For the past few years, my favorite example of IoT (Internet of Things) has been the use of devices on cows in Ireland to identify mating signals; as cows begin to have midnight strolls of certain patterns, algorithms can predict timing and inform the farmers to facilitate consummation. The result has been increased performance and productivity — more calves and more profits! As a technology lover and a believer of its ability to help us realize our next best version, I was delighted to get past cows and welcome the Internet of People!
Recently, I came across a company that has coined the phrase “Internet of People,” or IoP, an intelligent approach to connecting devices to people, places, and situations. In their pursuit of growth funding, we had an initial conversation that got me intrigued. The company was a serious player in a new space that was quickly shaping up and it helped put the IoT phenomena in a different light for me. I thought of what they do as an unintended, but fabulous, consequence of digital connectivity.
First, the Company
In short, the company, Kiana Analytics (www.Kiana.io) has built a platform that is able to collect “presence” data of any type of device (your phone, a printer, an advertising kiosk or your fancy watch, etc.) every three to ten seconds. Where they have coverage, they can pick up the presence of devices and, with their patented technologies and sophisticated algorithms, recognize the device ID, what techies call a MACID. The platform tracks every device: when did it enter the covered area, how long did it stay, what direction did it move or was it stationary, when did it leave and what other devices was it associating with. Today they have partnered with the big boys of router equipment and are covering over half a billion devices across the globe (50 or so countries). Soon the number will increase to billions as 5G coverage becomes global and more ubiquitous and their existing relationships with major telecom carriers begin to go live.
At first look, all sorts of privacy concerns went through my mind. But, on a second look, they had covered all their bases and, through their relationship with the Department of Homeland Security and others, had crossed all their “t’s” and dotted all their “i’s.” The company was originally founded to serve as a proximity marketing tool, used to look at traffic patterns in malls and convention centers, but was on the verge of something big: physical security enhancement and making “invisible threats visible.” This was the capability and the value proposition that got me excited and later, in full disclosure, a stock holder.
Before I share my thoughts on the fabulous unintended consequences, let’s take a broader view of how IoT is touching our lives in all unlikely places.
The Broader View: Home, Office, City, The World
At home, everything, from the smart doorbell and alarm system to your refrigerator and pool, is generating signals that travel through your home Wi-Fi network. Alexa and Google Assistant are listening for your commands and executing instructions to read an audio book, adjust the heater, or turn on the lights — signals, signals, and more signals generated.
As you are sitting in your office, thousands of digital signals are flying all over every second. Your office Wi-Fi system (and soon 5G) is connecting everything together as it acts as the hub of collection and distribution of acts and events: printers printing or scanning, HVAC systems regulating temperatures, the HQ’s front yard sprinklers responding to hotter weather by staying on for a few more minutes, the Spotify connection pumping soothing music throughout the office, and more. Every video you watch on your phone and every deal you confirm through your email initiates its journey through a Wi-Fi system before it goes to the internet.
Then comes the next generation of connectivity: smart bulbs in the ceiling are listening for commands, the conference room glass windows are monitoring temperature and claiming to impact employee productivity, and smart floors are scrutinizing footsteps and movement.
Smart cities will soon be crawling with autonomous cars (one in four cars in about ten years), flexible energy grids, coordinated traffic patterns, and more. All communicating, executing commands, generating signals, and sharing some sort of intelligence.
So, everything is connected, has a digital trace, and streams signals of life; like a heartbeat, every device is yelling out every few seconds, “I am here and here is what I know” (the intelligence embedded in the signals). These signals are generated by things (devices), captured by the Wi-Fi network on their journey to get to the internet (Internet of Things — IoT). Today, our Wi-Fi networks are local and not connected, but soon with the advent of 5G (ubiquitous connectivity) devices can be connected and express themselves anywhere.
And, yes, I am sure that the talented entrepreneurs will get more cows connected in a much more meaningful way!
The Fabulous, Unintended Consequences
Amazon realized that in the course of building their technology driven business, they have assembled a lot of assets — computer hardware and know-how. And a new cloud computing business model was born, where you can sign up on AWS, login, and use as much computing power as you want on an as needed basis and pay for what you use. This is the type of fabulous unintended consequence that Kiana and router companies are facing today: physical security delivered through the invisible connections of millions of devices. Here are a few ideas:
· A shooter enters a campus and the IoP technology registers the entry — is it a friend or a foe? In about ten seconds, the device is identified and its owner’s whereabouts are registered — the exact hallway or the precise location in the science lab. The location of all other students is also known. The knowledge can guide the teachers and the police to take proper actions. Now, say that shooter was able to escape. His device ID can point to him elsewhere where the coverage exists.
