What Do Bruce Springsteen and IoT Have in Common?

I’m old enough to remember when the term “hype” started to work its way into the vernacular. It was 1973, and a guy named Bruce Springsteen cut an album called Greetings from Asbury Park. I ignored it–I was “into” Pink Floyd, The Who, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and Yes. What I could not ignore was how much interest there was in Bruce Springsteen: in print; on the radio, everywhere and often. Was the music that good? Wasn’t this just his record label (Columbia) salting the media mine, blowing the marketing budget on a risky bet? I wasn’t the only one who noticed this inordinate amount of promotion, and before long not-so-complementary things were being said about Springsteen and Columbia: “It’s pure hype”; “They’re just hyping him up”; “It’s just a hype job”. I completely agreed.

Jump to August, 1975. Springsteen releases Born to Run. I listened to it, and it wasn’t just good. It was great—Triple Platinum grade great. Yes, the artist was hyped, but there was no doubt that the hype was justified. And if a few die-hard skeptics were left, Bruce came out with Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River to settle the matter.

“Hype” still connotes negatives to me. I tend to think that real things shouldn’t need hype to be successful, or that there must be an element of sham, a lack of genuineness somewhere in the ecosystem of hype. That’s why when I first noticed all the buzz about “IoT” a few years ago, I was skeptical: who profits from this? Who’s pushing the concept? Amazon? Cisco? Qualcomm? This skepticism persisted until Wednesday 9/21/16. On this day, representing REDCOM EMS at the AmCon Design & Manufacturing Expo, I experienced the IoT equivalent of Born to Run.

Shortly after the exhibit hall opened, I had the opportunity to talk with the Director of Operations at an LED lighting solutions company. He was at the show to identify companies that could help him get his controller “online”, so that smartphones and other network endpoints could control the lighting. His customers were asking for it because they know it can be done, and they want the economy, convenience and the enhanced functionality of a networked solution. All communications will be via Internet Protocol (IP). “Wow”, I said. ”I think we are talking about IoT here, right”? “Absolutely” he replied.

Not long after this exchange, an enthusiastic young man approached our display table holding what I thought was the fob for his car’s remote keyless system. I asked what he was looking for, and he held up the fob and said “Somebody that can make the circuit board that goes inside this.”

He opened the fob to expose a small but very complex Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA). He told me that the board contained sensors that detected the concentrations of potentially-harmful things encountered on construction sites: particulates, gases, high noise levels. The Use Case is simple: the construction company issues a fob to all workers on the site. The fob transmits the worker’s GPS and other data from the sensors to a local computer via a wireless connection. Also, each worker’s smartphone (issued by the employer or BYOD) is also connected to the network. Now imagine that one worker’s fob detects a too-high concentration of dust. Not only will his smartphone vibrate, but the network monitor will see this—which could be an early indicator of a dangerous cloud of dust starting to waft through the site. The path of the dust cloud may be inferred by the sensor/GPS data, and an alert can be sent to those workers in the path of the cloud.

This is, most definitely, IoT.

IoT has been hyped. But as was the case with Bruce Springsteen, just because it’s been hyped, doesn’t mean that it isn’t real, exciting, and profoundly important. I am now a believer, and fairly sure that IoT will go on to produce a long series of hits.