Share It (Data) And They Will Come: Crowdsourced Citywide IoT Network

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smart cityCities are rapidly becoming the very visible and innovative laboratories for IoT innovation, which is logical, because they’ve been in the forefront of open data. I saw this first-hand consulting for Vivek Kundra, CTO for the District of Columbia, when he opened up vast amounts of real-time data for its Apps for Democracy initiative in 2008, which was part of the larger democratizing data movement.

Now there’s an exciting new development in Amsterdam that really is bringing power to the people: The Things Network, the first crowdsourced free citywide IoT district. Astonishingly, volunteers brought the whole system to launch in only six weeks!

So far, the creators are visualizing a wide range of uses, but I particularly liked a particularly local one for a city synonymous with canals:

“A pilot project to demonstrate the Things Network’s potential will see boat owners in the city (there are many, thanks to its network of canals) able to place a small bowl in the base of their vessel. If the boat develops a leak and starts taking on water, the bowl will use the network to send an SMS alert to a boat maintenance company that will come along and fix the problem.”

How cool is that?  It also illustrates what I think is one of the key intangibles about the IoT: When you empower everyone (and I mean that literally!) by opening up data, people will find more and more innovative IoT devices and services, stimulated by their own particular needs, desires — and sometimes, even pain. (That’s why I think even the most optimistic views of the IoT’s impact will be dwarfed as it becomes ubiquitous!)

The Things Network uses low-power, low-bandwidth LoRaWAN technology to create the network.

The whole scheme reminds me of the old “Andy-Hardy-it’s-crazy-enough-it-might-work” thinking. It just took off, sparked by the LoRanWAN technology, which I must admit I hadn’t heard of before:

“Dutch entrepreneur Wienke Giezeman came up with the idea for the Things Network just six weeks ago when he came across a €1,000 ($1,100) LoRaWAN gateway device and realized that with 10 such devices, the whole of Amsterdam could be covered. He pitched his idea at an Internet of Things meetup in the city and received a positive response.

“Work then began to create a community-owned data network that developers could build on top of without any proprietary restrictions. Companies including The Next Web and accountancy giant KPMG have agreed to host gateway devices at their premises, and the City of Amsterdam local authority is enthusiastic about the idea.”

Giezeman will offer the concept to other cities but wants to cut the cost. He will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a smaller, €200 ($220) LoRaWan. He may offer consulting services to capitalize on the idea, but that’s not the current priority.

That kind of openness and lack of strings attached, IMHO, is going to really lead to incredible innovation!  We’re holding a Boston IoT MeetUp hackathon next month to try to bring similar innovation to The Hub, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if cities everywhere launched a virtuous competition to speed smart cities’ adoption? And don’t forget, this has huge implications for companies as well: There’s nothing to stop smart companies from creating new products and services to capitalize on the shared data!

Let a thousand neighborhoods bloom!

Want more on building a foundation for innovation? See Business Networks: The Platforms for Future Innovation.


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