Tech Giants Unite to Standardize the Internet of Things

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A new consortium hopes collaboration will bring the IoT to the masses.

A group of major tech companies announced Thursday the launch of a new consortium designed to set standards for the Internet of Things—that nebulous buzzword describing a world where virtually every object in your home can talk to everything else, and presumably save you time and money in the process. Cisco has predicted the number of connected "things" will reach 50 billion by 2020

The initiative—which includes big names like AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel—will establish design and engineering standards for sensors, monitors, networks, and other intelligent systems. The broader goal is to improve machine-to-machine communications and unite the physical and digital worlds. Specifically, members will focus on establishing “common architectures and advanced test beds” for industrial applications.

Dubbed the Industrial Internet Consortium, the non-profit organization will initially focus on industrial applications.

"I don’t think anything this big has been tried before" Bill Ruh, vice president of the GE Global Software Center, told the New York Times. “This is how we will make machines, people and data work together.”

The move marks a huge step forward for the IoT, which has thus far been stalled by a distinct lack of cooperation between manufacturers—not to mention a deeply entrenched infrastructure of unconnected devices. Many of the machines in use today—from kitchen appliances to our utility grid—are produced by companies with little history securing and connecting devices to the internet.

The consortium marks a huge step forward for the Internet of Things, which has thus far been stalled by a distinct lack of cooperation between manufacturers.
“The next wave of productivity will connect brilliant machines and people. But before that happens, they must find a common language,” said Joe Salvo, manager of the Complex Systems Engineering Laboratory at GE, in a statement. “It’s still like the Tower of Babel. We need to bring them together in powerful new networks.”

The tremendous potential of the IoT means there’s a lot of money to be made, so it’s not surprising that many figures in the industry have taken a “my way or the highway” approach. Few have been willing to compromise or relinquish proprietary standards in the name of the greater good. Thursday’s announcement, however, seems to suggest the fledgling industry is beginning to mature.

The Linux Foundation launched a similar initiative, called the Allseen Alliance, last December. That effort will focus more so on software development, but includes a number of major industry players, such as LG, Panasonic, Cisco, and HTC.

Who says tech giants can’t get along? Now, if only the mobile payments sector would follow suit.