You wait ages for a company that makes and hosts digital avatars of inanimate objects, and then two come along at once. Actually, you don’t really wait for such a thing, because you had no idea that you wanted it, or that there would be any point.
But when it’s explained, it’s hard not to like the idea, and to get it. And it’s not just me that’s getting it, because I’m starting to hear it in several places.
Last week I met with Evrythng, a clever small start-up based within a stone’s throw of London's Old Street roundabout.
The company’s important new idea is the ‘Active Digital Identity’ (ADI), the equivalent of a URL for physical objects. Strictly speaking the ADI is an address which refers to a software object with a one-to-one relationship with a specific physical object – say, a chair. The software object is, in effect, an avatar for the physical object. If such an avatar exists, then applications that want to interact with the chair can engage with the software object, independently of how the chair itself is connected to that software object and how it provisions it with information. If it suits the use case, the software object can be more intelligent than the physical object it represents; a soft drink can engage with its purchaser, for example.
Moreover, the avatar can have a separate existence from its physical referent. The avatar can live longer than the soft drink can, for example. For the philosophically minded this comes perilously close to Plato's theory of forms, whereby actual cubes are but imperfect copies of the 'real' cubes which exist in the perfect world of forms. The Gnostics developed something of a spiritual and moral doctrine out of this, which said that the imperfections of the physical world proved that it was created by a malign demiurge rather than the perfectly good God who was the real ruler of the universe.
Evrythng’s customers are product manufacturers. Its offering is intended to deliver ‘Product Relationship Management’, a deliberate analogy to CRM. It argues that just as CRM emerged as a layer in the enterprise stack 15 years ago as awareness grew that corporations held a lot of disparate disconnected information about customers within a number of independent systems, so too do enterprises engage (or want to engage) with their products via information held separately in disparate systems.
The company is particularly interested in packaging companies, who it believes provide a route into the major consumer product manufacturers. It works with the innovation teams within these, and also with some big names in the world of advertising and marketing. Though it doesn’t say so, the opportunity to use its platform to also facilitate deeper ‘emotional’ relationships between people and their things seems to engage it more fully than just the regular, more prosaic use cases for digital avatars.
Then, this week, I attended a physical event (remember when it didn’t seem necessary to point that out?) in the rather more glossy location of Level 39 in Canary Wharf, where host company Flexeye introduced its core product Eyehub, which is a ‘Thing-as-a-service’.’ Its literature says that Eyehub “makes dumb things smart by assigning living ‘Digital Entities’ to them…Digital Entities continually process observations to make decisions and effect actions. They can be evoked by a Smart System to make things more efficient to manage, easier to maintain, safer or more secure.” The same idea, right?
There was an impressive live demo which showed the digital identity of the room in which we were sitting, and also demonstrated how easy it was to discover and pair a new sensor as a data source for that identity. Part of the point was to showcase the functionality of Hyper/Cat, which describes itself within a single paragraph as a consortium, a standard, and a specification. What it seems to be, mainly, is a catalogue format designed for exposing information about IoT assets over the web; a jolly good thing, a really good idea, but – despite the claims - not really the Philosopher’s Stone of IoT interoperability, just a necessary component.
Incidentally, has anyone else noticed just how many different alliances there are in the world of the IoT? Anytime anyone has an idea, they have to found an alliance. Some alliances seem to be set up in opposition to others. Some companies seem to be in lots of them, including ones that are apparently competing. It’s all a bit reminiscent of the run-up to the First World War. Still, there are no archdukes in the IoT, are there?