Since the caveman’s time, humans have tried to control fire. Now they have a remote control for it. Bob Trudnak of suburban Philadelphia heads sales and marketing for BBQGuru, which is using the Internet of Things to cook supper.
BBQGuru created CyberQ and DigiQ, connected devices that manage the heat of a barbeque grill using a sensor and software to activate a fan that maintains a consistent cooking temperature from often-fickle charcoal and wood fire. When the temperature dips, a controller activates the fan to increase heat – delivering oven-like precision with the outdoorsy flavors of a grill or smoker. Other probes inside the meat report internal temperatures to a wireless phone, tablet or computer using a WiFi connection and can be adjusted remotely.
For BBQGuru, making disconnected items “smart” meant learning about users and their devices or habits. That also created a goldmine of information – for the company and its partners, not just tasty food. Making new connections is just another way that IoT data creates new opportunities.
Poring over user comments on similar products on the market, they found that a user of the Weber Smokey Mountain posted on Amazon “I can now run mine for 10 hours or so without touching it and monitor it from the golf course.”
Beyond cooking advice and sales data, the hands-on user stories create personal connections with customers and make BBQGuru a resource for bigger companies such as Weber Grill, and Big Green Egg cookers – providing usage details in specifics never before available. Now, large manufacturers get precise details on whether customers prefer their meats grilled or smoked – rare or well-done.
Smaller companies compete and cooperate in new ways with data as their ally. And according to the 2015 Brother Small Business Survey, one-third of small businesses that responded would like to deploy technology to capitalize on IoT.
Making disconnected items “smart” brings a diverse set of challenges – deciding a product’s lifespan because of software standards or changing security and user needs. Longer-range choices on platforms or alliances can make – and break – entire industries. In computing, failed PC operating systems like IBM’s OS2 or Apple spinoff, NEXT. In entertainment media, we saw Blu-Ray vs DVD.
Connecting devices to each other, to a WiFi node or “app-ifying” them with mobile tools opens up questions over choosing whether to buy devices, build them or simply integrate.
Fast-moving technology standards and the sheer number of devices make for an expensive and complex undertaking serving users with various computers, tablets, different cell phones and operating software, said David Oliver, of Cusp Development.
“Hardware often doesn’t have an upgrade path – once it’s made, it’s made,” Oliver said. “A lot depends on whether you’re providing a critical service or something that has usefulness because of the environment around it. There are some things you can do via an app from another time zone but it may not be the best solution.”
After all, an app to control a coffee maker still requires loading the coffee grounds, water and being nearby to retrieve a beverage. There has to be a value to the user, and a payoff for the company or partners – a serious balancing act.
One concern for companies as they connect formerly “dumb” items is the security of onboard sensors and communication – from compromising the device and its functionality to siphoning off bandwidth or data traffic and leaking user details.
Building smart connections has never been easier thanks to accelerators and “makerspaces” where device and code talent combine to find new solutions.
Boston Device Development or Level1 in Louisville, Kentucky are just two places where ideas become prototypes. Boston Device Development started to help MIT spinouts bring new technologies to market by helping design and build first-generation products.
Whether your audience is consumers or massive enterprises, it pays to act quickly. Apple updates its OS quarterly and Firefox browser upgrades are ongoing, so mobile apps need to be closely managed.
Ranjani Rao, CEO of Boston Technology Corp., advises companies to keep in mind that an IoT commitment and mobile application is complex and requires not just a big-picture strategy. It demands detail-oriented services and robust upgrades, she said.
Rao’s advice for smart product upstarts, “Having good maintenance is really important. Getting an app out there is only half the work. Making sure you have the strategy for keeping users happy, and keeping the app working smoothly, that is the other half of the battle,” she added.