From Telemetry to Wearable Wednesdays: Q&A with Daniel Obodovski
As a director of business development at Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) for nine years, Daniel Obodovski participated in the commercial launches of multiple devices that were early examples of machine-to-machine communications (M2M). Before 2010, he says, “We launched a child-tracking device together with BestBuy, an Alzheimer patient-tracking device, and a covert cargo tracking device.”
These days, such technology is also known under the rubric of the Internet of Things. Obodovski says the experience he gained at Qualcomm, along with some related strategy work, prompted him to think hard about two things—the huge potential of connected devices with embedded sensors for all areas of life, and the complexity of trying to bring a connected device to market. He resolved to make both things easier, at least conceptually.
To better understand what was coming—and how it would affect companies, businesses, investments, and jobs—Obodovski says he began exploring the field of connected devices with his friend and now business partner Daniel Kellmereit of Detecon USA. After a fruitless search for a definitive book on the emerging field, Obodovski and Kellmereit decided to write it themselves. Their book, The Silent Intelligence, published in 2013, lays out their vision of the most promising areas for innovation and development in the Internet of Things.
More recently, Obodovski organized the first “Wearable Wednesdays” meetup in San Diego. As in the Bay Area, Wearable Wednesdays are intended to serve as an open community group of like-minded and motivated people who want to move the ecosystem of wearable, connected devices forward.
Obodovski, who also is working as an investor and consultant, answered some questions about the field. I have condensed and edited our e-mail exchange for clarity.
Xconomy: What are you trying to accomplish?
Daniel Obodovski: In a nutshell, we are helping people make sense of the Internet of Things. In the process we are bringing various parties together—entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, corporate executives, designers, and so on. Especially in San Diego, where we have great talent and resources to build successful IoT companies—our goal is to build a large community around IoT and wearable technology.
X: I’ve been hearing about M2M networking technologies for at least a decade, yet it has always been “just over the horizon.” Was there a key innovation, or has something changed so this technology is now being realized?
DO: Part of the reason we named our book “The Silent Intelligence” is that we believe the revolution is well underway—it’s just not obvious. It’s happening silently.
A majority of U.S. households have “smart” electric meters that are connected to a data network. Parking meters are increasingly becoming connected. Since last year, most new cars leaving a manufacturing plant are equipped with an LTE-module. Most vehicle fleets have some type of tracking device. Almost 10 percent of the U.S. population has some type of wearable technology—usually a fitness tracking device or a smart watch. I can go on and on.
IoT technology is already a big part of our life. In addition, several major IoT acquisitions happened last year. The most prominent one was the acquisition of Nest Labs by Google for $3.2 billion. I’ve called this “The Netscape Moment of IoT.” For those who remember, Netscape went public in 1995 and closed at $2.9 billion on its first day of trading. That was unheard of at the time—and prompted the dotcom boom. The Nest deal is similar—before January 2014, nobody could imagine that an IoT company might be worth $3.2 billion. That gave a huge boost to the whole industry.
To answer your question about why is it happening now: It’s true that M2M solutions (once known as telemetry) have existed for over 20-30 years, but the quantities were extremely low and the prices were very high.
Today, a combination of trends are fueling the rapid growth of IoT: The cost of silicon came down dramatically, driven by the smartphone ecosystem. (By silicon we mean transceivers, micro-processors, sensors, memory, and so on.) The cost of cellular data has been going down about 30 percent to 40 percent a year over the last several years. Cloud applications are very common, and there is no need to maintain an IT-infrastructure to develop and deploy apps that communicate with connected devices (e.g. fleet tracking). The decreasing size of devices makes wearable technology possible. Advances in power management ensure fairly long battery life.
All of these trends, plus growing awareness, are driving the IoT growth now. There are just no more excuses for not deploying IoT applications.
X: What (or where) is the real value of this technology?
DO: IoT is already improving our lives. Think of a Nest thermostat that does not require a 50-page user manual, can be controlled remotely, and saves on home energy costs. Think of the savings smart meters offer to utility companies. Think of usage-based insurance that helps insurance companies better manage risk and pass on some savings on to good drivers.
But the biggest benefits and savings are still ahead of us. The biggest value is in data applications. Imagine driving down a freeway and your engine light goes on. What do you do? If your car has a connected device that can send diagnostics data in real-time to a nearby dealer or a service center, they can figure out what’s wrong with your car remotely and immediately message you with an offer to fix it. This is not a hypothetical case—companies are working to make this happen. On the wearable side of things, connecting your fitness tracking data to a personal trainer has significant benefits along with connecting healthcare data with healthcare providers.
X: You described Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest as the “Netscape moment of IoT.” What differences do you see in the emergence of IoT technology and the Internet revolution of the 1990s? How is IoT different from previous waves of IT innovation?
DO: I’m actually seeing a lot of similarities. For one thing, companies are now being asked, “What’s your IoT strategy?” in the same way they were asked 20 years ago, “What is your Web strategy?”
The Internet revolution has created this huge virtual space, marketplace that can be accessed from your phone or tablet or laptop. The Internet of Things is expanding this virtual space to the physical world around us, by connecting plants, trees, animals, machines, cars, buildings and even our own bodies to the Internet.
It’s almost like adding digital I/O nodes to the physical world with all benefits of the digital technology—high communication speed, easy multiplication of data, and easy integration with other digital systems.
X: Do you see differences in the “reality” of IoT technology today from the futuristic vision depicted in the 2002 film “Minority Report?”
DO: With all due respect to the movie “Minority Report”, which I like quite a bit, I hope that our future is going to be very different. I hope it’s going to be less about technology that screams at us and overwhelms us from every corner. I hope it’s going to be more about technology that is quietly and intuitively doing its thing in the background so we don’t even notice it so much and yet our lives become easier. So I hope it will be less like “Minority Report” and more like “Her.”
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