This is my first post in over two years. Slacker. In that 24-month gap I wrapped up my PhD in computational neuroscience, helped jumpstart “brains for bots” startup Neurala, and consulted for some amazing Boston tech companies in Cambridge this year. What I’ve learned in the past few years is that Boston has a vibrant and exciting startup community that is thriving! Whether it’s the cream of the crop at TechStars and the rest of Kendall Square or the buzz around Boston’s Innovation District, there is a lot happening in this city.
One especially cool tech trend is the number of VCs and angels starting to invest in hardware again. Accelerators like Bolt and R/GA Connected Devices, coupled with the popularity of Arduinos and 3D printing, are just a few good signs that beautiful new hardware products are heading our way. And now we get to the central point of why I’m writing blog posts again after a long hiatus. I’ve become obsessed with the Internet of Things (or IoT for short). Heavy hitters like IBM, Cisco and Xively are salivating over market forecasts into the trillions, but the real intrigue is how IoT can, ironically, start to recede technology into the background.
I see IoT as the next step in the evolution of personal information sharing hardware. To give us a starting point, let’s say the personal computers of the 1970s — thanks to our good pals Bill and Steve — started a revolution that gave everyday consumers the ability to create and share their own digital information. The second phase began when PCs went portable in the 1980s. Vying for laptop consumer loyalty was key to making hardware faster and faster in an ever-shrinking form factor. Where things get “cray cray” (to quote Katie Perry) is when the first iPhone hit the market in 2007. This third phase in personal hardware tech, paired with the staggering growth of social media and “download the app” acceptance, moved us from pure computational processing power to adding copious amounts of sensors in our smartphones.
It’s obvious where I’m going with this, huh? Phase four will be IoT. Now that many sensors have become so small and inexpensive to produce, predictions of sensors in just about every physical thing seems to be a natural next step. Bigwigs like Cisco are giddy about IoT because they can stick sensors in just about any physical product now — clothes, windows, floors, soil, cars, toys, plates, talking sea bass novelties, etc. That’s pretty damn cool. And once you start mixing software, hardware, sensor data, text analytics, AI, and UX in the bowl together, the possibilities are difficult to imagine at this point.
So, yeah, I’m a tad excited to be part of Phase Four, and I think Boston is the perfect hub to jumpstart IoT. I’m a tad biased since Boston is where I call home, but there is some logical reasoning for my Beantown props. First, the schools. The wicked smaht kids at Boston University, Harvard, Northeastern, and MIT alone should do the algorithmic trick. Then add to that equation a tech startup culture on both sides of the Charles that is alive and kicking. Throw in Boston’s history of focusing on the more boring, not-so-sexy hardware industry and you’ve got a city ready to make IoT happen.
In future posts I hope to highlight some IoT companies that I believe have married form and function inside a product that people actually want to buy. I’ll likely also post more pie in the sky predictions and idealistic hopes for the industry as a whole. Oh, and since my post title mentions “IoT startup”, I’ll also discuss my vision for reducing information overload as we become surrounded by sensor and text data. Have a great day.