· As a young woman on a college campus walks to her car, she is accosted. The association between the two devices is registered in seconds and the assailant can be identified later by looking at the Device ID and mapping it to camera locations. Now you have a picture of the suspect.
· A rogue device is hidden behind an ATM keypad, recording people’s card information and password and transmitting it — generating signals. Or, a small camera is installed in a dressing room at a mall (there was north of 20,000 discovered in the UK in one year) giving the observer a hidden eye by generating signals. These devices can be detected because the signals are being sent from a place (e.g. women’s restroom) where there should not be a consistent Wi-Fi communication.
· A massive concert with thousands of people is in full swing. Suddenly, some people start gathering in a corner and an unsafe crowd situation is being formed, but there are no security guards in the area. An alarm can go off using the Wi-Fi and device signals that there is a crowd gathering in a certain area, it is gaining momentum, moving in a certain direction, and passing normal thresholds indicating that guards should be deployed now.
· A previously unknown terrorist or international scammer is entering at the border with his Fitbit on his right hand. The system identifies the Fitbit signal as one that is associated in another country with a known suspicious device, or he may indicate that he only went to Europe and back, when his device was actually detected in Syria.
· In a factory environment, it is important to control access to certain sensitive areas. Detecting the device of an intruder can alert the security officers of such illegal entries. At the same time, devices with important proprietary information should not leave the premises — a disruption in signals or a change of location can point to a theft in progress. Furthermore, if a worker becomes incapacitated, the man-down will activate and provide the response team with location and type of alarm information.
· A massive disaster, such as an earthquake, has created chaos. People under piles of rubble; locations unknown. The IoP technology is initiated by either quickly tapping into existing Wi-Fi networks under coverage or establishing a temporary grid for coverage to realize expressed signals and deploy emergency and recovery care.
· A person who has stolen a car and changed its license plates is crossing the border. A hardly detectable crime is in progress! The tire pressure measuring apparatus in the vehicle however is sending a signal — a detectable signal that helps identify the thief.
· On a large corporate campus, a local liquor store, a museum, a neighborhood bank or mall, invisible threats can be turned visible as unauthorized individuals attempt an entry or pose a threat. Presence, movement, and association of the uninvited guests can be pinpointed within a few feet in a matter of seconds in order to prevent issues.
I am sure if you let your imagination loose, you can conceive of many more situations of this unintended consequence.
An opportunity was created because devices have become a necessity and because Wi-Fi represents the gateway to the internet and the carrier of signals: an unintended opportunity that may be a side effect of capabilities, but life changing on its own. It is an example of technology solving a problem (physical security) while putting us at an assumed threat (privacy) at the same time. Offering an opportunity for another on demand economy business model. Just as Uber owns no vehicles, but is in the transportation business and Airbnb owns no real estate but is in the hotel business, Kiana and its counterparts can be in the security business without ever needing to hire a security guard or own infrastructure.
Bottomline: Keep Your Eyes Open!
When it comes to evolving to your next best version, keep an open mind and look for places where you can take advantage of the fabulous, unintended consequences: where the gold is hidden.
Rogain was invented to treat high blood pressure. The very profitable unintended side effect was hair growth and the ability to reverse baldness. WD-40 was invented to displace and repeal standing water in order to prevent corrosion in nuclear missiles. Today, you will find the product in most homes applied for the unintended applications like: lubricating squeaky hinges, loosening stuck screws, getting chewing gum to separate from hair, winterproofing boots, and more. In the early 1920’s, Kleenex was introduced to market as a make-up remover. The unintended use for blowing your nose was discovered by the manufacturer years later. They reworked advertising for the unintended use and doubled their sales. Today, Play-Doh is used by children all over the world as a modeling clay. However, it was originally invented to be a wallpaper cleaner. About twenty years later, the product is being sold to children in toy stores everywhere — the unintended application addressed a bigger market and created a much bigger opportunity.
There are fabulous unintended consequences pointing to unplanned opportunities all around us.
As the old saying goes, luck is generated when the prepared meets an opportunity. Today, the changes in how we live, interact, and use technology are providing ample opportunities for the prepared individuals to get lucky.
Keep your eyes wide open for unintended consequences and stay prepared to get lucky.