EP #514: Why we need an Internet of Things operating system – with bitHeads co-founder Rick McMullin

Ask 100 people their definition of the Internet of Things and you will probably get 100 answers. Most will focus on the perfect world of seamlessly connected devices that thread our lives from the time we wake to the time we fall asleep. They will include data that follows us, doors that open, music that plays and lights that go on as we enter rooms. It will include payment authentication and ID validation. Cars will start, tires will tell us when they are low and our home will let us know when our kids arrive. IoT utopia.

The thing is that each piece of this puzzle – from the connected bed to the connected fridge – runs independently from the other and, more often than not, can’t speak to each other in any meaningful way. This is the gap between the promise of a valued IoT and just a bunch of connected devices spewing data like oil.

Rick McMullin, co-founder of Ottawa, Canada based bitHeads is trying to solve this very problem by building the glue that brings these devices together – to fulfill the promise of the Internet of Things.

This episode covers the reasons why what Rick and his team are building is so important as each generation of device – and human – demands more natural connectivity between things. This isn’t just about connecting screens or displaying data, this is about brand new ways of thinking about software, hardware and the entire user experience we’ve become addicted to.

Enjoy!



Key takeaways from this episode. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. What is the biggest challenge with IoT? 1:30
2. How will IoT evolve? 3:35
3. Who is bitHeads? 8:20
4. How building The Simpsons Tapped Out led to the IoT focus 11:00
5. What is the biggest misconception about the IoT 15:25
6. Where is the innovation in IoT – hardware or software? 17:50
7. The need for a common IoT operating system 19:00
8. Is an open IoT environment a realistic reality? 21:00
9. The need to rapid prototype IoT 23:00
10. How does the IoT OS succeed? 25:15
11. The multi-screen experience of The Simpson’s Tapped Out + tracking salt trucks 27:00
12. Will companies accept the “sunk costs” of IoT? 29:00
13. The biggest challenge to IoT is that businesses don’t get the web yet 31:00
14. Can businesses skip mobile and jump directly to IoT? 33:40
15. A glimpse into the device-less IoT future 36:45
16. Does UI/UX survive the IoT movement? 39:00
17. What industry is poised to succeed first in IoT? 40:35
18. When does IoT become very relevant? 44:15
19. What is the social M2M? 46:45
20. Do we still have privacy in an IoT world? 48:50
21. Is IoT a global movement? 50:45
22. Who is leading in IoT? 53:15

Audio

Raw Transcript

Rob: Hello everybody, and welcome to Untether.TV. I’m your host and founder, Rob Woodbridge. You know where I live; I’m located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, so it always brings me great pleasure to bring to you the talent that we have in this fair city. We’re going to be speaking today to a local company; the company’s name is BitHeads. We’re going to be speaking with Rick McMullens, who’s the CTO and co-founder of BitHeads. Go to BitHeads.com.
In one moment, we’re going to be talking about all things IoT, that’s Internet of Things. This is a very, very, very uniquely poised company to be a part of this revolution, actually, to lead this IoT revolution, and they got some very interesting concepts. The stuff that they’ve been working on in the last year I think will blow your mind, and we’re going to be bringing that to you right now. Did I say that he’s from Ottawa, that this is a company that’s located in Ottawa? Rick, welcome to Untethered.tv. I appreciate your time. Thank you for being here.

Rick: Thank you very much, Rob.

Rob: God, I love this city. I love when I get to showcase somebody from my city; just down the street from me. Welcome, welcome, welcome. You’ll get the royal red carpet rollout for being in Ottawa. That’s just the way that it happens here.
We’re going to be talking about IoT. I need to ask you a very important question before we actually get into the meat of the conversation; maybe this is the meat of the conversation. What’s the problem with IoT? Everybody’s talking about it. There seems to be 1000 different definitions. What would you classify as the biggest challenge right now with IoT?

Rick: I think that is the biggest challenge right now with IoT, is that everybody that is in the space and everybody that wants to be in the space has a different definition for how things are tying together. In addition to that, nobody really knows where things are or even … and certainly they don’t know where things are going, so everybody provides their own definition and I’m just as guilty of that as anybody. A lot of people are starting to come up with products that are based on proprietary protocols and trying to tie that in with proprietary hardware and be the full stack for this evolution of the internet. As we’ve seen before, that generally doesn’t work.
[inaudible: 02:23] usually hold up. Apple’s done an okay job of keeping theirs together, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. From my perceptive, the biggest problem is that nobody really knows what it is or where it’s going, and that a lot of companies are trying to dig their hooks into proprietary technology to drive it forward.

Rob: It’s funny because we say that a lot about many industries that have emerged over the last couple of years; the mobile app space and now IoT, and even before that, the world of the internet. I don’t think that anybody really would’ve predicted anything as to where we are right now. I’m with you. People who are trying to predict this, they’re trying to pave a way for their businesses. I think that as we move forward, you think that that picture gets a lot clearer, don’t you?

