Tuesday was the first official day when the show floor opened at CES. It’s time for the crowds, the booths and meetings galore. I spent most of the morning in meetings talking to companies and getting demos. Kevin spent his morning at Google’s big press event covering the news and taking a trip on the Google ride created for the show.
My conversations were less focused on the smart home yesterday and more focused on industrial and enterprise IoT. In these worlds, the overall consensus is that IoT has been way too much about assembling infrastructure and not enough about telling people what they want to know. Enterprises apparently aren’t keen to set up a ZigBee network and a variety of boxes for network and compute. They just want the lights to turn on at the right time and save energy.
With that in mind, I spoke with Rigado, which is trying to deliver a complete Bluetooth-based stream of information to customers and Comcast’s MachineQ (which did sponsor my CES trip with an ad buy) which has changed its business slightly to deliver not just network connectivity, but a gateway and appropriate sensors. Simplicity may be in as companies tire of expensive pilots that are difficult to get up and running across a large organization, but these solutions also could lead to a company having multiple providers for each separate thing they want to monitor.
Kevin Tate of Rigado called this phenomenon “meeting in the ceiling” as companies deploy an occupancy product and gateway and then perhaps a light or temperature monitoring gateway and products. Eventually businesses will likely want to consolidate and IT will get involved, but for now, the name of the game seems to be simplicity and sell to the person who has the problem.
And boy are there some weird problems! One of the more exciting bits of knowledge dropped at CES wasn’t a technology; it was a conversation with Alex Khoram of MachineQ. He told me that after deploying a LoRa gateway for a large company in the food services business, they started seeing possibilities for IoT everywhere. They even wanted a connected solution that would tell them if their mopwater was at the right pH to sanitize the floor.
You may wonder why that’s exciting. To me, it signals an organization thinking about how to broaden the use of IoT in a way that’s similar to how we broadened our thinking about what we could do with a smartphone with mobile broadband. People are starting to get it!
Aside from that frisson of excitement, the rest of the show so far has been a bit meh. I’m always on the lookout for disruptive tech, but this year, things feel pretty incremental. We are in a building phase, where companies are now implementing the tech we’ve been talking about for so long. This is fine, but it doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning.
For example, at NXP’s booth they were demoing a bunch of tech related to automotive, including the use of time-sensitive networking in a car. I’ve written about TSN in the past as a way to make Ethernet’s best-effort packet treatment into something more dependable so it can be used in factories and cars. The TSN protocol solves the problem of buffering and temporary network congestion, by allowing certain classes of packets to supersede others. This means a command to brake will take precedence over a Netflix stream.
The technology is in the early stages, and in this demo isn’t going to replace the traditional car information system, but one day it might. At other chipmaker booths, I saw a lot about 5G, a wee bit about VR and a big focus on Wi-Fi. Qualcomm has a cluster of IoT products that use its silicon, but none felt particularly exciting or innovative.
Yesterday evening at a Food Tech event, I had probably the best conversation so far about industrial and enterprise IoT. I was chatting with a venture capitalist and the former CTO at a smart home company about CES and both were as unimpressed as I am. We then started talking about the adoption of IoT in industrial and enterprise settings. We came to the conclusion that instead of a killer app for industrial or enterprise adoption, these businesses need to face an existential threat that inspires them to put the time and effort into using technology to transform their business.
It’s an idea I first heard from a VC in the industrial world, but it’s proving fairly true. Given climate change, the increasing adoption of technology across more and more industries and even regulatory pressures, there are plenty of existential threats to drive purchases. The smart companies just need to figure out what those are and design their products to help solve the big issues as opposed to the small ones.