Intel joins IPSO Alliance to promote IP in smart devices

An alliance of companies promoting embedded Internet Protocol in smart devices, like military sensors and home appliances, has added 12 new member organizations including Intel Corp.

The Internet Protocol for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance, formed in September 2008, evangelizes the idea that an entirely IP-based network makes it easier for dissimilar devices to communicate with each other, instead of being hindered by proprietary and ad hoc protocols.

Chairman of the IPSO Alliance, Geoff Mulligan, said the traditional thinking was that IP was too complex, too costly and was really meant only to interconnect PCs, but “why not just push IP all the way to the edge of the network, the boundary between the physical world and internet?”

Certain vendors’ insistence to use proprietary technology when IP readily exists, said Mulligan, only means that “we’re creating islands of networks that don’t easily talk to each other.”

“Why not just push IP all the way to the edge of the network, the boundary between the physical world and internet?” — Geoff Mulligan 

Moreover, proprietary protocols require complex gateways and special-purpose programs to translate the protocols, said Mulligan.

The 12 new member organizations to the IPSO Alliance include Intel, Johnson Controls, and Bosch, taking the member count to 51. Existing members include Cisco Systems Inc., Ericsson Inc., SAP AG and Sun Microsystems Inc..

Mulligan envisions IP-based smart objects in use in a plethora of ways. The military can use a network of sensors for vibration, temperature, light or motion, to protect an asset, for instance.

Similarly, in the household, a network of smart objects can be used for controlling different, seemingly unrelated appliances. Mulligan describes one possible scenario where a house fire triggers the smoke detectors, which then automatically turn off all gas appliances like the stove and water heater, and finally the homeowner receives a phone SMS message that the smoke detector has gone off.

“If it’s all IP-based it becomes very easy to interconnect the devices because we don’t need to convince all these different vendors to use a single protocol except the protocol that already runs the entire world,” said Mulligan.

And, in home health and elder care, Mulligan envisions that devices and everyday appliances can relay information about what individuals are doing through interactions with those objects. And, an IP-based blood pressure device can automatically relay blood pressure measurement to the health-care provider, said Mulligan.

Steve Adams, senior strategic planner with Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker Intel Corp. and IPSO Alliance board member, said the main motivation for Intel joining the alliance was, as with other standards organizations and special interest groups, promote the use of standards that enhance interoperability.

“Interoperability, especially protocols like IP have been some of the core building blocks that have enabled the internet to become as useful a tool as it is today,” said Adams. From Intel’s perspective, he continued, “we want to see that same phenomenon occur in the more deeply embedded network that you find inside buildings, factories, transportation systems, etc.”

Jerry Martocci, lead staff engineer with Johnson Controls Inc., a Milwaukee, WI.-based vendor of building efficiency and automotive technologies, has observed a trend toward convergence of IT and facilities in the last decade. “We would find ourselves going in and talking to the facilities guys rather than the IT guys up until about 10 years ago, and now we spend a lot more time talking to the IT guys,” said Martocci.

“Marrying (IT and facilities) further down into the sensor level seems almost to us to be the next logical steps,” said Martocci.

That convergence will continue and technologies will get commoditized and therefore cheaper, predicts Martocci. And, even non-traditional vendors in this space like Microsoft and Google will bring froth new applications, he said.

In the future, Mulligan hopes there will be an evolution to the everyday household and its appliances and devices as we know them today. But he also envisions IP will tackle an even broader landscape for things like better control of green energy as with smart grids.

Especially with IP v.6, the newest version, grants enough possibilities such that if every grain of sand on earth were assigned an IP address, there would be ample addresses left over, said Mulligan.

“With IPv.6, you can give everything an IP address,” he said.

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