Tools rush in: Developer options grow for Internet of things

As more devices come online, an ecosystem of tools and technologies to help developers link devices to the Net expands

Like an increasing number of devices, the world's first self-balancing electric skateboard is connected to the Internet. Called OneWheel, the motorized device features a bulky wheel in the middle that riders straddle.

"OneWheel has a Bluetooth 4 on board, and it talks to a smartphone app," says Kyle Doerksen, CEO of Future Motion, which makes the device. "That smartphone app lets the user configure the riding modes on one wheel, but it also connects up to the Internet, so we can do things like download new firmware from the phone onto OneWheel."

OneWheel has latched aboard the growing Internet of things (IoT), which connects devices like cars, household appliances, and robotics to the Internet. For developers looking to make a living building applications for IoT, development and deployment options are growing, with a variety of different technologies getting into the act. In the programming space, languages ranging from Java to Ruby are jockeying for position in the IoT market.

But it is not only languages being leveraged. Platforms like Microsoft's Windows Embedded, Google's Android, BlackBerry's QNX, Oracle's Java, and the open source Tizen also are being pitched for this potentially lucrative new arena.

There's a role for the cloud, too, with technologies like LogMeIn Xively Cloud Services looking to enable connectivity among devices, data, and users. Xively features libraries that use an API to connect to the Internet of things. WSO2, meanwhile, has published a reference architecture for developers and architects featuring a cloud mapping of different technologies to interact with devices.

"You'll see a whole bunch of technologies, not just programming languages," being deployed in IoT, says Jnan Dash, senior advisor at MongoDB. "Data management, networking, programming, the whole thing."

Dash sees "nimble" languages like PHP and Python picking up steam in IoT. An embedded version of Ruby, called mRuby, also is positioned for IoT. But Frank Greco, director of technology at Kaazing, advocates use of Web development and Java technologies. "We have 9 million, 10 million JavaScript developers, 9 million Java developers. Let's bring them into the IoT world by giving them these nice JavaScript APIs and Java APIs." Future Motion, though, sticks with C. "The C language is basically industry-standard for firmware development," Doerksen says.

Then there's the AllJoyn project, which provides a software framework and a core set of system services to enable interoperability among connected products and software applications, to create dynamic proximal networks. Developed by Qualcomm and hosted by the Linux Foundation's AllSeen Alliance, it's meant to enable smart devices to recognize each other and share resources. Its core is based on C++, but it has Java and JavaScript bindings.

AllJoyn software runs on Linux, Android, iOS, and Windows. "It's about giving a simple framework with an easy API so that any developer of things or applications is able to make it work with other things," such as having a smoke alarm synced with lights in the house, says Joe Speed, director of IoT at the Linux Foundation, who also noted that plans are in the works to extend AllJoyn to the cloud.

One critical factor in IoT, however, is security, argues Alec Saunders, vice president of BlackBerry's QNX Cloud division. "To my knowledge, there isn't a whole lot of standard ways to secure these things. There's large debate that's going on right on how you should do it." QNX advocates authenticating devices back to the cloud. Developers, he said, must ensure authenticated endpoints and be smart about how they build applications. "You need to create a tunnel for the data, and you need to close off all attack vectors that we all know about from two decades of the Web."

Security practices need to be followed when developing IoT applications, such as using federated identity services, says Paul Fremantle, CTO at WSO2. He recalls an incident in which an Internet-connected refrigerator was used to send out spam email. "People are [building these applications] and ignoring what we've neared in the last 20 years on Internet security. "

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.