What is HyperCat? Exploring the interoperable 'Internet of Things' specification

HyperCat city
Has Internet of Things landed on its feet?

HyperCat is a new open specification developed by a consortium of 40 UK-based companies, educational establishments and local authorities that's designed to spur on the development of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Backed by £6.4 million of Technology Strategy Board funding, 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).

To find out more, TechRadar Pro spoke to Justin Anderson, CEO and co-founder at IoT vendor Flexeye, one of the companies involved in HyperCat's development.

The standard

TechRadar Pro: What is HyperCat?

Justin Anderson: HyperCat is a specification for the Internet of Things that, given the appropriate push by government, will become a standard.

It will allow anybody who is using some kind of sensor to sense something – whether it's their environment, home, temperature, use of location or speed of travel – and then make that data available in a way that others could pick up and make use of that information.

Clearly, there's a lot of information that you want to be careful about publishing. You might have information about yourself that you're happy to publish, but you only need to put out on HyperCat the bit that you're happy for everybody to publish.

The possibilities

TRP: Can you provide an example of a scenario that HyperCat would make possible?

JA: If you're driving your car, you might be happy for the location of that car to be accessible to others – or you might not. You might not want anybody to know where you're driving, but you might be happy for it to be provided if, by releasing that information, your insurance policy comes down.

So by giving some information to your insurance company, you could reduce your premium. Or by providing some information to the AA, they'll come and find you faster. Or by providing some information that links your car to your driving license, you can get your tax disc automatically sent to you.

Being able to let your things talk to other people's systems has lots of potential advantages and can make our lives much easier. Lots of systems now are starting to make data more and more available. The challenge is that when you make that data available, you need to make sure that anybody who wants to come and read it understands how to read it.

We need a common language to make sense of the data, so HyperCat lays down some basic principles by which systems can understand, read and identify the information associated with a 'thing'.

Balancing scales

TRP: Why is it important that machines and systems know what Internet-connected 'things' are?

JA: Let me back off for a moment to look more broadly at the development of technology solutions. Most recently we've seen a lot of technology coming out which is being driven by some very large vendors that run things from end-to-end, which could be considered a vertical silo.

That could be everything from the sensor to the application and everything across their operating system, including their applications, which are fully locked down. Companies like AlertMe, which have systems that work within your house, work out how to piece all these bits together to create a full solution. That particular one was licensed to British Gas as part of their Hive offering that manages the heating in your house.

They hit a problem as they scaled which is how to manage the entire system from end-to-end - they wanted to pull in best of breed bits of technology to do that for them - which took them toward a requirement called modularisation, which is about breaking it up into different pieces.

For modularisation to work, you have to have the different pieces talking to each other in a language that's easily readable and understandable. So HyperCat is a way of being able to define the information that's coming from a thing within a catalog, which is the Cat part of it, to let people know what information they're reading.

Kane Fulton
Kane has been fascinated by the endless possibilities of computers since first getting his hands on an Amiga 500+ back in 1991. These days he mostly lives in realm of VR, where he's working his way into the world Paddleball rankings in Rec Room.