Saving Lives Now — A Product Design Approach to IoT
Today, the Wall Street Journal featured an article on Matter, a rare joint undertaking by the largest tech companies to allow for smart devices at home — door locks, thermostats, etc. — to talk to each other. Right now, if you own a Google smart device, it is walled off from Apple smart devices. They can’t interact. Matter seeks to change this for select in-home gadgets.
The internet of things, which consists of all devices and gadgets connected to a network (everything from a satellite in the sky to a pacemaker), is going through unprecedented growth.
If developers want to build an application which combines devices together, right now, they can’t. This is causing mind boggling loss for society and preventing innovation. We can save lives now with certain healthcare applications which securely unite multiple device types. Matter is noble in trying to address the interoperability problem in smart homes — as a consumer, it’s frustrating I can’t get my Apple gadgets to play nice with my Amazon gadgets at home — but as a community of technologists, we can do so much more to unite the devices which do the most consequential work for our society.
When we started Beyond Protocol, a blockchain-based protocol for secure IoT communication, we thought through the interoperability problem from the perspective of engineers and product designers in the trenches. We had just designed a solution for Enrique Lores, the current CEO of HP, which leverages hardware signatures and blockchain to prevent hacks in enterprise printers and connect them securely to other devices to complete tasks not possible prior. Our thesis was focussed on impact: how do we get the largest number of IoT devices open to the largest number of developers to build applications which can do good? This thesis informed a different protocol architecture:
1. Inclusive — Engineers creating new devices should be able to connect them to other devices with one line of code, quickly and easily. If they are connecting an unsupported chipset — most devices only use about a dozen — other developers should be able to leverage their work. A centralized protocol like Matter is exclusive to only the devices which are allowed into the walled garden. This stymies innovation.
2. Get rid of hacks — While IoT deployments are surging, so are hacks. According to Kaspersky, they doubled in six months during 2021.¹ In order for us to feel comfortable opening our IoT devices up for communication, we must first solve the hack issue. Linking devices without doing so exponentially increases risk and magnitude of loss.
3. Beyond TCP/IP — By building a protocol on TCP/IP like Matter, devices must be connected to the internet to participate. There are many critical IoT devices like nanosensors which do not connect to the Internet and utilize other means of communication due to the Internet’s limitation.
4. Payments — When the app store was released for the smart phone, the world around us changed. Apps emerged like Uber and Instacart which uprooted entire industries. By allowing devices to pay each other, we are providing a blank canvas for the creation of “mega apps” — apps developed not just on the smart phone but any combination of devices. Device-to-device value transfer is required for the emergence of the “economy of things.”
What problem are we trying to solve? The answer determines whether our solution will be exclusive or inclusive — if we will be able to evolve together as quickly as possible, or in fits and spurts overseen by a controlling group.
Beyond Protocol is a project started by a group of Silicon Valley engineers, product designers, and IoT industry executives who banded together to design an open-source protocol for secure device-to-device communication and value transfer.
Jonathan Manzi is Cofounder and CEO of Beyond Protocol, a distributed ledger technology project.
¹ Seals, Author: Tara, and Tara Seals. “IOT Attacks Skyrocket, Doubling in 6 Months.” Threatpost English Global Threatpostcom, https://threatpost.com/iot-attacks-doubling/169224/.