The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept first suggested in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, the co-founder of Auto-ID Center at MIT. And it's popular again--thanks to mobility and the maturing of tracking technologies like RFID, NFC, and QR codes, according to Claus Mortensen, principal of emerging technologies at IDC Asia Pacific.
As part of last month's International IT Fest, the Hong Kong Internet of Things Symposium gathered industry professionals, IT experts and government officials from Hong Kong and China to discuss the potential and development of IoT in Hong Kong.
IoT in China
Along with Cloud computing, IoT is a technology highlighted to drive China's economic development under the government's 12th five-year plan. According to XieQuan, vice director of Service & Technology Department, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MITT) China, the ministry has developed a roadmap to realise this vision.
Xie said that the ministry published a document in February 2013 to define and set goals for the country's IoT industry development. The first planned project is the development of the Wuxi National Sensor Network Innovation Demonstration Zone. Aiming to build an ecosystem of IoT, this demonstration zone is encouraging sensors developers, software developers, networking enterprises and manufacturers to develop the related technologies and applications of IoT.
"The goal is to bring applications of IoT among major industries, like healthcare, manufacturing and logistics by 2015," said Xie. "On the same year, we are also expecting to have established a network of enterprises worth over RMB1 billion."
Mortensen from IDC noted that, with clear goals and strong political leadership, cities in China are in a better position than Hong Kong to leverage IoT for smart city development.
"Hong Kong's development is very much driven by the private sector and direction isn't clear at the moment," he said. "But Hong Kong can seek inspiration from China towards its own development of a smart city."
IoT needs context
Mortensen added that the success of IoT development also rely on context-aware computing (CaC), which he defined as computing that understands users' behaviors and intentions to provide useful applications.
"I may have subscribed a service that allows my fridge to be connected with Park'n Shop, who will deliver bananas to my door when my fridge is low on food," he said. "However, this service will be irrelevant if I were on holiday."
IoT is merely identifiable objects that are connected to the Internet--the value comes from context and usefulness of the applications. "Without CaC, developing IoT is like building a water pipe without water running through it," said Mortensen.
IoT Center of Excellence
Announced at the symposium was the opening of the Hong Kong IoT Center of Excellence. Set up by GS 1 Hong Kong, the center presents different applications of IoT across five areas: manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, retail and smart city.
The center is supported by the HKSAR Innovation and Technology Commission and Hong Kong Science Park, and sponsored by major local enterprises including Li & Fung, Kerry Logistics, PCCW Solutions and Toll Global Forwarding.
As an extension of the Hong Kong Science Park's RFID Center and Supply Chain Innovation Center, the IoT Center of Excellence aims to demonstrate the use of different technologies, including RFID, NFC, and QR codes, to drive effective business processes and improve customer satisfaction.
"We believe there is a great opportunity to increase the amount of data that is attached to the scanned IDs by marrying this with state-of-the-art IoT related technologies to realize smarter business and better life," said Anna Lin, CE of GS1 Hong Kong.