IoT Platform "Afero": Listen to CEO Joe Britt (2/2)

(Photo: Kenmore and TiNK at CES)


The challenges of IoT for the era of 1 trillion devices

(Photo: Joe Britt and Afero team)

As Joe has been joining IoT business as Afero's CEO in recent years, he says that he learned a lot from the appliance industry. Joe says that it is important to be aware of the differences between computers / smartphones and IoT devices.

" Computers and smartphones, they're kind of all the same. They all have screens and a keyboard or a touchscreen they have some big storage they run arbitrary programs. As an LCD screen there's some quality difference, processor, memory all these things. They're not orders of magnitude different from each other in terms of performance. If you and I go to Big Camera and we go and we look at all the computers that they've got for sale. We're not going to find a model that is 1000 times more powerful than all the other ones. That's because and all these things they're basically built the same way. And that are built using kind of the same parts and that is what enables the commoditization and the cost to come down. "

On the other hand, IoT devices built for specific functions are different from general-purpose computers. If the same thing as Moore's law happens in appliances such as washing machines, bike locks, door locks and so on with limited use, it might be attractive, but due to the commoditization problems Joe thinks that such scenario will not happen to IoT devices.

" The first big problem is homogeneity versus heterogeneity. (In IoT) these are fundamentally different engineering problems. These are companies that are experts at bending sheet metal and coating it so that it doesn't corrode for many years making motors that are efficient and run for many many years. They're more what I would call "operational technology (OT)".

These are machines that are built for a particular function that's another difference from computers. Computers and smartphones are general-purpose computing devices. The companies have a lot of internal experience that sometimes goes back decades. When a company that makes air conditioners decides they want to build a new air conditioner, they don't start from a clean sheet of paper. They take the previous generation air conditioner and they figure out what is the minimum they have to adjust and turn it into the new generation machine. "

Also, since strict quality control (QA) has been established, it is difficult to throw away all programs and start over, to adopt new chipsets and computing platforms. One example is to separate microcomputers with mission-critical control functions and microcomputers that control user interfaces.

Moore's Law has little merit for IoT that require low power and low cost

(Photo: Afero modulo-2 development board)

Mr. Joe further points out that power consumption and cost are additional challenges.

" While Moore's law does help us with the processor memory capabilities, it doesn't help us with the battery technology. So until there is a radical new technology for batteries, it's going to be very difficult to cram more high performance computing hardware into things that need to run off the batteries for a long time. "

It is an interesting argument how Moore's law doubles the computing power, but this does not mean price reduction of cost-sensitive IoT devices. According to Afero's experience so far, Joe thinks so.

" When thinking about devices that are extremely cost sensitive, like the little sensors in a door and you want those to be as inexpensive as possible. Even if go into a faster, even if you had a magical battery that would let it run forever, and you decided that you were going to put in the latest and greatest hardware that can run a real operating system, what is the cost of that microcontroller that you were using before? It's going to be a fraction of what that new cost is, so it's not that you're holding the price steady because Moore's law is helping you, but it's ignoring what the costs you used to use. Does it make sense?"

As an engineer with an IT background, Joe says that the biggest challenge for IoTis "get out of the comfort zone of IT professionals (= psychologically secure area)." It is not a traditional IT approach of commoditization and cost savings due to economies of scale, devices must seek new ways with different premises.

Early days when I longed for Japanese technology and mindset

(Photo: Afero office landscape with Japanese posters)

" I remember when I was in high school, I had a friend whose dad would do business in Japan. He brought back this Walkman that was just like it was basically the same size as a cassette. It was just amazingly well made and so small I'd never seen anything like it. "

In the 1970s and 1980s where Joe spent a period of school age, cool technology always came from Japan. He said that he is still a big fan of Japanese technology and manufacturers.

"When PHS phones were popular in Japan that I was working by them when I was going to Japan, I would bring those back they wouldn't work on the PHS network here obviously but you may remember those things could be used as a cordless phone at home and so I actually had PHS phones in my house because they were just really nice little tiny cordless phones."

Not only to mention that the skills of Japanese companies in technology, IT and manufacturing are prominent, " I think that plus the fact that, from a cultural point of view Japan has always seemed very open to new ideas and ways that technology can improve humanity. And I know everybody of Afero have a number of really deep connections back to Japan. " Joe said. In that sense, he is looking forward to being able to deliver Afero's solution to the Japanese market through Japanese products.

Messages to Japanese IoT engineers

Finally, Mr. Joe told me a hot feeling for Japanese engineers.

" From a cultural from a mindset and from a technology point of view, Japanese engineers deserve victory. The technological legacy and the cultural mindset of Japan positions it perfectly in the field of IoT.

Whether we're talking about personal computing or the internet. What has changed? The people are the same, the engineers are the same, the mindset is the same. Given those things, Japanese engineers are in the perfect position to not only capture IoT and itself but also have a huge impact on the entire planet right not just in Japan.

So this is what I mean by "deserve victory" like keep that in mind, and think about the change that you as an engineer can have, on millions, billions of people's large. Don't forget about that. That's the thing that should motivate you.

It's not just about you and it's not about the product. It's about how that will ripple throughout the rest of the world. Yes, it's about how to take its powerful spirit and allow it to expand all the entire world."

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