Rick: I do think that. I think a lot of times when I try to see where a technology or trend in the industry is going, I try to draw an analogy to something that’s already happened. If you look … and the way I see the Internet of Things moving is much along the same path that computing in general has moved over the last 50 years. When we got going in things really in the late ’50s, ’60s, in that time frame, the technology of choice was a mainframe and that was pretty much how things worked. As time went on, it evolved into more of a client/server technology. Then in the ’90s, we had the web that came alive based on open protocols. Then more recently than that, within the last 6 to 10 years, we’ve seen what people are calling the web 2.0, but it’s really just the advent of social and mobile technologies built on top of the existing web. It’s much more of a two-way communication than the web 1.0 was, where you were just going and viewing information.
Similar to that, the way I see IoT evolving, is again, back 30-ish years ago we had the first IoT applications, if you wanted to call them that, and they were very much monitoring stations or SCATA applications. You had a local control node that was monitoring a bunch of equipment typically over a proprietary protocol, and often times physically connected to those devices that they were monitoring. That’s the equivalent of that old mainframe world. We move from there into more of a networked environment. With the advent of computer networks, we were able to remove those propriety links between the control station and those devices. For the most part, that was all that happened at that level, so we’re still just monitoring equipment. Maybe the monitoring station wasn’t co-located at the same building, maybe it was in the company head office or something like that. That was really all that changed there.

Then at the same time, roughly the same time that the internet came out and the networks started to get a little bit more prevalent and cheaper, we saw a move from this just monitoring-type situation to something where it was more remote monitoring and control. You can get a little bit of two-way communication; maybe you could reset a device or initiate a software upload to a particular device. That was really all it was doing, and that could be central and remote to do that monitoring and control. We’re still there.

I think we’re in a transition from that level to the equivalent of the social mobile web. What we’re starting to see now are these unique applications coming out, things like Nest, where people are installing intelligent thermostats in their home and there’s a network service that’s controlling that. You can configure it and get notified of things and control your device, but they’re very much siloed applications. It’s coming along where these individual applications; you can have maybe an application on your phone to control them but they’re all very much standalone. Where I see things moving is as the technology evolves, we’re going to see these different devices not only being able to talk to one another, but also, there’s some intelligence in the network that will be able to gather that information, act on it, and make intelligent decisions.

A lot of it is about context and it’s about moving the decision- making, or at least some of the decision-making, from human more into the computer and into the network.

Rob: It’s funny because I think back to those days, maybe not that far back, but even the early days of the web and this connected program called SETI, the search for extraterrestrials, where it was levering downtime on other people’s computers to be able to crunch data. Would that be a good example of this first node computing Internet of Things piece? Is that an example of it?

Rick: It’s definitely an example of node computing, for sure. Whether …

Rob: We never found aliens.

Rick: They’re still working on it.

Rob: They’re still working on it. That concept is so fascinating to me because … and everyone. I ran a company back then called Anomatics here in Ottawa, and we had every computer overnight searching for ET, basically. It was fascinating. It was gamifying this network computer piece.
I want to stop here for a second because I need to ask you about BitHeads, because BitHeads is one of the longest-standing technology companies in the city of Ottawa. Talk about the history here. Who are you guys? What do you do? How did you land here, because you have such an amazing past as a company? Obviously it’s not over, but you’re in the IoT space, you in the gaming space. What is BitHeads?

Rick: We have been around for quite a while; we’re in our 19th year.

Rob: That’s crazy.

Rick: For a technology company, that’s pretty good.

Rob: I got to say, BitHeads is in this … it’s in a mall. Before you say, “It’s a mall,” what they did is they took over a movie theater, so they have a full movie theater with seats; the old seats in there. I used to go to that theater all the time. The office is built on how many floors? Three floors with winding staircases; it’s one of the most amazing office spaces in the city of Ottawa. If you ever get here, you’ve got to go to an event at BitHead’s office. Just had to say that. Carry on with the important stuff.

Rick: Like a lot of companies in town, we got our start at Nortel. I worked at Nortel for 3 or 4 years before starting BitHeads, as did my partner and co-founders. We had done a lot of work in very highly- scalable, highly-secure systems at Nortel, so that’s where we got our foundation in building out these large platforms. We’ve done a lot of telecom work since we’ve got going. Recently, I guess about …it’s not all that recent.

Rob: 19-years-old; there’s no recent.

Rick: About 8 years ago, we started a video game division and we did a lot of neat things with a lot of different platforms. We built things on the Xbox and the Playstation; obviously, Windows and Macs, and every mobile device known to man. We’ve also done a lot of set-top box work. What we’re finding is that this … we’re seeing that the Internet of Things is helping to push the industry towards viewing these things just as a screen, as opposed to a mobile phone or a computer. It’s just a screen, so we’re going to be displaying information on that screen.
We’re uniquely-positioned as a company because we’ve done so much work on so many different platforms in terms of the presentation of data. The other thing that we’ve done through the gaming industry is that we’ve built some very huge backend web systems to support some of the more common or more popular mobile games out there. One of the biggest and bestselling mobile games ever so far has been The Simpsons: Tapped Out. We built and architected the backend for that game. It’s almost how we got into doing things in the Internet of Things space, because we saw a lot of analogies between … it doesn’t make sense at all, but there’s a lot of analogies between this video game technology that we built and what we feel is required as a applicant server to service the Internet of Things [inaudible: 11:32].

It’s been about 2 years that we’ve been looking at this, and I spent the first 6 months just first thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?. We’ve been connecting devices to the internet for 20 years, so why is everybody on …’ [inaudible: 11:48] of the industry was certainly very excited about it. It took me … literally, maybe I’m just dense, but it took me 6 months to really get the ‘aha’ moment where I realized that there really was something big happening here. I think the reason … a lot of time we’re in the technology business, we’re immersed in it every day and a lot of time we don’t realize that not everybody lives the way we do.

