This video interview is a little less than six minutes long, while the text transcript covers a 17 minute conversation between Mark Skarpness and Slashdot's Timothy Lord. The video can be considered a "meet Mark" thing, and watching it will surely give you the idea that yes, this guy knows his stuff, but for more info about the spread of the IoT and how the Open Hardware MinnowBoard fits into the panoply of developer tools for IoT work, you'll have to read the transcript.
Timothy Lord for Slashdot: So, Mark, can you talk a little bit about what your job entails?
Mark Mark Skarpness : Yeah. So, I lead a team of software developers at Intel that's focused on building software for embedded or for the world of Internet of Things--open source software-- all the way from operating system technology to platform development tools, comms technologies. So, really a broad range of software that supports people building embedded or IoT devices.
Slashdot: Now, one thing you mentioned – you gave a talk today where you said that IoT is essentially a fancy word for embedded.
Slashdot: It’s pretty continuous development.
Mark: It is.
Slashdot: It has really caught on as a term for a thing that people think about lately.
Slashdot: Is there some special spark to that?
Mark: I think the unique characteristic that maybe wasn't always true in embedded is the connectivity piece. We've had embedded devices for many, many years. Some of them were connected, some of them weren't. I think the core characteristic of Internet of Things is these devices communicate. They talk to things around them. They talk to the Internet, to the cloud. So that I think is probably what really distinguishes more traditional embedded versus Internet of Things. There is clearly an evolution from what was embedded to IoT and a lot of common technology, but that I think is probably the defining characteristic.
Slashdot: Maybe having a billion-plus cell phones out there
Mark: That's right. Having a billion-plus cell phones, we're starting to see these devices come into smart homes, wearable devices, but lots of other market--industrial automation and smart cities, smart grids, it’s really a broad range of markets that IoT touches and covers.
Slashdot: Right now, I think a big factor that you talked about as well, you said some of the prices of the associated technologies have been changing.
Slashdot: And they’re not changing at the same gradient.
Slashdot: Talk a little about that. What technologies are you really seeing big price differences in as you look at ramped up production and wider adoption?
Mark: Yeah. I think we are seeing the kind of continued movement of Moore's Law, driving down the processing costs has been going on an exponential curve for a long time and that continues and that's probably still the most rapid continuous progression. We know very well how to do that. We've been doing it for a long time. So processing costs continue to go down very dramatically, but we're also seeing costs in the network infrastructure, the cost of bandwidth, continuing to go down very rapidly. Cost of sensors is not as fast. It's gone down by about 2X in the last ten years. And I think as we see these devices become even more and more common, we're going to see that go down especially at the lower end of the devices, the device range, we’ll continue to see that go down, but it hasn't caught up yet with the cost of processing power.
Slashdot: The third of these things, the network piece that cost of bandwidth.
Slashdot: Do you see new models emerging as when you have 10,000 things; companies are not going to have a separate account probably
Mark: That's right.
Slashdot: For each of these things.
Slashdot: Now, at what point, is it you know, will it be too cheap to meter, in five or eight years from now?
Mark: I think that's a really good point. I think we are going to see all of these things connected. We're seeing for example the software defined networking and network function virtualization. I think it is one of the underlying technologies that will allow people to build these highly flexible and more scalable networks which I think internally will drive cost down in terms of the cost that it takes to provide that bandwidth will continue to go down and the ability to do it in a very flexible way. I think it’ll also drive that. With IPv6 coming, I think you’ll see these things start to use IPv6 which will allow them to be directly connected. I think there's going to be a lot more rich communication of these things with each other through gateways and also directly onto the network.
Slashdot: And we see it for consumers as well.
Mark: Yes, absolutely.
Slashdot: Even now, no one I hope [is expecting] what they did ten years ago for the same amount of minutes or data.
Mark: Right, yes.
Slashdot: You talked today also about one thing that’s been out now for a couple of years during that time, which is the MinnowBoard.
Slashdot: Explain a little bit about how open source plays into how the MinnowBoard has come to be and what’s happening as far as modules it can accept the Lures?
Mark: Yeah. So, the MinnowBoard came out of our embedded software team. So, it's kind of an unusual hardware project that was really conceived and driven by people that are very familiar with open source software development.
