Government-backed consortium launches 'Internet of Things' specification

HyperCat developed by 40 companies

A government-backed consortium of companies has launched a new open specification designed to allow 'Internet of Things' (IoT) devices to exchange and make sense of data automatically without human intervention.

Named HyperCat (the Cat part stands for Catalog), it has been developed by 40 companies - including BT, IBM and ARM - along with UK startups, SMEs, universities and local authorities with £6.4 million funding from the Technology Strategy Board.

It works by creating an online catalog tagged with metadata that can be read by other IoT devices. This allows for interoperability, meaning streetlights could theoretically automatically communicate with parking sensors instead of only other streetlights (for example).

Scaling problem

Speaking at the specification's launch, Pilgrim Beart, CEO at consortium member 1248, said that before HyperCat, a human would be required to read API documentation and write custom code to allow IoT devices to communicate, which is a problem as there will soon be many more Internet-connected devices than humans.

He said: "We need Internet of Things interoperability to use multiple and and services, and get a 'network effect'. If a human has to get involved every time, you have a problem, because humans don't scale. IoT services need to be machine browsable, because if a machine comes across a service and wants to access its resources, there's no standard way to get going."

Market watcher IDC predicts that the number of IoT devices will grow to around 212 billion by 2020.

UK technology boost

Justin Anderson, CEO and co-founder at IoT vendor and consortium member Flexeye, said that HyperCat will allow SMEs to compete on a more level playing field with overseas competitors when it comes to succeeding in IoT markets.

He said: "We're very well positioned to be able to tie together an awful lot of information that collectively will allow us to compete with organisations that have $100 billion dollars on the balance sheet. And it's only by creating this collaborative, innovative environment that we can genuinely compete against other nations, something we're very well positioned to do.

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"It's not in America's interest to drive standards when they've got such an embedded base of very large corporations that are very powerful and are also very powerful at lobbying governments. On the other hand, the Brits have a very highly innovative set of citizens who have always done a great job of innovating as individuals or as small companies, and that's what has fed our economy."