A good example of that I had a Blackberry back in 2002 or 2003. When the iPhone came out, I was like, “What’s the big deal? I’ve had one of those for 5 years or 6 years.” The big deal was that Apple made it accessible to a much broader audience of people. That’s one of the things that’s happening now that’s going to make the Internet of Things such a big deal. The others really are pretty small changes in the environment but they’re all happening at the same time, and that’s what making it pretty crazy.

I think over the next 2 to 5 years, you’re going to see not only the problems that are being solved change dramatically to what they have been over the last 10 years; even the way people are thinking about problems is going to change. I knew … it was probably about that time where I realized that I got it, I got the Internet of Things. Every time I’m walking down the street now, it’s like, ‘There should be a device for that. There should be a device telling me to do something right now. There should be …’

I was walking down the street to get my coffee, which I do every day. I was coming back from Bridgehead, another local company, and I saw the meter guy. It was in the winter so there still snow piled up along the road. He was walking down the sidewalk with a big stick with a piece of chalk tied to it to get over the snow bank so that he could mark the tires, and then he’d come back, assumedly an hour later, to see if the cars have moved. It is screaming IoT application. There could be a camera that recognized that a car had come and gone, or whatever. There’s many, many ways of solving [inaudible: 14:05].

Rob: Rick, who do you scream at then?

Rick: That’s the thing; nobody’s … I don’t think anybody’s getting it yet because most businesses aren’t thinking in this way yet. It is a different way of thinking. Another way that I liken it; it’s more of a technology thing, but it’s almost the pull versus the push. Again back 20 years ago, whenever you wanted information, you would pull for it. You would pull a central server for information or you would pull a device for information, but that’s not an efficient way of doing things. It should be more of a push environment, and that’s what the Internet of Things at the very basic level is about. I don’t want to have to go on the internet to search for something, I want my device or my screen to bring me information that I’m interested in. It knows that I am interesting in that based on preferences and my past; where I’ve gone, things that I’m interesting in. Google now is starting to come up with some … it’s getting closer and closer to that. We’re still a long ways away from something that I would consider a full and complete solution, but its’ getting there.

Rob: What do you think is the biggest misconception right now about the Internet of Things era that we’re merging into?

Rick: I think it’s … the biggest misconception?

Rob: I think about for me, it’s about that everybody’s searching for something that this is doing and they label it ‘Internet of Things,’ but it may not be.

Rick: Yeah, there’s a lot of … I think that there’s a lot of marketing hype and lot of marketing speak, not that there’s anything wrong with that, in the space right now. A couple of the things that I see happening often are people referring to things that really aren’t [inaudible: 16:04] or really aren’t Internet o Things, interactions, at all, as that. Doing a credit card payment, it’s not really the Internet of Things. It is a device talking to a device, but I’d concern that more of a client/server interaction. It’s not really an Internet of Things application. Another thing that I see often is people confusing or assuming that their Smartphone is a thing that’s a part of the Internet of Things. In my opinion, it could be. Depending on the usage scenario, it could be. If you were using it as a heartbeat monitor, a pedometer, or tracking device for going out and running, then I can see that as being true, but in and of itself is not a device that’s participating in the Internet of Things environment. It’s just something that you’re using to present information to a user or they’re potentially controlling another device with it, but it’s not really an endpoint in this type of environment.

Rob: That’s an interesting perspective, because the software layer enables these devices to become part of IoT. If you have home locks that are proximity-based where you walk up and it unlocks, that becomes … for that one function, it becomes a piece of the IoT. Same thing, as you said, around health and fitness, and all these tracking devices. The same thing that if I give my kids a phone and I track their whereabouts, it becomes part of … it becomes a node-available, but it’s all software enabled. The hardware … is hardware … how do I say this? Hardware’s a case. Is it important now? Is there anything distinguishing hardware from anything else or is it just the software layer that we should be concerned about with IoT; that interaction?

Rick: Software’s always been something that we’re more concerned with [inaudible: 18:03], we’re a software company. It is a full stack, so you need for each one of these ideas, even the parking example that I just talked about, there is a need for some form of hardware. It’s a full value chain. I think that the key is that that hardware has to talk in open protocols. There isn’t really a standard yet, but at least if you’re using an internet standard or an open protocol to do that first bit of communications, and then talking to an application server and environment that is also speaking those protocols, then you can start to see a lot of interesting things happening. I mentioned earlier that how the internet has gone to the Web 2.0, which is social and mobile, where we see the Internet of Things going, is really to the point where right now you have a Nest device that is talking to a Nest server, and a Nest Life Phone application on your phone. You have a Piper, another local company, device talking to a Piper server talking to a Piper app on your phone.

Rob: Silos.

Rick: Very silo or stovepiped, is what we used to call them. Where we see it going, is that if we can open up those protocols and we have a common application server that they’re all talking to, then all of a sudden, my Piper work can talk to my Nest or my Nest can talk to my Piper or anything, and we don’t have to have these walled gardens for each application. The other problem that that solves is that I don’t have the remote control problem where I have 50 apps on my phone, each one to control a different device in my house, and eventually just give up.

Rob: Go bury your head somewhere. Is that your vision when you think of the BitHeads IoT vision? It is this open source unified platform that brings on other devices so that … is that like the IoT operating system?

Rick: It really is. We’re calling it an application server, for lack of better term, but it really is an IoT operating system. The software that we’ve built and have been developing allows anything to talk to anything else, and that includes … any device can talk to any other device. Any device can talk to any mobile phone, and also, any device can talk to any backend system; ERP systems, SalesForce, SAP, or whatever you can imagine. We’re not trying to be the analytics company for the Internet of Things, we’re trying to enable all these devices to send data to some other analytics system that somebody that’s smarter about analytics has built.

