A new common language for categorising Internet of Things data could be the first step to breaking down the barriers between the emerging array of proprietary systems.
HyperCat is a new open IoT specification that allows applications to search for data from connected devices across multiple data hubs regardless of what kind of device or service it has originated from.
The esoteric ways in which organisations involved in IoT technologies – such as home automation, smart cities, intelligent shopping or smart transport – describe their data make it hard for machines to find information relevant to them, meaning a human has to manually adapt the app so that it is compatible with that organisation's data.
“The problem is that everyone is doing this for themselves with their own technology, reinventing the wheel and using huge amounts of resources. This is highly inefficient and the result is that none of these things can talk to each other,” said Pilgrim Beart of CEO of IoT specialist 1248, which one of more than 40 companies involved in the 12 month Technology Strategy Board funded project.
The HyperCat specification – which has had input from major technology players such as ARM, BT and IBM – creates a common format for the metadata that describes the data resources listed on each hub that allows applications to discover and make sense of this data automatically without human intervention.
Machines are able to either browse directories of metadata or search for common terms that enable them to find interoperability – for instance an app that understands temperature measurements can search for and discover this type of data from other devices buried amongst other data that the application may not understand.
The hope is that, with widespread adoption, the specification can help to create better cross-service communication between different providers, which should drive a new wave of innovation in the IoT sector as data becomes more widely available to small start-ups creating new applications and services.
But they make come up against resistance from the big tech companies such as Google who have the IoT firmly in their sights and may be reluctant to give away their data and more importantly systems that lock consumers into their solution.
And there are questions about the extent to which companies are going to be willing and able to share the data generated by connected devices, such as smart metres and health informatics.
“I’m supportive of it as a concept but I think it’s got a long way to go,” said Dr William Webb, deputy president of the IET and one of the founding directors of machine-to-machine specialists Neul. “I think at the moment the benefits of open sharing of data are far from clear and concerns around it are very great.”
But those behind the project say the systems' simplicity makes it very easy to implement, demonstrated by the fact that several non-TSB-funded projects have adopted it, such as the MK:Smart smart city program in Milton Keynes.
The TSB has already spent £6.4m supporting the project and the next phase will see one of the eight consortia currently working on the project given a further £1.6m to further the concept.
Justin Anderson, CEO and Founder of IoT company Flexeye, which is involved in one of the consortia, believes HyperCat can have the same kind impact for the IoT that the creation of the World Wide Web had for the Internet.
“The power of a standard is phenomenal. A British standard 30 years ago started something and there are similarities between HyperCat and some of that orginal thinking,” he said.
“HyperCat is a seed that will be watered further, and what the government has done is put in place this crucible that brings together a lot of different stakeholders from application developers, data owners, end users, large companies and small companies.”