Vampires vs. Zombies or the Internet of Things

My goddaughter and I love horror movies. Not the slasher variety, which are merely overtly-graphic crime dramas, but the good old (and new) fashioned type that involve creatures, entities, and other things that do not exist except in the imagination of the writers and the viewer(s). The supernatural or metaphysical type if you will.

Once a month or so when she comes home from medical school for a weekend, we devote one night, traditionally Saturday night, to watching at least one horror movie. There’s a bargain type store in Brooklyn that has proven to be an economical and reliable source of grade B and lower thrillers, chillers, cult, and soon-to-be cult horror DVDs. Most days you’d be amazed at how many exquisitely bad movies one can obtain for $4.99 + tax, some in in stunning HD, 3D, and Blu-ray, and some with two or more turkeys in the same box.

One Saturday we scored big: Vampires vs. Zombies, $1.99. With a title like that, all you need is a DVD player, a flat-screen TV, at least one bag of low-fat tortilla chips, dip of choice, and several tow-liter bottles of diet cola for perfect night of laughs on the couch.

I did say we scored, or so we thought. Now the title, you would agree, is fairly self explanatory: Vampires vs. Zombies. On the cover you see your typical Hollywood-type vampire lady, fangs bared of course, facing off with an equally run-of-the mill zombie type, decomposing and falling apart ….. of course. Even the liner notes promised “the ultimate battle between the undead.” Just for your edification, neither I or my goddaughter had a favorite to win, however there was a serious $0.05 bet down on the table.

Well, we watched this 86-minute extravaganza purely out of curiosity to see if at some point a vampire, zombie, or the next tea-party candidate makes an appearance with some sort of a plot. Briefly, the movie focuses on several people on a cross-country road trip to find a closed library with no obvious or cleverly-veiled plot, minimal dialog, often pedestrian in content, and no laughs or thrills. The closest this televisual feast comes to remotely being a horror movie is a scuffle in a mini-mart in a gas station, yielding a few drops of fake blood (the graphic-effects crew obviously used cherry Kool Aid) and a packaged coffee cake getting totally decapitated, which might explain the R rating for this film.

Well, I can’t say there was disappointment, not for a $1.99 + tax. The company, low-fat chips, and diet cola were great, and that well-worn adage proves true yet again: You can’t judge a book (or DVD) by its cover.

A while ago, I was involved in a discussion about the latest buzz concept, the Internet of Things (IoT), a topic/concept that was quite popular in many of the presentations at this year’s Sensors Expo in Rosemont, IL. After bantering back and forth on the topic, we realized that there really is no operational definition of the IoT, at least how it applies to sensor makers.

When one asks a person what he or she thinks the Internet of Things is or means, the most common response is, “sensors everywhere and in everything and hooked to the Internet to monitor everything.” In essence, that’s how one could sum up the IoT. According to Wikipedia, “The Internet of Things refers to the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing like devices within the existing Internet infrastructure.” That’s pretty much the same thing, except with fancier wording and no nod to sensors, though implied.

The description states further. “IoT may offer advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services that go beyond machine-to-machine communications (M2M) and covers a variety of protocols, domains, and applications. The interconnection of embedded devices (including smart objects), may usher in automation in nearly all fields, while also enabling advanced applications like a Smart Grid.”

It’s safe to assume when you hear concepts like automation, M2M, interconnection, etc., that sensors are involved. But exactly what is the big deal about sensors connecting to the net? Were not the Internet-enabled WebCams and NannyCams of the late 1990s examples of IoT? What is it about IoT that sensor makers need to be concerned about?

If one needs to measure something, there’s a sensor on the market that does it, and if not, it will be soon if the demand is significant. Pressure, position, speed, shock, humidity, temperature, and other parameters are easily captured with a dedicated sensor. There is also the ability to detect and measure several related or unrelated parameters with sensors that integrate two or more sensor types on a single chip or in a single package. This concept of integrating different sensor types in one package is referred to as sensor fusion.

Hypothetically, someone needs to measure one or more parameters using a variety of sensors and be able to either extract or monitor these parameters over the Internet from anywhere. The sensor maker sells this person the sensors and that’s it. The sensors do the sensing and measuring and the user is left to figure out how to get it on net, right? After all, sensor makers provide the sensors for trains, planes, and automobiles without getting too involved with building the end products. What part do the sensor makers need to play in the IoT after they sell their wares? Do they need to also be network engineers and IT wizards as well? Is this a case of vampires vs. zombies?

The IoT is obviously a bit more involved than just putting a sensor on anything that moves or emits something and hooking it all up  to networks on the web. Knowledge of applications big and small, commitment to standards, interface types, and security are just a few things sensor makers will have to be aware of and get involved with on a street level. Perhaps we should ask the folks in field what roles they believe they’ll be playing in the IoT, now and in the future. Maybe we can separate the vampires from the zombies and find the winning apps and strategies. ~MD

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