Rob: Is it … some people would look at the way that Nest has done this and the way that any of these other companies like Piper; anybody who has their own stack as protective. That would be their competitive advantage because you’re in their ecosystem. The same way that Google looks at it and the same way that … Google talks open, but really, we’re all locked into Google if you decide to be on Gmail, Gdocs, you use Android, and you use an Android device; now you’re into Nest. Then we’re going to be driving driverless cars powered by Google and getting internet from balloons that are in the stratosphere. They may talk that open structure but they’re a much more open/closed environment because it benefits them, the same thing that Apple does. When you look at what these companies are doing, is it in their best interest to be able to talk to … Piper to be able to talk to Nest and exchange information?

Rick: I certainly believe so, and it’s as closed as the Nest environment is. They actually have opened up their APIs. One of the things that we’ve built on our application server is a connector to Nest so that … if I could make a connector to Micro, which I can’t currently do. If I could, then through our application server, your Piper could talk to your Nest. I think that more and more of these companies that are building these standalone applications are going to start at least providing an API that you can access. OnStar is another example. [inaudible: 22:22] opened up their … it’s probably a subset of the entire API but it’s a really rich subset of their API, about a year ago to developers. That’s another connector that we have made, so you can have your Nest talk to your OnStar for some reason.

Rob: As you’re pulling up it cranks up the heat. It can get so confusing, honestly. I think that … we’ve had a conversation about this and you’ve had many conversations and many years to think about this. You’ve had your ‘aha’ moment, and I’ve had my ‘aha’ moment when I look around at every single thing around me from a light, to my car, to my washing machine, to my fridge, to my toaster, to my coffeemaker; all of that. At some point you think, ‘All of those should be connected and I should be able to do stuff with that.’ Does it ever get too much where you’re thinking, ‘There’s this onramping process that we have to do. The first is the valuable stuff where it’s going to be a part of our lives but we won’t even notice it, and then it becomes part of our lives because we start to notice the interactions that these devices are having, and they start to do it automatically’? What’s that process? To me, everything can be connected, everything could have some additional value, but nobody’s willing to front the cost to be able to do that.

Rick: I think, again, what’s required is a platform that enable these people that are building these individual applications to start to connect. There’s connecting those devices into the network, and then there’s building applications on top of that. The application server should have an environment where you can quickly prototype these interactions. It shouldn’t be something where it takes me 6 months to get my Nest talking to my car. It should be something that I can do in a couple days or a couple weeks; at least a prototype, what that interaction would be. As we were saying earlier, it’s really days. Nobody knows where this is going. You don’t want to spend 6 months building something and then find out that it was the worst idea ever. If you can do it in a couple days or a couple weeks, its’ the fail early, fail often-type mentality. You have to have the tools to be able to do that. You can’t spend a lot of money failing all the time.

Rob: No. I like the concept here, which is there has to be a reason. A lot of people have been talking about … we’ve these; this internet- connected washer and drier. Unless it can actually pick up the wash out of the washing machine and put it into the drier, there’s no need for internet-connected device. It rings a bell, and if I hear it, then I know to change it. If I’m not anywhere near there, like out of the house, it does me no good to know that the wash … there’s extremes like that.
How does this evolve? From what you guys are talking about, you have to now take this operating system, this IoTOS, and put it out there so that people … build enough connectors from existing APIs, and then get it out there so that it provides value. Where do you guys start? You got the nest and you’ve got OnStar; how do you bring it all together?

Rick: It is a challenge and it’s what we’re dealing with right now. It’s all most like we’ve built this … we’ve built 5 or 6 IoT applications. We saw a lot of patterns through that and that’s why we ended up building this IoT platform. Now we’re struggling probably a little bit with how we go to market with it. Right now, we’re just using it as a tool that we can create these applications much more quickly than somebody else could.

Rob: Competitive advantage right now.

Rick: Exactly. We would like to have it out there and have it out there for the people to use, and that’s what we’re working through right now, is the best way of doing that.

Rob: It’s really interesting because a lot of software companies … the biggest one in Ottawa’s was Cognos. They built their platform by servicing clients first, then they built a platform, and then sold to IBM for $5 billion. That happens here. They found they were able to finesse the application in order to be able to then turn it into a software package. Is that the avenue for you guys?

Rick: It’s definitely what we’re looking at doing. We’ve done it … we already have a gaming platform that we’ve built out in a similar way, so this is our second framework or server technology that we’re building, and it’s to satisfy an entire [inaudible: 26:54] market.

Rob: There are parallels there, because as you talked about the Simpsons: Taped Out … that was just not a mobile game. Obviously, this was one of the most-played games ever. You guys also, as you said, build … have to create that experience across not only mobile, but other screens, consoles, and other platforms, as well set-top boxes. That’s your background. You guys have been immersed in this long before people started calling this IoT.

Rick: Absolutely. I was trying to remember what maybe our first IoT application we ever built was. I think, not including network management-type stuff, which was IoT, we built an application, and I think it was in 2002, that would track salt trucks and map their best route; the most efficient route to deliver salt on icy road conditions, which we get a lot of up here. That was, as I said, 12 or 13 years ago. It was very much … we had a GPS built in the truck and it would track where it was going, and map the shortest route to pick up more salt, and all that stuff. There’s a lot of math going on in the background that would figure out what the best route was.

