The Internet of Things Revisited
Topics/Verticals: Supply Chain, Operations, Innovation
RFID is not really about connecting objects to the Internet; it's about capturing data needed to
manage things that aren't being managed today.
By Mark Roberti
May 31, 2010—I had the privilege of joining an illustrious panel on May 19 to discuss the so-called
"Internet of Things" at the 2010 MIT CIO Symposium. The session was great—it was one of those rare
panels that was both entertaining and informative. But I think the idea of the Internet of Things might
have outlived its usefulness.
The panelists were Robert LeFort, CEO of Ember, a company that manufactures RFID sensors used to
form mesh networks; Sanjay Sarma, a professor and co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT; Bob
Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor and founder of 3Com, who is now a partner at Polaris Ventures; and me.
The panel was moderated brilliantly by Michael Chui, a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute.
Sarma, a great speaker and an all-around smart guy, opened by explaining how he
and David Brock came up with the original concept of putting low-cost RFID tags
on everything and linking them to data stored in Internet databases. He said Kevin
Ashton, the Auto-ID Center's director, coined the term the Internet of Things.
Metcalfe was funny, charismatic and intelligent. He pointed out that 10 billion to 15
billion microcontrollers are shipped every year (chips used in everything from cars
to coffeemakers). "These are not tags," he stated. "Most are not networked. The
value of these devices would increase exponentially if they were networked.
There's a law about that," he said, referring humorously to Metcalfe's Law.
LeFort made the point that we shouldn't underestimate "the unbelievable power of convenience." He
said his RFID sensors could be used to adjust the temperature in different areas of a room or facility
automatically, to maximize energy efficiency. People wouldn't have to do anything.
We were all in agreement that RF