Book review: Interconnecting Smart Objects with IP: The Next Internet by Jean-Philippe Vasseur and Adam Dunkels

This blog is a book review of Interconnecting Smart Objects with IP: The Next Internet by Jean-Philippe Vasseur and Adam Dunkels.

I read this book from cover to cover and highly recommend it. Ironically, I did not find the one thing I bought the book for which is the only addition I would suggest in subsequent versions (more on that later). So, here are my thoughts about this book

Background

I have an interest in Smart Objects/Internet of Things/Machine to Machine from two distinct perspectives. Firstly, from an interest in mobility (my business) since so many new devices have sensors and that’s a trigger to a new class of applications. Secondly, from a PhD / research perspective. I also am a big believer in smart objects and spent part of my holiday learning things about Smart Objects

However, if you are not convinced about the potential of Smart Objects/Internet of Things then consider this:

McKinsey recommends the growing Internet of Things as one of the top eight technology-enabled business trends that were profoundly reshaping strategy across a wide swath of industries

HP plans to deploy a trillion mobile sensors

and
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao coined a curious equation Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth and China is making serious policy and strategic investments for the Internet of Things (I am speaking at – Global Internet of Things conference – Beijing – China Nov 23 to 25 – 2010 )

This brings us to the book

Why the book is needed?

There is an interesting quote attributed to Albert Einstein where Einstein tries to explain radio communications by comparing it to a cat

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.”

The Smart Objects/Internet of Things world gets very very complex and rich because there is potentially a ‘cat’ (radio) in everything! However, this domain also suffers from the ‘hammer and the nail problem’ as I see it (If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Abraham Maslow ). Not only do the various terms (Smart Objects/Internet of Things/Smart Grids) have different meanings, people actually choose specific meanings generally aligned to their own point of view. Hence, for instance for SAP, ‘Internet of Things’ would be RFID/Supply Chain etc etc.

Hence, you need a very comprehensive book covering the entire issue in depth from multiple angles. Especially today since the era of Smart Objects/Internet of Things/Machine to Machine is very much upon us.

In that context, this is one of the best reference books on the subject of smart objects and here is why

FIRST PRINCIPLES: The authors approach the subject from first principles. They define Smart objects as items which contain a sensor/ actuator; a tiny microprocessor; a communication device and a power source. They consider a very ‘textbook’ definition of Internet of Things (Smart objects connected by IP) and discuss the case where there may not necessarily need to be an ‘Internet’ (IP enablement) of Smart objects (i.e. a network of smart objects can develop without necessarily connecting to the Internet). Having said this, the book is about ‘Interconnecting smart objects with IP’ i.e. all about IP – which suits my own personal ethos of championing the Internet

FOCUS ON CONCEPTS: The general approach is to discuss the concepts of the Internet(TCP/Routing etc) and then apply to ‘Smart Objects) and LLNs(low powered and lossy networks which are networks of highly constrained smart objects interconnected by fairly unstable, low speed links which could be intermittent. The limitations could be based on processing power, memory, energy (battery), and their interconnects are characterized by high loss rates, low data rates, hostile physical environments and instability. This makes the book ‘complete’ and hence and ideal reference

AN OVERALL EMPHASIS ON THE NEXT INTERNET: Expect lots of IP but also the evolution of IP including lwIP TCP/IP Stack, IPv6 , ipso alliance etc

AN EMPHASIS ON OPEN STANDARDS AND OPEN SOURCE: Jean Philippe Vasseur is the co-chair of IETF ROLL (Routing Over Low power and Lossy networks) working group and Adam Dunkels is the creator of the Contiki Operating system for Smart Objects . So, the book has excellent pedigree in this regard

GOOD COVERAGE OF APPS: Smart Grids, Industrial Automation, Smart cities, Home automation, Building automation, Health care and Supply chain.

DEPTH OF COVERAGE: Overall very good depth as you can see from the table of contents

What could be improved?

Ironically, I bought this book wanting to explore privacy and Smart Objects. I have been involved in regulatory discussions on this topic and it also has a leaning to my PhD work. In the EU there is discussion of The silence of the chips and my concern is – if we are not pragmatic we could end up ‘silencing the chips’ even before the industry develops since ubiquitous computing no longer becomes ‘seamless’ if you have to manually intervene to allow / deny individual sensors. I also first stumbled upon Contiki in that context(and hence this book) and maybe in future I will contribute a privacy framework to Contiki myselves if I can convince my supervisor of the idea :) ha ha!

But overall, this is an excellent book .. And I enjoyed reading it and would highly recommend it.

You can read more at their web site The next Internet and buy the book at Amazon