For Jeremy Walker, little things mean a lot
<p>Walker's startup IOTA Computing seeks to rethink the Internet of Things. It's about more than sticking a sensor in a lightbulb.</p>
Jeremy Walker is speaking at VERGE SF 2013 today.
Plenty of entrepreneurial dreams are attached to the emerging Internet of Things -- hailed as the enabling technology for everything from smart transportation networks to smart grids to smart cities. That means there's a lot of pressure riding on the sensors and other end points crucial for making those dreams come true.
Will these gadgets be smart enough to communicate just the right information, or will we be deluged with floods of data in our pursuit for new information? How long will devices live in the field without requiring a battery change or new energy supply? And perhaps the scariest question of all: can these things be trusted?
Those are the questions that startup IOTA Computing (IOTA stands for Internet of Things Architecture) hopes to answer with its new reference design for low-powered, addressable and security IoT endpoints -- no matter what form they might take.
"This is a societal problem. These things could be in my home, appliance, TV, clothes, food, even my body," says IOTA co-founder Jeremy Walker. "I need to know that I can trust this, that nobody is hacking the system."
Backed by a few angel investors whom Walker isn't at liberty to name, IOTA Computing is developing an industry-standard operating system and processor for "tiny edge devices" that could be used in anything from home appliances and alarm systems to medical diagnostics to building and infrastructure management.
Although the Silicon Valley company is still somewhat in stealth mode, Walker says IOTA will license its technology to developers, and sell it to OEMs looking for a secure, low-power endpoint architecture for their solutions. The platform won't be open source, but it will be industry-standard.
"The last thing you need is a desktop microprocessor that is jammed into a lightbulb and forced to do something that it was never intended to do," Walker says.
In IOTA's world, IoT endpoints need to incorporate the following capabilities:
• Some processing capability that makes them intelligent enough to make certain decisions on their own, yet still enables them to be really compact.
• An IP address, something made much easier with the emergence of Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6).
• Minimal power needs, and the ability to conserve even more energy by "sleeping" deeply during long periods of inactivity.
Walker and his co-founder, Ian Cullimore, the inventor and architect of the concept, have been working on the idea for more than four years, and a number of patents are behind it. Their motivation was the bulky, size and power consumption requirements of existing sensors. "Our approach really comes down to resource management and the ability to monitor and control things at a much more granular level, inexpensively and cleverly," he says.
This is British-raised Walker's sixth startup, and the two boast years of past experience in the worlds of silicon and cleantech with companies such as Psion, Symbian and KiteShip (a company that makes wind-powered boats) dotting their resumes.
That last credit is Walker's: he actually was a professional yacht captain early in his career. There also are some impressive names on the company's technical and business board of advisers, with deep credentials in CPU/RISC design, public-key cryptography and cloud services.
Walker traces his interest in green technologies back to at least 1974, when his wife Annette published a renewable energy primer for the original Whole Earth Catalog. Indeed, power is a big focus for IOTA; some devices made possible through its architecture won't require batteries, and will rely instead on solar charging and energy harvesting to get their job done.
Other companies are focusing on IoT end points, of course. On the silicon side, there are players such as ARM, Texas Instruments or Atmel. For operating systems, developers could pick TinyOS, Contiki or Micrium. But none of these technologies was integrated from the beginning, like what is being developed by IOTA, Walker says.
The company hopes to make its vision more public in early 2014, when it begins opening up its platform and technology to companies and partners that can create real-world solutions using IOTA end points. If Walker has his way, IOTA's technology will play a role across a wide range of horizontal applications -- many of which will be imagined by our children.
"I'm not an activist, but I am staunchly and sternly aware that business as usual as pronounced by corporates and government, isn't going to get us anywhere good, and major change is important," Walker says. "My ethos as a technologist is any technology that can advance the condition and generally solves large-scale problems is good technology. Anything that doesn't do that is irrelevant and useless."