december 2015

Once connected a passive thing can be pretty intrusive. When connected smart things may cause landslides. McKinsey researcher Aharon believes that any business that fails to invest heavy in Internet of Things in the next 10 years will be unlikely to remain competitive.

The thing

In the late thirties of the last decade the Russian inventor Lev Termen created a tapping device for the NKVD to eavesdrop the US Embassy in Moscow. This piece of electronics was completely passive. Activated by electromagnetic waves it sends waves back compiled with the sounds from the room it was in.


A first specimen of this device was hidden in an honorary plate presented in 1945 by Russian children to the US Ambassador. "The Thing" hung in plain view in the Ambassador's office. – far left of the picture. When inactive, it was impossible to detect it with a scanner. When discovered, as late as September 1952, it took the CIA years to reconstruct a working copy. Maurits Martijn unravelled the involvement of the Nederlands Radar Proefstation in this backward engineering.

So even a passive thing can – when properly embedded – be a valuable source of information. So what happens if the thing becomes active?

Active things

A car sends out information on its whereabouts using the GPS of its navigator. It helps the driver to find his way in any network of roads. Bundling these data on the whereabouts of all TomTom navigators presents the driver information on the flow of traffic over this network in simple green, orange and red.

The data on an individual car are biased. It says where it is and if it moves or not. But the aggregation of all these data brings an unbiased view on fluidity of the roads. It made TomTom shift its focus from the production of navigation devices to the delivery of traffic-generated information.


There are many cases of things in the physical world – machines, cars, and even trees – that send out information to generate information for real-time action by humans of by machines. Today 9 billion devices are connected. By 2020, this will add to some 50 to 75 billion things. This is Internet of Things. It connects people, machines and things in a bidirectional flow of information and enables real time decisions. The basic routine in this automated communication is "chatting". These things use sensors to describe their situation. They don't analyze these data; or think about them. A light bulb may say: "Yes, I am on". A steel wheel of a train may say: "I am not square yet". It is just measure and send.

Network stress

The aggregated traffic from all these devices will be enormous, and – as Christopher Surdak puts it - will stress our networks to the max. This stress enforces both enhanced network capacity – through optimization and extra capacity – and the embedding of more intelligence in these end-points.


Then, they won't just measure and send, they'll process, assess, synthesize. As objects get smarter they can become more independent and send less. They won't just broadcast the conditions around them; they'll make decisions independently. The reduction of the network load will only be temporarily. A myriad of applications in the Internet of Things will boost network capacity to a next level.

Author: Pieter van Hoogstraten

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Buro BEITS is een handelsnaam van BeauMel b.v., statutair gevestigd te Gouderak en ingeschreven bij de Kamer van Koophandel onder nummer 24364672.