Rob: Do you think … it’s so fascinating, because again, you think about this and immediately early on in the days it was about oil rigs. I remember the very first story I thought that correlated to Internet of Things was the ability to put remote sensing on oil rigs so that you could get the levels of … you know whatever the levels of pressure, the levels of gas, the levels of oil that they were pumping, in order to be able to … you can get that from the ground as opposed to having to send somebody out there in a helicopter to get the readings. This is where I first started, and it was all ways in the energy space; to drop down a sensor to measure methane gas in wells, and those things.
They’ve been doing this for a long time, but all of a sudden, it … we’re now looking at it and I now think that there is a cost. We didn’t talk about this, but I’m wondering; there’s a cost associated with IoT and that cost is a sunk cost. It’s one of these things where you’re going to put money into it in order for it to be … you put money down on it now to be efficient later. Do you think that that’s going to stifle the growth of IoT? The idea of the salt trucks is great, but who covers the cost of that? How do you sell that, which is all ways the challenge around this, because it is a sunk cost for now?

Rick: I think that’s probably one of the reasons why we are where we are, is that so far, the only people that have deployed these types of applications have done it for a good reason and it’s usually some cost savings or some safety issue. To get back to the oil and gas example; a lot of these things are very remote. If something breaks down, they want to be able to know what it is before they send somebody out, because otherwise, they’re sending a guy out twice and it’s very expensive, is one example at least. That’s why the oil and gas was big into this because they were able to save a lot of money by automating a lot of this. It gets back to what we were talking about earlier, where once you have that ‘aha’ moment, or you get it, you start seeing problems in a different way. I think once businesses do start doing that and start viewing it in a different way, they will find the ways to make it drive value; implementing these types of applications. It’s just getting that shift in the way you’re thinking about it to happen. Once that does start to happen and it’s more the norm as opposed to the exception, then I think we’re going to start seeing a lot of interesting things happening, for sure.

Rob: Do you think that … we’ve gone through these phases, and for every business it’s been like this. You’ve been in business for all of this, so the last 19 years. First it was the web; we need a website. It’s going to change the way we do business; we need a website. It took a long time for companies to wrap their head around the web. It was not a pull, it was a push. When you guys were selling web stuff 20 years ago like I was, it was hard to sell people on websites. The momentum gained, and all of a sudden, there’s 50 billion websites out there. People understand, I think … maybe they don’t still, 20 years in, they don’t understand how to use the web properly. The majority of companies out there don’t understand the web 20 years into this.
Then this thing happened: We started carrying these portable phones with us, they emerged into Smartphones, and now there’s this mobile piece with apps and mobile websites. We’re at the fringe of that right now, because I tell you, 99.9% of the people on this planet do not understand what mobile means to their business and they are screwing it up. They’re screwing up the web, and not 100%, but say 75% of the world businesses that are screwing up the web are not paying enough attention to it, then 99.9% of the world’s businesses are screwing up mobile. Then you throw in this thing called IoT into the mix of this. 0% of 0 anybody in business really has grasped onto this, except for maybe oil and gas companies, and the big guys, but it’s such a small percentage. Now you’ve got guys who don’t get the web, guys who don’t get mobile, and then you’re going to layer IoT on top of this, and they haven’t had their ‘aha’ moment about the web yet. Is that an accurate way of saying where we are in this space today?

Rick: I really think so. Percentages and numbers side, I think that it’s definitely …

Rob: Those are all my opinions. They’re not validated by any scientific research, just based on my conversations.

Rick. We’ve had … to the point about the mobile; we’ve had discussions recently with some fairly large companies or maybe [inaudible: 33:13] corporations, or whatever, and they will just say they need a mobile app. I will say, “Why do you need a mobile app?” The answer literally is, “Because everybody else has one.” There’s … you’re not driving any value whatsoever.

Rob: They don’t get it. Then you label IoT. I wonder if there’s a way to skip mobile for a lot of these companies, because I think that a lot of these companies are struggling to figure out how mobile fits into their business. Something like IoT might be the answer that they don’t know that they’re looking for. They may not need an app, but what they need is something that notifies somebody when something happens.

Rick: It’s not really necessarily IoT, but I totally agree. That’s where I see the mobile industry and even the internet moving in some ways, and it might be IoT that drives that forward. What we were talking about earlier, the pull versus push way of doing things: Currently right now the mobile apps and everything, it’s very much pulling, going on to check the sports scores. It might send a notification or something like that as well, but for the most part, I have 200 apps on my phone. If I remember to go and check something, I do; if I don’t, then I’ve pretty much forgotten that app’s even there. You get lost in the apps and it’s the whole remote control thing all over again. Getting back to what Google’s doing with their Google Now, I honestly feel that that is more the way the user interface of these things is going to move forward. You’re going to have, probably, just a single app on your device that displays cards or notifications. The Blackberry’s done a pretty good job too, with BB10, where you have your hub.

Rob: Your inbox of everything.

Rick: Exactly. I feel that that UI almost has to go that way; it has to be simpler. It’s probably to the point where, for at least mobile devices, I think the user interface is going to start to become less and less important just because people are geared more towards, ‘I want to be told what to do, I don’t want to … not necessarily what to do, but I want to be told of things that I might be interested in as opposed to managing 200 apps and going to each one of them every day to check if something’s changed.’ It’s kind of … I don’t know if there’s been a term coined for it, but what I’ve … they way I’ve been thinking about it, at least that it’s event, notify, action, and building the user interface around that paradigm. There’s some event that either I’ve expressed interest in or through other actions that I have done, my device knows that I’m interested in. It notifies me, it goes to a common place, and I can choose … maybe there’s 4 options that I have to deal with that notification, and I ignore, escalate, or maybe the third one is launch an application to deal with it or launch a website to deal with it.

