Category Archives: envisioning the future

The role of mobile devices in the Internet of Things

Much of the conversation about IoT focuses on sensors, cloud services, RFIDs and big data. Eg: uploading sensor data to a central point, storing and manipulating large volumes of data, which is then manipulated to gain meaningful information, tagging objects/people with unique identifiers, etc

Smartphones with short range communication:

But mobile devices, such as smartphones have an important role to play as well. Smartphones themselves can be sensors, but more importantly, smartphones have one unique property; they are always accompanied by a human. Therefore they can be proxies for human actors, interacting with other IoT devices on behalf of human users, while allowing the users to override at any given time. Smartphones/tablets can utilise built-in short range protocols such as Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth and LTE Direct to directly connect with each other and other IoT devices. This can create an inter-connected ecosystem of machine + human intelligence.

Crowd-powered IoT

Having access to such an ecosystem means that people can collaborate with each other in novel ways. For example, lets say you want to have a series of videos transcribed. To make it more complex, the videos are in Japanese, and you only know English.

Well, what if you can do this:

– You first compress the videos. Alternatively if they’re on your mobile device, and you cannot efficiently compress any/all of them, you can transfer some/all of them to your friends’ more capable tablet/laptop via a short range wireless protocol, and have them transmit back the compressed files.

– You then seek out people who are able and willing to transcribe your videos (possibly for a price, but we will come back to that later) by accessing the inter-connected ecosystem, and transmit the compressed files to them (their mobile devices).

– Your ‘recruits’ will then transcribe the videos using their human knowledge (linguistic knowledge – translate Japanese dialogue in video to English, and type it in English text) and send you the transcribed text after they’ve completed.

Of course this is a rather simplistic example, but that’s just a gist of how mobile devices can be part of a a crowd powered resource cloud.

Incentive management & Security

This concept relies on people agreeing to share their resources. One might ask, why should I let a stranger use my mobile device’s computational resources (not to mention the security/privacy issues) and why should I spend my time solving someone else’s problems?

This is why incentives (social?monetary?) are important, as is providing a secure environment. In any case, crowd-powered problem solving is not actually a ground breaking concept, when considering successful projects like Wikipedia, file sharing systems, SETI etc and although these occupy different technology spaces, there are lessons to be learnt.

Check out the following for further investigation:

There is a considerable amount of work been done in this area, in different levels. “Mobile Clouds: Exploiting Distributed Resources in Wireless, Mobile and Social Network” is a good book that talks in length about similar things.

Hyrax: Cloud Computing on Mobile Devices using MapReduce is one of the earliest research in this area.

HTC Power To Give is a crowd-powered smartphone app where smartphone users can volunteer their mobile devices’ unused resources to a computational grid to solve research questions in medicine, science and ecology.