Amid all the “connected device” hoopla coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, one of the most interesting announcements came from an unexpected corner: Wolfram Research, a maker of high-end software that is used in scientific research.
On Monday, the company’s CEO, Stephen Wolfram, announced The Wolfram Connected Devices Project – an initiative that will comprise both a common catalog of connected devices and a common language to connect them.
“Connected devices are central to our long-term strategy of injecting sophisticated computation and knowledge into everything,” Wolfram said. “With the Wolfram Language we now have a way to describe and compute about things in the world. Connected devices are what we need to measure and interface with those things.”
Wolfram’s short-term goal is to begin cataloging IoT devices and making those devices ‘searchable’ via its Wolfram Alpha web portal – what the company describes as a ‘computational knowledge engine’ that can provide answers to questions (rather than, say, linking to information that might be relevant).
Wolfram set up a web site to begin collecting device data and allowing users to recommend devices to add to its catalog. Each device profile will collect detailed specification data on connected devices, including physical measurements and links to APIs, documents and other assets. That structured data will allow anyone with a specific question about a type of device to search for it using Wolfram Alpha.
Once the company has a critical mass of connected devices profiles, Wolfram says it will be easy to take the next step: enabling developers to connect devices from different manufacturers using its Wolfram Language.
There are concerns within the technical community that the fast-evolving Internet of Things may turn into a “Tower of Babel” – as products from a different companies are deployed within business and home networks that rely on different protocols and standards to communicate.
Wolfram isn’t the first company to propose a common platform that will build bridges between otherwise silo’d devices. In December, the Linux Foundation announced a new, cross industry consortium of major IT infrastructure makers, software vendors and electronics firms. The AllSeen Alliance is tasked with developing a common, open source platform that allows hardware and software firms to unite their creations, regardless of their brand – and provide basic security features, to boot.
That Alliance counts electronics giants like Panasonic, Qualcomm, LG and Sharp as members. Other charter members include retail giant Sears and networking equipment maker Cisco Systems.
Firms like Xively, a division of the firm LogMeIn, also offer a PaaS (platform as a service) to span connected devices, while Thingworx (recently acquired by the firm PTC) offers an application modeling and development environment as well as PaaS that comprises business logic, collaborative features and a search portal (SQUEAL).
But Wolfram has a number of powerful technologies that could enable capabilities far beyond what a vendor consortium like Allseen proposes. According to Wolfram, the company’s data framework (WDF) could allow the company to make a wide variety of physical and logical information about connected devices accessible programmatically, including things like images, geopositions and measured physical quantities.
“What WDF does is to take everything we’ve learned about representing data and the world from Wolfram|Alpha, and make it available to use on data from anywhere,” Wolfram said. “In the end our goal is not just to deal with information about devices, but actually be able to connect to the devices, and get data from them—and then do all sorts of things with that data.”
An early test of the possibilities of the platform will come by way of Intel. Wolfram is porting Wolfram Language and Mathematica to Intel’s new Edison SD-sized mini-PC, the company announced.
“Pairing Wolfram Language—the foundation of Wolfram’s initiative to apply sophisticated computation everywhere, in a universally accessible way—with Intel Edison is a significant advance for the future of embedded computation and the Internet of Things,” said Mike Bell, Intel Vice President and General Manager for Intel’s New Devices Group.