Slashdot: I should interrupt for a second, that for people who aren't terribly familiar with MinnowBoard, they’ll be able to look it up, but
Slashdot: Can you give a brief overview?
Mark: Sure. So, MinnowBoard is a low cost development board that uses the Intel Atom processor family, so the current version is called MinnowBoard MAX, which uses our Bay Trail processor. So, a very powerful embedded processor on a nice compact little development board for prototyping and playing around with developing things.
Slashdot: And with that background in mind, can you talk about how the open nature of it has caused it take on a certain form?
Mark: Yeah, so one of the things that we really wanted to do was to do the hardware in the open so that the entire design of MinnowBoard is openly available, so we wanted to make sure that if people were out prototyping and developing a solution if they wanted to productize it, they could take what they've been doing on MinnowBoard, take the design and do a derivative of it, really easily and efficiently and without having any sort of extra cost involved in doing that. We also wanted to foster an open community of hardware developers around Minnow, which you mentioned the Lures—the Lures are the adapter add-on cards for MinnowBoard and we've seen some really cool things come out of the community. We've got somebody who's built a Lure for doing drones.
So, you can actually snap on a module that has an accelerrometer and GPS and the things that you would want in building a controller for a drone, which is pretty cool. Somebody else in the community did an adapter for the BeagleBoard, which is another development board, so you can actually use all the Beagle adapters on Minnow. So, we've seen some really cool innovations coming out of the community. People giving us feedback on what else they'd like to see in the base MinnowBoard. We're going to continue evolving that and a lot of activity around doing Lures for all the different types of devices that people want to play with using Minnow.
Slashdot: It seems that the communication between devices is one of the most important things that’s going to characterize how successful any hardware adoption ends up being because if it can’t talk to the next layer up or to a semi-compatible thing then you are out of luck, if you buy a you gave the example, a light bulb, which we are going to see everywhere now, if your light bulb can’t talk to your controller
Mark: It’s not a good experience, right.
Slashdot: You are very solid that way.
Mark: Yes, yes.
Slashdot: So, how do you address that? How do you get devices talk with each other if they are smart enough to communicate, but not necessarily built with that communication in mind?
Mark: Yeah, so we believe that open standards are really important here. We were one of the founding members of the Open Interconnect Consortium, OIC for short, which is focused on solving that exact problem. It's doing a written specification, an industry standard that defines how these devices should talk to each other to be interoperable and it's also doing along with that a certification program so that you can actually get a logo, an OIC logo on the box so that as a consumer when you go buy your light bulbs and your light switches, your smart light bulbs and smart light switches, you'll know that if they both have the logo they’ll actually talk together. And we think that's really, really important to make interoperability happen.
We're also doing an open source reference implementation. So the OIC group itself is doing the standard and the certification sponsoring an open source project called IoTivity which is hosted at the Linux Foundation that's doing a reference implementation against the standard. Because that's we think that's really important to help get these products in market. We don't want everyone to have to go off and do their own implementation. They can leverage this open source based implementation if they want.
Slashdot: Could you give some examples of where the software stack in each of these standards fit; for instance, if you want to communicate with ZigBee.
Mark: Yes, yeah, so IoTivity, the reference implementation essentially provides an abstraction layer for –if you think about yourself as a developer of a thing and you want to do this act of discovering what's around you, the layer that where IoTivity sits, it sits in between the application developer and the transport and provides a nice abstracted view of a common set of secured services that you can use without having to worry about, okay how do I do that over Bluetooth LE or how do I do that over ZigBee or whatever it might be. So, it kind of sits in between the transport layer and the application.
Slashdot: Is development of this kind of implementation, of IoTivity, is that also just as open as that on GitHub or some other platform?
Mark: It is. Yes, we have an open source project IoTivity.org, if you want to check out what's going on there. We opened it in zettabytes of data services that are coming and going scaling up, scaling down, so I think there's a lot of work in the data center if you look at and the network projects like OpenDayLight which is hosted by the Linux Foundation focused on network infrastructure. OpenStack focused on how do you make the data center fully software driven. So, in addition to the work going on the things there's really open source activity going across the entire spectrum, and I think the foundation ought to make this really happen.