Rob: It’s not the first thing.

Rick: It isn’t. The complexity that is being driven down to these mobile devices now, it’s not sustainable in my opinion. It has to be simpler than that.

Rob: I’m with you. This is something I believe very firmly, that the new operating system are notifications. They have to be a little bit smarter than they are today. Right now, I have 3 calendar apps and I get 5 notifications for meetings and I don’t know how to turn any of them off, and I’m a mobile guy. They have to be smarter. They have to be in context in understanding that, if I’m on the phone with you, you don’t have to send me a notification that I have a meeting. It’s just those small, subtle triggers that have to happen, but I believe that the new operating system that we go forward is going to be this notification world. Whether it’s boxes, squares, or whatever it might be; beeps, it might be lights. Who knows? It’s the notification world. The second thing is that … I think that this might sound ridiculous, but I think that the end of the operating system is near. Not near in terms of next year or 5 years down the road, but I think that the operating system is transitory, the operating system that resides on the device.
I think that when we have this ubiquitous blanket of high-speed connectivity, whatever that might be, whether it’s through a carrier, through a mesh network, or through nodes, whatever it might be; I believe that the operating system then evaporates to the Cloud and this just becomes a dumb screen. It can be any dumb screen, and then we say goodbye to these devices and the operating system, and then we really are truly in this notification world triggered by passing something, the temperature dropping, or my calendar that’s in the Cloud, and then I just get notified. That’s my view. We’re years away from it because we’re still addicted to the Smartphone. Does that jive with you?

Rick: I totally agree. I think another reason why we’re years away from it is that the people that are in there now are going to cling on to what they have with every last bit of effort that they possibly can.

Rob: So true, because it’s the focus on UI/UX. I love great design, I just love it. I love the way the Smartphone feels in my hand, I love the way this mic that’s in front of me looks, I love the operation. I even bought a $20 pen because it felt great. $20 is a lot of money to spend on a pen. I have this feeling. I love that feeling; the experience of interacting, but this blows out that UI/UX world, doesn’t it? It just says “The UI/UX is the world and … the UI is the world, the UX is what that triggers and how I get notified.” I don’t care if there’s fancy buttons with shading because I just need to know, I need a notification. It really does, as you said, diminishes the value of UI/UX, but we’re nowhere near that yet.

Rick: No. I think that the first step towards it will be when Google opens up their Now API, which I’m hoping will happen in 2 weeks at their …

Rob: [inaudible: 39:34]

Rick: That, if they do … as soon as they open that up, certainly simple apps, you don’t need them anymore. You can just use the cards on Google Now and have that as your main point of contact with everything. Ultimately if that’s successful, then Apple will eventually have to follow suit.

Rob: Sure. They’re in their own world. You’re right; if Google does lead this, then … they’re already the de facto operating system; whether or not they’re trying to protect that status. I don’t know if they care or not that they’re the de facto operating system. What they really do care about is data collection, and then being obviously, being the source of data for all of this stuff that gets fed into it.
When we talk about this, is there an industry that you feel … aside from the oil and gas, and the companies that we’ve talked about, those big industries that this is out of necessity that they’ve done this; is there an industry that you see out there that is poised to adopt and adapt to IoT better than another one? Is there a leading industry?

Rick: Certainly if you look at the stats, manufacturing is big into it already. Oil and gas, and retail’4s fairly high. Most of the analysts think that healthcare is going to be the next big hunting ground in this area. I just … healthcare seems to move so slowly that I’m not entirely sure that that’s going to be the case. It might happen.

Rob: Are you health records digitized yet? Mine aren’t.

Rick: Doubt it.

Rob: Exactly. I carry a folder with me.

Rick: I don’t have access to them; that’s the other problem.

Rob: Right. You don’t think that healthcare’s going to do it?

Rick: [inaudible: 41:24] and not so much the home automation, but large commercial building automation I think is going to be a big one coming up just because there’s so many different things that you can optimize there with sensors. There’s quite a bit of it going on already. I think that’s going to be big over the next couple years.

Rob: It’s going to have to take that for people to begin to understand the value that we’re talking about here. When it’s not replacing your light bulbs with energy-efficient light bulbs and saving $22 over 17 years on your energy bill. It’s really about optimizing for climate control, space, and energy consumption on a huge building that’s going to have huge savings, and then people will wake up to that. Do you think that’s what it’s going to take for these things to permeate?

Rick: Yeah, I do. Another industry where I think that they could do very well to adopt a lot of this stuff is just in the general hydro states, again not the home, but in the grid, managing he grid. It’s still a utility that moves way too slowly. I think it’s going to take years and years …

Rob: This is not … we’re not painting a good picture here, are we?

Rick: Not for those.

Rob: I see a lot of pioneers out there. A lot of the companies are testing the markets. You guys are doing this. You’ve have a number of clients that have come through BitHeads that you have done some pretty unique things with that you would’ve thought that anybody would be ready to do. That to me is a sign of things to come. The way that you guys are thinking about this is that you really are thinking long-term here. Right now, we’re talking about an IoT operating system built by you guys that you realize maybe 5-6-8 years away. That to me is the sign of a visionary company that says, ‘We’re going to put a stake in the ground here. We’re going to build towards that because somebody has to. If nobody else out there is thinking this way…’ I think a little bit more minute, I think about the home operating system, and this is just a large-scale home operating system.

