Cambridge Consultants, Neul and the "internet of things"

by Stephen Hewitt

On Thursday evening 11 September 2014 at Makespace in Mill Lane about a dozen people heard two talks on the "internet of things" which I gathered means connecting everyday objects not so much to the internet as to the computer systems of large corporations.

Tim Murdoch of Cambridge Consultants spoke first, brandishing a disc about 2" in diameter. This, he told us, contained sensors such as accelerometers and temperature sensors and could connect to the internet via Bluetooth. If it were stuck to the windscreen of your car, then by vibrations it would be possible to detect whether the car is petrol or diesel, what gear it is in, and how well you are driving, including whether you clip the kerb on a corner. Radiating a kind of evangelical enthusiasm, Murdoch envisaged a world where a motor insurance company would require you to use such a device. Previously he has worked on something called M-PESA which now moves 43% of the gross GDP of Kenya on mobile telephones.

The second speaker was Paul Egan of Neul. Rather than using Bluetooth that relies on some infrastructure provided by the owner, Neul would like to bypass the owner altogether and use low power Wide Area Networks that will enable your mousetrap or soap dispenser - and we were shown examples of each of these - to talk directly to the corporations. At first Neul was intending to use the white space in television broadcast bands for this, but in the last year or so has switched focus to cellular telephone spectra, at least in part because deregulation of the TV white space did not happen fast enough. In contrast, in some cases, it will even be permissible under an existing licence for a cellular operator to change the use of some of its licensed spectrum for this purpose. The intention is to produce an open standard and amongst other things they have consulted text books from the 1940s to find radio techniques unencumbered by patents.

Later in the evening in workshops of Makespace I heard that someone had obtained hundreds of thousands of pounds to develop a device for taking the fingerprints of Africans when they go to the doctor.