Internet Of Things

The Internet of Things is the idea that ordinary everyday objects can, with the addition of sensors and communications interfaces, be made ‘Smart’. In this context ‘Smart’ means that they are able to communicate useful information regarding their current state, their location and the environment they exist in. The technology behind this idea has been applied to areas such as energy efficiency [6], a virtual lost property office [7], tachographs for individual road charging [8], RFID systems in logistics [5] and bar codes on supermarket products that can be read by mobile phone applications to give nutritional information, allergy warnings or ethical information [9]. However, in this paper we shall be investigating the Internet of Things from the perspective of its application in what have become known as ‘Smart Homes’ and more specifically how issues relating to Human Computer Interaction (HCI) have been considered when developing products and appliances therein. First we shall provide a background to the subject, highlighting its origins and noting key technical themes. Following this we shall look in more depth at studies relating to key HCI concerns we have identified. The first of these concerns is the design, usability and acceptance of interfaces on ‘Smart’ appliances. The second concern is the impact of security and personal privacy considerations on the perception and acceptance of ‘Smart Homes’ technology. Finally, in our conclusion we will show that… [TBC when conclusion can be added]


The term Internet of Things represents a vision in which the virtual world of the Internet is extended into the physical world of everyday objects. A concept first put forward by Mark Weiser in a 1991 article for Scientific American [1], it stems from the idea that the continuing trend for reductions in price, size and energy consumption of electronic components, microprocessors and communications modules will lead to a truly ubiquitous computing experience. The term itself is attributed to Kevin Ashton, co-founder of MIT’s Auto-ID Center [2], which was set up to design, develop and propagate open standards for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) infrastructure. Using sensors, it is envisioned that objects become context aware or ‘Smart’ and that built-in networking capabilities enable these ‘Smart’ objects to communicate their current state both to people and other systems via internet services.

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Such developments have been widely recognised both by governments and international bodies as important and potentially disruptive. The Internet of Things was included in the US National Intelligence Council list of 6 ‘Disruptive Civil Technologies’ [17] in 2008, whilst an EU Commission action plan [4] saw the evolution of the Internet taking it from “a network of interconnected computers to a network of interconnected objects”. This vision mirrors that of the International Telecommunications Union which views the Internet of Things as a development that means  ”from anytime, anyplace connectivity for anyone, we will now have connectivity for anything” [20]. Applications include energy efficiency and conservation [6], a virtual lost property office [7], tachographs for individual traffic costs [8], RFID tagging in logistics [5] and barcodes in supermarkets that can be read by mobile phones [9] [13] to supply information such as allergy warnings or nutritional details. However, there is the potential to impact on any field that would benefit from remote, automated observation and data collection, efficient control & management or real-time interpretation of data from the physical world [5].

Much of the research into the Internet of Things has been from a strictly engineering perspective and as such follows a Design Science approach that is very much machine focused. Examples of this research can be found in [10] and [18] where it has been additionally described as following either a ‘Things oriented’ perspective or an ‘Internet oriented’ perspective. This is a reflection that the word Internet acts both as a metaphor for connectedness and also, in a stricter technical sense, to signify the use of IP (Internet Protocol) as a basis for communication.

‘Things oriented’ initiatives are largely those originating from the Auto-ID Center, which promote the use of RFID tags and a global Electronic Product Code (EPC). RFID tags are the combination of a small microchip attached to a wireless antenna in a package usually similar to an adhesive sticker. RFID tagged objects are not ‘Smart’ in and of themselves but rather they require a reader to aggregate and interpret information they gather and sit between themselves and the applications making use of their data. The development and adoption of an EPC network [11] and EPCIS standards aims to provide the infrastructure to uniquely identify RFID tagged objects and simplify the processing and exchange of the data they capture. This will be helped by the creation of Wireless Sensor Networks enabled through advances in energy efficient multi-hop Wireless Personal Area networks (WPAN) [21]. RFID systems have the advantage of being ‘very small size and very low cost’ [18] and are considered good for closed loop applications e.g. logistics within a single organisation such UPS or FedEx rather than open loop applications such as supply chain that have greater complexity problems [10].  There are, however, major practical issues relating to scalability and confidentiality.

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Internet Protocol (IP) enables ‘Smart’ objects to be fully connected as Internet nodes. However, the requirements for processing and power consumption are currently prescriptive with regards to implementing a TCP/IP stack and wireless communications into RFID tags. Research into technologies that overcome these issues forms the ‘Internet oriented’ approach and promotes the idea of Unique, Universal or Ubiquitous ID (uID) architectures. It also includes artefacts that have alternatively been termed the Web of Things [16], as a refinement of Internet of Things. A Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach, allowing for the decomposition of ‘complex and monolithic systems into applications consisting of an ecosystem of simpler and well defined components’ [18] has been adopted in the development of middleware to bridge this gap. Middleware describes the software layer(s) sitting between and acting as a communications link between applications and low level objects. One such example is the SOCRADES Integration Architecture [29] in which Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application developers can query networked devices to find the most suitable one to provide the required service based on its real-time environmental context. Alternative middleware approaches include Fosstrak [26] an open source RFID infrastructure implementing EPC Network specifications and e-SENSE [25] that uses wireless sensors to capture ambient intelligence. A more ad-hoc Web of Things approach [27] applies REST (Representational State Transfer) [30] use of the Web as application platform to devices. In this model ‘Smart’ objects are embedded with a small HTTP server [15] [16] or use a middleware gateway to transmit XML or JSON data. One outcome of this is the potential for real-time ‘Mashups’ (user generated composite applications) of physical objects with Web 2.0 services. Examples include tracking the flight paths of planes around Zurich [14] or measuring energy consumption of appliances [16]. In the future this could mean an RSS or Twitter feed from your fridge updating you on the status of its contents.

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Mattern and Fleorkemeier [10] have identified twelve major challenges they consider important to the ongoing development of an Internet of Things. Amongst these are two that form the basis of our investigations and provide the focus of the remainder of this paper. The reason we have settled on these two challenges is that we have identified them as relating most directly to the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) issues that are the focus of our studies. These two challenges are:

‘Arrive & Operate’ – The idea that ‘Smart’ objects should not be perceived as computers and that there should be no need for user configuration, rather they should ‘just work’. For the applications we shall study in more detail this is most clearly manifested in the choices made when designing the user interface.

Security & personal privacy – The understanding that a wider Internet of Things will inherit all the privacy issues associated with the existing Internet and in addition will have to concerns regarding the authentication of other communication partners where each partner is either a ‘Smart’ object or a service.

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(275 words)