Rick: That’s right. The big keys to it are certainly scalability, because there could be billions of things connecting to it. Also, security is going to be a huge part of that, and it’s something that it is in some ways more or less been ignored so far in this … ignored probably isn’t the right word. It’s a challenge. People are still dealing with how to solve it in the IoT space. That’s another thing that we’re certainly very cognizant of and we’re focusing on when we’re building this platform.

Rob: When do you thing that this kicks in? I’ve heard you talk about … I don’t know how to describe it. The way that this will happen is … you’ve described it as this third Industrial Revolution thesis. Is there something … there’s a book out there that …

Rick: There’s a couple books that I’ve read; one was ‘The Third Industrial Revolution’, where they talk about there’s been two Industrial Revolutions and they were both predicated by new media of communication and a new power source occurring at the same time or within a fairly short period of time with one another. The first one being the steam engine and the printing press, and then the second one being oil and basically digital communications or electronics. The third, the communication platform is really the internet. We’re still waiting for that third energy piece to drop. There’s a lot of research out there, and we’re getting closer.
Some of the reasons that the Internet of Things is being driven forward right now, or we’re getting very close to having self-powered sensors; they’re certainly very low-powered, and over the next couple of years, it appears as though we’ll be to a place where at least some of them can be self-powered. Maybe that’s the tipping point, is when that happens.

Rob: It’s funny because we’ve gone from computers; we’ve all seen this evolution in computers from the size of a room to now the size of your palm. Now we’re talking about little devices that basically send and receive every second. The computing power on that is just enough to be able to do what it needs to do, to be able to process it. We’ve gone through this evolution of power consumption, power consumption down into absolutely very little power consumption. Some can run on a small watch battery for months. I wonder if this, what we’re talking about here, this next Industrial Revolution, is the fact that the computing power has diminished to the point where when we have enough of these nodes around the world, there is no other power source other than maybe sun and solar. It’s because we’ve reduced the power consumption from these computers to next to nothing. That’s the revolution that happens.

Rick: That certainly would do it, I think. It really is … as we said earlier, nobody knows.

Rob: Is that what you would consider … you talk a lot, as well, in our conversations, around the social M-Dam. Can you define what that means? How does that interact with us and our devices?

Rick: I think that we drew the analogy, this whole evolution with the computer into the Internet and now Web 2.0, where it’s social and mobile. It just seems to make sense that these Internet of Thing-type applications will move in the same direction. It really is the same data that they’re sending out now can go to a common environment. Maybe a device of one type can register to see events of another type that could be generated by anything. I think that in order for very compelling applications to be developed in this space, we have to start sharing the data. The data-sharing has to happen not in some big back office system, but it has to be somewhere closer to the edge of the network where quick decisions could be made, like OnStar telling my house that I’m about to arrive or whatever the case may be; something that really a person isn’t necessarily … doesn’t really care about; that data doesn’t really matter to anybody else other than these 2 devices because they know they’re supposed to talk to one another to do that thing.
One of the other things that we feel is very important in this first- level application/server operating system is that it’s not as if the data just gets sent and consumed, it could get sent up to the server. The server could decide to send that same piece of information to 12 different backend systems and a couple of little devices that are somewhere else. When you have that flexibility and power, the options are just endless. You can … pretty much anything you can think of doing you can put it together.

Rob: Do we still have privacy at that point?

Rick: That is going to be another big issue. Privacy is definitely going to be a big concern going forward in this space. A lot of people think or believe that really wishing some of this privacy is going to be worth it for what you get in the end, and some people aren’t going to think that way. I think over the short-term, it’s going to be a lot of meandering and feeling our way through that whole issue.

Rob: Making mistakes.

Rick: Exactly. People are going to have different thresholds for what they’re willing to give up.

Rob: I always maintain that everybody has a price. You’ll give up a little bit of your privacy for nothing, like your postal code or your ZIP Code at Ikea, which is your information and it’s infringing on your privacy. They ask it and you willingly give it to them, and all the way up; it’ll scale from there. You got to think about that. Privacy is going to be hotly contested, it’s going to be debated, there are going to be breaches, massive breaches of data, and we’re going to learn from these. You’re right. I don’t think that there is an answer for privacy.

Rick: Currently not right now anyway. Even if you look at what Google’s doing right now, it’s pretty incredible. If you have an Android phone and you’ve enabled your location … I don’t know what the setting’s called, but basically it’s saying, ‘Allow Google to track everywhere you go.’ You can go on the web and to your history browser, and it shows you every single place you’ve ever been because usually you have your phone with you.

Rob: That’s accepted; it is for some people.

Rick: [inaudible: 50:30] don’t know about it.

Rob: If you’re listening to this and this is the first you’ve heard about it, maybe you should check into your privacy settings. What about the rest of the world? We’ve been talking here, really, North American- centric information. Are we seeing this movement, the same feeling, the same guessing and grasping with IoT around the world?

Rick: I think in general, both Asia and Europe are a little bit ahead of North American, at least in their thinking about this. Some of that probably stems from the fact that the governments there have actually been promoting it for almost 10 years in some cases, so they’ve been giving incentives for companies to actually build out IoT-like, platforms. Their power management and things like that, policies are much more ahead of North America. They’ve had to build … I was in Switzerland a couple of months ago, and every room I walked into, the lights would turn on, and as soon as I left, they would turn off; just stuff that you don’t really see too often in North America yet. I think they’re a little bit ahead of where North America is, at least in terms of thinking about it.
Having said that, there still seems to be a lot more … at least in the last 6 months or so, there still seems to be lot more activity in North America I would say, than …. at least at the device-level, building the hardware things. There seems to be more of it going on here than at least in Europe anyway.

