Google Joins Movement for 'Internet of Things'

The IPSO Alliance, which promotes the use of internet protocol (IP) for smart object communications, has added a new heavy hitter to its lineup. Google has joined the organization-with the end goal of connecting not only cars, phones, and computers but even mundane appliances such as smoke detectors and microwaves. With the addition of Google and four other companies (FUJITSU, Echelon Corp., the Elster Group, and Augusta Systems), the alliance totals 53 member companies.

The end result of IPSO Alliance's vision, according to chairman Geoff Mulligan, is an "internet of things." In an internet of things, household electronics would contain computer chips that allow them to connect to the internet. In this case, if a smoke detector goes off, it would call the fire department and shut off the gas in the house, Mulligan says. What's more, the homeowner could be notified via text message if he or she is out of the house.

"That kind of thing could be done today with IP," Mulligan says. "You could do this for the cost of a $2 or $3 microcontroller." While smart objects exist today, they are controlled by a host of proprietary systems. For instance, your MP3 player might link to your car stereo using one protocol, while your burglar alarm and smoke detectors communicate through a completely different setup. Moving everything to one system would reduce cost and eliminate translation problems that result from having multiple communications protocols.

IPSO supports the transition to IP because it is available, reliable, simple, and easy to use. "We aren't defining a new standard; we're saying the standards are already there," Mulligan says. "IP has already been defined-it's been around for 40 years. We're just saying let's use it, and let's teach people how to use it."

Connecting every appliance to the internet will result in a geometric expansion in the number of devices connected to the internet. Currently, the internet is run on IP version 4 (IPv4), which has been the basis for the internet for close to 30 years. However, with only 4 billion addresses, there are simply not enough to go around. Intec NetCore estimates that all of the IPv4 addresses will be exhausted in September 2011.
Before that happens, however, the framework will be switched from the 32-bit IPv4 to IPv6, which is a 128-bit system, resulting in many more available addresses.

"There's enough addresses in IPv6 to give each grain of sand in the world its own IP address," Mulligan says. While an internet of things will most likely not include grains of sand, connecting appliances and other devices to the internet would certainly necessitate the availability of more IP addresses.

Interest in the IPSO Alliance is not necessarily linked to a desire to create a more-wired set of home appliances on Google's part. Instead, the search giant is more likely interested in the data aggregation possibilities that the back end of an internet of things provides. "Google wants to collect information," Mulligan says. "They say, not specifically about you or I, but in aggregation about people. But they
also want to collect information about things."

"Google's participation in IPSO is a result of its expectation that many devices will become part of the internet environment," Google vice president Vint Cerf said in a press release. Google did not respond to a request for comment. The search giant already operates PowerMeter, an online tool that allows users to view and manage their electricity usage. Such a technology could potentially expand to kitchen appliances, cars, and other everyday items.

"Now, with the internet of things-Google can provide services that get people to use Google to capture data," Mulligan says. "They want to keep abreast of where smart object technology is going so they can be in the right place to provide services."