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

The Selfies (2011-16)

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Internet of Things

As the number of objects equipped with a communication chip increased and soon surpassed the number of people connected to the Internet, the Internet of Things (IoT) moved from the intellectual sphere to the corporate sphere. The first appliance to be connected to the Internet was a modified Coca Cola machine at Carnegie Mellon University in 1982. In 1991 Mark Weiser had published an article in the Scientific American magazine titled "The Computer of the 21st Century" that frame the discussion around "ubiquitous computing". Paul Saffo's article "Sensors - The Next Wave of Infotech Innovation" (1997) had foretold the coming of objects capable of sensing and transmitting. In 1999 Bill Joy had included "Device to Device" (D2D) communication in his "Six Webs" framework at the Davos World Economic Forum. In 2008 Adam Dunkels (Swedish Institute of Computer Science), who in 2003 had created an open-source operating system for the Internet of Things named Contiki, organized with others the IPSO Alliance to promote the development of "smart objects" interacting via the Internet Protocol (IP).

A number of factors enabled the Internet of Things. Firstly, IPv6 was published in 2006, replacing the 25-year old IPv4 (published in 1981). IPv6 introduced a 128-bit address, allowing 2 to the 128th power (or 10 to the 38th power) Internet addresses, enought to assign an Internet address to every atom of the Earth. Secondly, hardware platforms such as Arduino, invented in 2005 by an international team based at Ivrea's Interaction Design Institute in Italy (Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Tom Igoe, Gianluca Martino, David Mellis) made smart objects practical. Arduino was meant as an open-source platform for a community of makers, facilitating the transition to a world of interactive objects that could sense and control the physical world thanks to microcontroller-based kits. The first Arduino device was introduced in 2005 by SmartProjects in Italy. Most Arduino boards were based on a chip developed by Atmel in San Jose, a company (founded in 1984) specializing in microcontrollers. Thirdly, an infrastructure providing a public cloud service for machine-to-machine communication came to maturity. "Machine cloud" pioneers included Jasper Technologies, founded in 2004 in Santa Clara by Jahangir Mohammed (and acquired by Cisco in 2016), Pachube, founded in 2007 by London architect Usman Haque, and acquired in 2011 by Boston-based 8-year old cloud service LogMeIn (and renamed Xively); Axeda, founded in the Boston area in 2000 by Dale Calder and James Hansen, and acquired in 2014 by Parametric Technology (PTC), a 30-year old design-software company of the Boston area; and Spark, founded in 2008 in Minneapolis by Zach Supalla and later renamed Particle and relocated in San Francisco. Spark, for example, provided a development kit for makers and hobbyists to build smart devices and its SparkCloud to make them communicate over the Internet.

In the 2010s the prophecies of the 1990s became reality and "Machine-to-Machine" (M2M) business became a hot topic. In the attempt to forge a winning standard, major corporations formed consortia such as the Industrial Internet Consortium (AT&T, Cisco, IBM, GE, Intel) and the Open InterConnect Consortium (Broadcom, Samsung, Dell). However, the giant in this field was Qualcomm, because Qualcomm had the numbers. In 2014 more than 120 million smart home devices were shipped with embedded Qualcomm chips, and 20 million cars were equipped with Qualcom chips, and several wearable devices had chosen Qualcomm for communications. Qualcomm's "standard" was AllJoyn, whose objects could broadcast what they could do to all other nearby AllJoyn objects (via WiFi or Bluetooth).

The applications ranged from controlling home appliances to planning traffic. Connected car platforms, that allowed smarphone apps to check data such as fuel consumption and travel times, were particularly appealing in the USA: Automatic (founded in 2011 in San Francisco by Jerry Jariyasunant and Thejo Kote), Dash (founded in 2012 in New York by Brian Langel and Jamyn Edis), and Zubie (founded by Best Buy in 2012 in South Carolina and originally called GreenLight Connectivity Solutions) were among the leaders.

The most ambitious experiments were carried out in South Korea, like the Songdo International Business District, a six square kms "smart" city developed jointly with Cisco, LG CNS and ADT Caps.

In 2014 Apple introduced HomeKit to connect smart home appliances via Bluetooth and WiFi to the iPhone.

In 2015 the Wi-Fi Alliance, that included Apple, Microsoft and Intel, launched Wi-Fi Aware, a technology that allowed Aware-enabled devices to discover and communicate directly with nearby Aware-enabled devices. Once enabled, apps on one Aware devices could exchange information with apps on other Aware devices.

Rising above the chaos of standards, San Francisco-based SeeControl, founded in 2010 by Bryan Kester (and acquired by Autodesk in 2015), provided a cloud-based platform for makers to create M2M applications by connecting and managing smart sensors and devices spread around the world.

Other products for connecting (wireless) sensors to the cloud came from Libelium (Spain, 2006), one of the world's pioneers; Konekt (Chicago, 2013), that was betting on GSM instead of WiFi or Bluetooth; and Temboo (New York, 2013), that partnered with Arduino to manufacture a chip with built-in WiFi.

Chip manufacturers rushed to design boards containing all the sensors and chips needed to wirelessly connect objects. In 2014 Samsung launched the open platform ARTIK and acquired SmartThings (founded in 2012 in Palo Alto by veterans of online marketing). In 2015 Samsung acquired French startup Sigfox (founded in 2006 by Christophe Fourtet) whose goal was to build a low-cost alternative to the cellular network for connecting low-battery demand objects. In 2015 Intel introduced the Curie module, comprising a sensor hub, a microprocessor and a Bluetooth connection in a tiny space.

