Rex St. John | Developer Evangelist
June 13, 2014

What is the “Internet of Things” and how does it relate to APIs?


Intelligence Inside

The “Internet of Things” is the answer to the following question: “What would happen if computers and sensors were to become tiny, cheap, prolific, low-power, and were able to communicate with one another in real-time?” Due to numerous recent technological advances, we are now at a stage where the proliferation of such computers and sensors are accelerating a tremendous amount of economic activity. In short, we are starting to find out what the answer to this question will be.

Why now? Here are several of the emerging trends that are blending together to make the Internet of Things a reality today:

  • The mass proliferation of cheap, low-energy computers and sensors (Arduinos, Raspberry Pi’s, mobile phones, Intel® Galileo, and eventually Intel® Edison Development Boards.
  • The ability for these computers and sensors to communicate using new low-energy wireless protocols like ANT+, Bluetooth LE, Z-Wave, EnOcean, 6LoWPAN or ZigBee, RFID and NFC.
  • The ability for these devices and sensors to form mesh networks to share data between one another.
  • The ability to wear these sensors and computers due to their small size.
  • Retailers placing these sensors and computers in every product and section in stores, automobile manufacturers placing them in cars, and appliance manufacturers placing them in every dishwasher, door-lock, garage door, and light in our houses.
  • The ability to communicate with and control all of these devices using our mobile phones.
  • The potential to blend sensor data aggregated from all of these devices into a single, rich understanding of a user and their context from a distance of miles (GPS) down to a distance of inches (RFID).
  • The need to understand and organize massive amounts of real-time data being dispatched every second by millions of these sensors.
  • The rapid growth of “edge computing” (e.g. sensors plus computers to help facilitate their data collection habits that allow the organization and management of all these tiny new computers.

So there we have it—the Internet of Things! But, what does all this have to do with APIs?

Well, with history as our guide, at some point the startups and industries producing these sensors and computers (along with the services to wire them together) are going to start opening up their data to third-party developers. The iPhone was closed at first but became much more interesting when it had the Apple App Store, which allowed anyone in their basement to get rich selling custom-built apps using Apple’s APIs. Likewise, Facebook has produced a massive ecosystem by opening its data to allow anyone to do neat things with their social data.

The same trend is likely to happen with all of these new Internet of Things data and devices. The data and devices may well be opened up in a thousand different ways, which will require APIs, and ultimately, greater API Management!