Rob: It always strikes me; why aren’t we looking over there? Why are we trying to reinvent stuff and do stuff here where they’ve been paving the way for many years in policy, use, and that ground-level use where people will start to see value in it? I see that all the time in Asia, I see that in Africa with mobile payments. You see that in Europe when it comes to the complexity of the devices and the ecosystem around IoT. I always wonder, ‘Why aren’t there companies over there trying to bring that here instead of trying to recreate the wheel?’

Rick: I don’t know what it is. I think part of it might be a bit of the not- invented-here syndrome. It allows boggles the mind. I look at municipalities, it’s the same way, how they deal with garbage and all that stuff is so much more advanced in Europe and yet they look at it as if they’re looking at it for the first time over here.

Rob: It’s crazy. You guys still have garbage in Canada and the United States? We incinerate it. We’ve issued lasers to every one of our … one last question, and then I want to send people somewhere so that they get more information about you guys. Do you think that there is a company that is ahead at this point? We’ve talked about companies like Google, the oil and gas companies, but is there a company out there that is building something that is so unique that you just looked at it and said, “Oh, my God. I’ll give up Bit Heads to go and work for that company?”

Rick: I haven’t seen it yet. There’s a lot of companies that are definitely getting into the space and most of them have entered within the last 6 months to a year. What a lot of them, from what I’ve seen as we mentioned earlier, are doing … appear to be trying to make a proprietary play where build on this device and we have a server that will support that, which I just don’t think is going to go anywhere in the long run. They might be able to succeed at it for a few years, but that’s what I’ve seen most of the companies that are in this space doing so far, at least from a software perspective. No, it’s still very early days, so nobody knows what solution is going to win out or what approach is going to win out. So far, nobody seems to be standing out as a forerunner.

Rob: That’s a good thing right now. That means opportunity everywhere, doesn’t it?

Rick: It’s the Wild West.

Rob: Have you ever seen a time like this, where it’s been so much of a Wild West, so flat, so level?

Rick: I don’t think so. You could almost compare it to when the internet was first coming out. The difference there was that there were open protocols. Anybody can go build your own web browser if you want or web server. These are the protocols you have to adhere to, and then go ahead and compete. That isn’t the case with this at all, so I think it is a little bit more wide open, even than it was back in ’93.

Rob: Primordial soup, that’s what this is. We’ll see what emerges. Rick, where do we send people to find more information about what you guys are up to at Bit Heads?

Rick: The best place to start is certainly our website, BitHeads.com. We don’t have a lot of our Internet of Things-type stuff up there yet, but it will be coming soon, including some whitepapers, case studies, and things like that. That’s definitely a starting point.

Rob: Bitheads.com. Sign up for their mail list, or email list, whatever you can do. Follow them on Twitter. Stay close to this company as this is emerging. Obviously if you want to reach out to Rick, my guess is that he would do it. You could do it through me, at rob@untether.tv. You could jump online to BitHeads.com and send him a note and ask him questions. Rick, I hope to have you back on soon so we can carry on this conversation as you guys are emerging in the IoT space and taking it over like good Canadian, good Ottowa-based company should.

Rick: That’s right.

Rob: There’s no pressure out there. We just need a couple of you guys out there to dominate, like Cognos, like Newbridge did; Shopify is emerging, but we need Bit Heads too, as well. Folks, go to BitHeads.com for more information. Of course, you could just re-listen to this entire episode because I’m sure that there’s stuff in there that you just glanced over that in 6 months or 3 months down the road will blow your mind at how right Rick was.
How’s that? Rick thank you for doing this. I really appreciate your time.

Rick: Thank you very much, Rob.

Rob: We’ve been speaking with Rick McMullin who’s the CTO and co-founder of a company called Bit Heads. Go to BitHeads.com right away. I want to thank him for being on Untether.tv. I thank you guys out there, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. I hope you are at the gym, maybe you’re out there gardening, you’re driving in a driver-less car, whatever it might be. Thank you for making it this far into the episode. Truly appreciate all the great feedback that we’re getting. Of course, I would appreciate a 5-star review on iTunes or wherever you got this, maybe Stitcher. Just do it. If you’ve gotten this far and you found some value in it, that’s what I appreciate for. That’s my value, that’s my currency. I’ll be back next time on Untether.tv Thanks Rick.

Rick: Thank you very much.


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About Rick McMullin
Rick McMullin bitHeadsRick is the CTO and co-founder of bitHeads, inc., a successful custom software development company that has effectively delivered over 500 projects to many of the Fortune 1000. Rick has deep domain expertise in the architecture and development of large-scale server, middleware, and cloud platforms for game, mobile and enterprise applications. He has been instrumental in architecting scalable cloud solutions for some of the most popular games on the internet such as the Simpsons Tapped Out, designed online real money casinos and constructed Canada Post’s point of sale system which is deployed in 7,500 outlets in Canada. Prior to co-founding bitHeads, Rick worked as a software architect for Bell-Northern Research’s Generic Services Framework project, the largest object-oriented project in the world at the time.
 
With the rapid emergence of the Internet of Things, Rick has been spearheading multiple IoT enabled projects in the manufacturing, food and beverage and health sectors. Furthermore, he has spent the past two years constructing proprietary platforms for enabling the deployment of new and complex IoT and M2M applications.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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