Bluetooth and WiFi weren't the only ways to connect objects. The Internet of Things was for low-power devices, devices that had to survive a long time with a battery. LTE (Long-Term Evolution), originally introduced in Scandinavia in 2009 by TeliaSonera, used the existing 4G wireless network. There were companies specialized in making chips for LTE communications, like Israeli-based Altair Semiconductor (acquired by Sony in 2016) and Paris-based Sequans. In 2015 two standards were proposed: Narrow Band-LTE (NB-LTE) from Intel, Ericsson and Nokia; and Narrow-Band Cellular IoT (NB-CIoT) from Huawei and Vodafone.

The Internet of Things opened new horizon to "smart" cities, and therefore heralded a revolution in urban planning. In 2015 Google, whose overall activities were now credited to the newly formed Alphabet, even invested in a New York-based startup to redesign urban living, Sidewalk Labs, led by Daniel Doctoroff, a former Bloomberg executive. The startup's first project was a joint venture called Intersection to bring free high-speed Wi-Fi to cities around the world like LinkNYC had done in New York.

The products on the market, however, were still modest in scope. In 2014 Google acquired Nest, founded in 2010 in Palo Alto by former Apple's designers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers to develop "smart" home appliances (initially just a thermostat) that are capable of self-adjusting and be controlled by smartphone. Switchmate, founded in 2014 in Palo Alto by three Johns Hopkins graduates (Robert Romano, Daniel Peng and Ashish Dua), introduced a button controlled from a smartphone app to turn lights on and off, and potentially any other appliance activated by pressing a button. August's smartphone app, launched in 2013 in San Francisco by Jason Johnson and Yves Behar, controlled the deadbolt of a door and issued "virtual keys" to guests.

Security on Internet of Things was obviously not trivial. Some adopted a strategy similar to what doctors do to prevent infections: check for signs of intrusion and immediately isolate compromised devices before they could infect all the other devices in the network. Thus Atlanta-based Luma (founded by Paul Judge and Mike Van Bruiniss) sold a WiFi router capable of checking traffic inside the home network and detecting "infections", and Finnish-based F-Secure Sense sold a security monitor, a device sitting between the home router and connected devices to scan all traffic for "infections".

Exciting work was happening at the intersection between "open source" and home automation. Open-source hardware was coming to maturity in both Europe and the USA. Arduino Uno had no operating system so it could only run one application at a time, but it was the ideal microcontroller for "smart" objects that only did one thing. The Raspberry Pi, introduced in Britain in 2012 and originally conceived for schoolchildren by a charitable organization based around Cambridge University, was a cheap computer that fit in the space of a credit card. In 2015 TL Lim and Johnson Jeng, out of San Francisco, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a single-board computer called Pine64, slightly bigger than a smartphone but equipped with the most powerful ARM processor (more powerful than the most powerful laptops) and cost the equivalent of a restaurant dinner; and it is designed to work with the OpenHAB standard.

OpenHAB (Open Home Automation Bus) was designed by by Kai Kreuzer in Germany in 2010 specifically to let "smart" devices talk to each other. It was open source and written in Java. One could use it to set up a sequence of operations that involved multiple devices. OpenHAB was also compatible with ROS, the open-source Robot Operating System invented at Stanford by Andrew Ng's group and perfected at Willow Garage. ROS was the descendant of the Stanford AI Robot (STAIR) that was conceived from the very beginning with "home" robotics in mind.

Neura, founded in Israel by Triinu Magi, Ori Shaashua and Gilad Meiri and relocated to Sunnyvale in 2013, applied a bit of Artificial Intelligence to the Internet of Things so that it could not only connect "things" but also figure out what the user does with those "things" and create personalized behaviors.

The "smart city" was the ultimate target for the Internet of Things. The term was confusing because it was often used (especially in Asia) to refer to a city offering nice living, low pollution, and fast Internet: fast and ubiquitous connection for people. In the age of the IoT the term "smart city" came to refer to a city in which objects such as street lights and parking spaces were connected: fast and ubiquitous connection for things. The traditional cellular phone systems were not suited for "things" that need to be small, light and cheap: their batteries couldn't provide a lot of power. The smart city needed a networking technology for very-low-power operation, but also capable of long range transmission. The telecommunications companies that had risen during the cellular era typically thought in terms of "broadband": they wanted to provide an infrastructure that could carry large amounts of data (such as pictures and videos). Therefore they had invested in 3G, 4G, and now 5G. But these are precisely the technologies that didn't work well for connecting home and city objects. The user needed to recharge her smartphone almost every night. A long battery life was a prerequisite for the Internet of Things. Europe was ahead in developing the exact opposite: narrow-band low-power long-range radio networks. Broadband means short waves, narrow-band means long waves. The Internet of Things for "smart city" solutions needed the longest waves. Furthermore, the communication had to be secure and bi-directional. For example, Afero, founded in 2014 in Los Altos by Danger's co-Founder Joe Britt, offered a Bluetooth chip for manufacturers to embed in their smart appliances and a secure platform to connect smart appliances among themselves and to the cloud. Finally, it had to be capable of tracking moving objects: mobility and localization. Europe had several well-established leaders in this kind of "ultra-narrow band" (UNB) technology with power levels that were thousands of times lower than in cellular communications: Telensa (Britain, 2005), Sigfox (France, 2009) and Actility (France, 2010). Some of their radio technologies had been developed since the 1990s. Telensa had connected LED-based street lights in several cities, and had a "smart parking" solution: magnetic sensors to detect the presence of a vehicle and to alert drivers when the parking space became available. Actility was the brain behind the LoRa Alliance, established in 2015 with Cisco, IBM, and many others.

click here for the other sections of the chapter "The Selfies (2011-16)"
(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

Table of Contents | Timeline of Silicon Valley | A photographic tour | History pages | Editor | Correspondence