Council interview with Rick Bullotta from ThingWorx

ThingWorx says it fits "wherever Things impact resources - from manufacturing, energy, utilities, and transportation to emerging opportunities such as smart buildings, the smart grid, and telemedicine." Currently in closed beta, having raised  $1.8M funding from founders, business partners and angel investors, we wonder if ThingWorx is a contender for bridging the analogue and the digital world. ThingWorx describes itself as a revolutionary and disruptive platform that connects people and systems with things in the real world.

Council had a brief Skype with Rick Bullotta. Rick is the CTO and co-founder of ThingWorx. He was previously CTO at Invensys Wonderware, a leading global provider of manufacturing operations software solutions, and was a vice president with SAP Research in the areas of future manufacturing and the "internet of things". As CTO and co-founder of Lighthammer Software Development, he was responsible for conceptualization and development of innovative web-based and service-enabled software products targeted at the manufacturing industry. At Lighthammer, he identified and created a new market segment for "manufacturing intelligence and integration" software. He has contributed to a number of industry standards efforts and open source software projects.

We first get to talk about the difference between the EU and the US context. Rick has been involved in FP7 projects and he feels that the dynamic triangle between policy, business and academic research that is currently working in the EU is definitely not happening nearly as effectively in the USA. On the other hand, this triangle can -if it is not well balanced - slow down progress and commercialization of research as well. Yet is clear that there is no single company at the moment that can drive the Internet of Things, it has to be a broad based initiative. There is some US-based activity in vertical pockets, such as with the so-called "Smart Grid", but nothing in the broad-based internet of things on a national scale.

Rick: ThingWorx is based on a broad view of the potential of integrating people, systems, and devices.  We do not share the restrictive view of the IoT as merely RFID and mobile-enabled connectivity. This perspective is informed by earlier work in pervasive computing and ubicomp, as well as our experiences at Lighthammer.

There are really two distinct but related opportunities for IoT technologies.  On one side, we have the many "intranets of things" that exist on private networks in manufacturing, utilities, and transportation. On the other side, we see public networks of things for smart cities, smart homes, connected consumer devices, distributed energy and water management, and so on.  However, the reality is that the value will be unlocked when we start thinking of the IoT as a "network of networks". 

Today, most application development involving integrating with "things" starts with elementary technology that was designed for traditional business applications. The timing is right for platform approach that dramatically increases the speed, flexibility, and capability for creating these applications.  We like to say that when the cost and effort to create an application approaches zero, innovation approaches infinity.  We are currently working with customers in the traditional manufacturing space (behind the firewall) as well as OEM partners in the public internet of things. 

ThingWorx is not building devices, does not want to "own" the data, but instead wants to provide technologies to accelerate IoT adoption and deployment and focuses on platforms to build applications both for the internet of things and the intranet of things, since most traditional internet companies have no solution that can be deployed behind the firewall.  There are very good reasons for mission critical, performant and secure applications to not be connected directly to the internet or the cloud.  We want to offer all possible options for deployment.

Council: Not wanting to own data or even at times not being interested in the type of data reminds us of Pachube. Are you aware of them?

Rick: Yes, I know Usman and Pachube very well. There is overlap in our thinking on the "data" side, but I could see a potential collaboration, to expose Pachube entities inside Thingworx for example, or for our mashup and event processing environment to extend something like Pachube.  However, at present, we consider ThingWorx to be a more comprehensive end-to-end platform for developing and deploying IoT applications, including semantic storage and retrieval of data streams, integrated event-driven business logic, a structured environment for creating visual mashups, built-in collaborative capabilities, and a comprehensive set of modeling components to enable "non-techies" to create and extend applications that integrate with the real world.

Council: At what moment do you see IPV6 becoming inevitable as a driver?

As mentioned earlier, we see the internet of things as many networks of things: networks of networks, not one big mega network. Currently the internet is not a mission critical pipe. A great deal of fundamental work needs to be done. This does not necessarily mean a clean slate approach, though we will need to address security challenges, service level/quality of service issues, addressing limitations, and so on.  Telecom providers such as Verizon, Orange, TMobile and others have been providing secure mission criticality networking for these types of applications on private networks for a while now, and we expect that to continue until the Internet (or a new Internet) can meet these challenges.

I see IPV6 is critical for the long term, say the coming 5 to 10 years. But in the mean time we are going to need to deal with the installed based of billions of devices without IPV6 as well.  We need to get down to a practical level of connecting intelligent devices to sensor networks engendering enormous amounts of data that as of yet few people have a clue about how this will affect what we do now.

Council: How do you see yourself in the current social media, web 2.0 field, when would you run into say, Google? For example Facebook buying Foursquare and making a deal with McDonalds: I enter a McDonalds, my status  of being there is uploaded to my FB page. I buy a burger and I earn points in Farmville. This direct relationship, this direct effect of my daily activity on my appearance in the cloud, is that not also internet of things?

Rick: While advertising and market are some uses for the internet of things and location awareness, these are not our priorities.  We would hope and it is our aim that applications will be build that go beyond that, that would link this kind of information to education and health issues (in your example, tracking that you exercised enough to offset the fast food that you ate!), making applications that are truly useful. We are thinking about making the platform available for free for uses for the public good. It is our passionate belief that the potential applications of a connected planet are tremendous, and we need to find a way to apply technology to help us all on our resource constrained planet.

Council: We would definitely welcome that and it could be very interesting in terms of possibilities of horizontal scaling of work in that field being done by designers, artists and academic researchers such as Julian Bleecker,Katherine Moriwaki, Johah Brucker Cohen, Natalie Jeremijenko and for example Noah. Noah helps people reconnect with nature and contribute to organizations that are working hard to catalog and preserve our planet's biodiversity. Noah connects aspiring citizen scientists with current research projects focused on documenting various plant and animal species.

Think of Noah as a tool that nature lovers can use to explore and document wildlife and as a common technology platform that research groups can use to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.

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