According to Robert L. Mayberry, vice president of Sensor and Actuator Solutions at IBM, we're in danger of creating "a digital Tower of Babel" with an increasing number of sensors needing to communicate their data. This was the gist of my recent conversation with Mayberry and his colleague Ann Breidenbach, director of IBM's Sensor and Actuator Solutions product line management and strategy.
Barbara G. Goode
Mayberry was named to his post in March 2004—just months before the company announced its quarter-billion-dollar commitment to the division, which is part of IBM's Pervasive Wireless business. He oversees technologies and solutions developed for customer business opportunities, including RFID and industrial automation technologies.
Like many people, Mayberry considers RFID a type of sensor. At first, his division was focused on RFID, conducting pilots and deployments with such partners as the Metro department store chain and the U.S. Department of Defense. But the Sensor and Actuator Solutions division plans to pursue other types of sensors as well, and this is where open standards and standards-based software come in.
"Only by speaking the same languages can the benefits of pervasive computing be realized," Mayberry says in an article for UsingRFID.com. "The many benefits of the 'network effect' depend on something as ancient and elemental as communication."
The network effect is the value of a device or method in relation to its adoption. "For instance," says The Economist, "owning a phone becomes more valuable as more people are plugged into the telephone network."
Mayberry is right. The network effect cannot reach its potential without widely accepted standards. Vendors can create chaos in the market by offering more and more proprietary standards—or they can embrace and advocate for open standards. I'm glad IBM is opting for the latter course of action.
Advice to Engineers
On Wednesday, June 8, during Sensors Expo & Conference in Chicago (www.sensorsexpo.com), Mayberry will share his vision of the unfolding world enabled by sensors in combination with communications technologies. Sure, he'll talk about the compelling business benefits that these technologies imply, but he'll also address engineering issues. For instance, he'll recommend that in designing products and systems, you think beyond the corner of the world in which you work to the realms in which your suppliers and partners play. Integrating your systems with the rest of the world will be increasingly important, says Mayberry. He'll talk about how your job fits into the bigger picture of all the excitement in wireless sensor networking.
Of course there are many other reasons to attend Sensors Expo. It's the one event I go to each year where I can find much more information about sensors than even I expect. I'm looking forward to the exhibits; the co-location with the SUPERCOMM (www.supercomm2005.com) show, dedicated to communications service providers and private network managers; and of course our own Best of Sensors Expo awards, which honor new products we editors think will have the most impact on sensor use. And finally, I'm eager for the Tuesday keynote by the cofounders of Inventables (www.inventables.com), who'll talk about some of the most unexpected materials and technologies that their research team has come across during the past year. Curious? I am!
By the way, if you do attend, please stop by the Sensors booth and introduce yourself as a subscriber—I'd love to meet you!
Barbara G. Goode, Editor in Chief