A new era for the Internet of Things 

A new standard of the World Wide Web Consortium will bring the IoT forward quickly. It has now been presented to the world public at Siemens.

When all machines, devices and sensors speak the same language, a new era begins for the Internet of Things (IoT). An international conference at Siemens Corporate Technology marked the beginning of this era: With the "Thing Description" presented there, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created a standard that works across different application areas. This makes complex IoT solutions much easier and faster to implement.

The vision of the Internet of Things (IoT) is to create machines that cooperate independently, to evaluate sensor data in order to control systems more efficiently or to reduce energy consumption. Implementation is practically made more difficult by the fact that all these machines and control elements do not speak the same language. The data structures of objects such as sensors and motors vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. "So far, the data models of the various networks, machines and sensors have had to be laboriously converted in order to realize integrated solutions for digital transformation," explains Markus Reigl, who heads the Standardization Department at Siemens. This Babylonian confusion of languages is one of the most important reasons why the Internet of Things is still in its infancy.

Emotional striptease on the Internet of Things

That's about to change. After five years of work, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the most important body for Internet standards, has agreed on a basic standard that will make the cooperation of things on the Internet much easier: "The objects operate a kind of ‘emotional striptease’, reveal everything relevant about themselves - in this way they recognize each other on the basis of their characteristics and abilities and can thus organize their cooperation independently," Reigl explains. Anyone can now use this standard to create a digital representation of their products. The Thing Description is, so to speak, a business card of any object that communicates with other objects via the Internet. Each object thus becomes a digital data block that is characterized by four elements: properties, for example whether a switch is on or off, information about actions and events, for example that the battery is soon empty, and finally all relevant semantic metadata, such as where an object is located, or even just the serial number of the manufacturer. 

Explosive growth spurt

According to Reigl, the effect will be enormous: "With the Thing Description, the Internet of Things will develop just as explosively as the World Wide Web did after the introduction of HTML in the 1990s," says Reigl. It wasn't until the WWW Consortium published the first HTML standards in 1995 that websites could be programmed comfortably, albeit initially with a simple structure. Already in 1997, the following HTML standard allowed multi-column layouts and navigation bars as well as numerous powerful functions for web servers and browsers. Similarly, Reigl predicts that standardizations for the IoT will now gain momentum. Siemens is relying on international standards to drive forward new applications for smart products, systems and solutions. "The breakthrough with the new W3C standard Thing Description lies in the fact that the representation of IoT objects is no longer merely described conceptually in white papers, but is available as standardized executable software code," explains the standardization expert.

Systems are directly connected

First implementations show how this works in practice: Mini power grids for large buildings often also offer charging options for e-cars. If the data from the charging points and the building management system are integrated and each object can be easily identified by the Thing Description, the heating of the building can be automatically reduced if the building is empty and many cars are hanging from the charging points. This prevents the power grid from being overloaded. Without Thing Description many different data sources would have to be aligned. "Doing something like this without Thing Description is very time-consuming," explains Sebastian Käbisch, IoT expert at Siemens Research. He has been instrumental in working on the standard, together with other colleagues from Siemens and representatives from many international companies such as Oracle, Panasonic and Intel, as well as researchers from Fraunhofer, the Korea Research Institute and the University of Lyon, to name but a few.

 

Web pioneer Dave Raggett is also a member of the WoT Working Group and has extensive experience in developing Web standards, helping to drive early work on HTML and HTTP. “There is huge potential for services combining sensors, actuators and other sources of information, but this is being held back by fragmentation,” says Raggett, “the Web of Things will overcome this, reducing the effort for developers and enabling rapid growth of open markets of services based upon open standards and business models for sustainable marketplaces.”

 

"Our experts were involved in standardization right from the start, because they know what the industry wants from the Internet of Things," explains Reigl. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) deliberately chose Germany to present the new standards, because when it comes to industrial application of IoT technology, "Germany is the place to be," says Reigl.

 

Author: Katrin Nikolaus

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