THE INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT) is perhaps perfectly named. It sounds vague, dense and complex and that's because it is.
It's a convoluted and intricate network of ideas, data and devices. It's almost as though the name is aware of its own ambiguity, parodying itself and saying: 'An internet of, erm, 'things' because there's so much going on here we can't even begin to sum it up in one word.'
Perhaps that's what prompted the guys at Thingful to try to make sense of it all, putting as much information generated by the things it's connected to - and that are connected to it - in one place, indexing it, and making it searchable for anyone.
"IoT today is basically a bunch of silos of data generated by sensors and devices including people wearing those things or driving cars or anything that is sensorised in any form," Thingful chief marketing officer Andrew Caleya Chetty told The INQUIRER.
"There's a lot of data but it goes through some kind of private back-end and, even though it's in the public domain, it's not easily accessible or searchable."
Chetty explained that the problem with searching for sensors and/or their data is that it's pretty much impossible because Google looks for text matches, so you might never actually get to the data source.
For example, searching 'London temperature' in Google isn't going to find you data from weather sensors.
"So we wanted to develop a data search and ranking methodology, and the easiest thing that we would get to try out the technology was public data feeds," Chetty added.
"So this takes information from sensors around the world. For instance, you can search 'air quality in Manhattan' via the search database and it can pull up an 'egg' showing the last data feed that sensor saw."
Thingful can also search for data from sensors near you, such as energy meters, radiation sensors and seismographs, or you can search the world to find out which cities have the best coverage, such as for air quality monitors or weather stations.
Categories include Energy, Home, Health, Environment, Flora & Fauna, Transport, Experiment and Miscellaneous, and Thingful indexes across dozens of IoT data infrastructures and communities to find everything from soil sensors and bicycles to sharks, volcanoes, ships and aircraft.
The start-up has developed a provenance mechanism to verify the source of these sensors, but the team is also trying different ways to get verification of the data itself.
However, Thingful is not only going to be an IoT search engine. "The search engine is the public face of Thingful. We are actually building a platform behind this that will allow enterprises to share private IoT data," said Chetty.
Thingful believes this will open the data from IoT and potentially make it valuable for people, groups, businesses, services and so on.
For example, certain Transport for London (TFL) subterranean services need real-time temperature recordings because they have to be shut down if a temperature threshold is exceeded.
Real-time road temperature data isn't available in London because roads don't have temperature sensors.
Thingful said that discussions with the Met Office led the firm to suggest opening up the data in cars which already have climate control sensors.
EU law states that from 2015 all cars must have an embedded module for collision communications, so in the next five years all these cars will be connected to the IoT because of these sensors.
Thingful wants to take advantage of this and make the data valuable by allowing car owners to exchange the information or sell it to a company or service like TFL.
"If we could get this temperature data TFL will pay for it, but we can't search for it. So we are trying to build these tools for ecosystems in energy in transport in smart cities, where these big pools of data generated by sensors live and die on those sensors and are never captured by any other entity," Chetty said.
"We help search for this data and make it available in a way where the person that owns the data can entitle it for others to see and get something in exchange.
"In a bottom line statement, we are trying to create an IoT data monetisation possibility through the service and rules we are developing for Thingful."
We spoke to Thingful at the Digital Catapult Centre, which opened in London on 5 November to help small tech firms develop digital ideas in the capital and across the UK.
Located in King's Cross, the centre is part of the Connected Digital Economy Catapult funded by the government's Innovate UK initiative, formerly the Technology Strategy Board.
The facility provides entrepreneurs, SMEs, researchers and organisations like Thingful with a space to meet and collaborate on development projects.
The general idea is to advance the UK's best digital ideas by bringing data to the forefront of the digital industry with a focus on four major challenges: trust and personal data; the IoT; building diverse datasets; and reducing licensing friction.
The centre has had 1,500 businesses through its doors in the three weeks since opening. µ
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