HyperCat standard looks to make IoT development purr

Fri, 2015-02-06 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Devices that churn out data on air quality, traffic congestion and broken water pipes can help make urban life better. That’s the promise of the IoT -- the Internet of Things.

But the IoT still has a few bugs to work out. A big one is the multitude of data-collecting devices that store their information in a multitude of formats. That prevents devices from talking to each other, developers from building innovative apps, and the IoT ecosystem from living up to its potential.

The HyperCatCity initiative has pounced on this problem. Funded by the United Kingdom’s Innovate UK program, HyperCatCity aims to establish the HyperCat protocol as an open and interoperable standard for IoT development. The initiative is also looking to elevate the UK cities and businesses to leading roles in the smart city movement.

While HyperCatCity had its coming out party last month, UK technology advocates have been working behind the scenes on the HyperCat standard for some time. A consortium of 40 partners -- UK technology companies, universities, airports and government agencies -- have committed to supporting it at various levels. Council Partners IBMS&C ElectricMicrosoftSchneider Electric and Silver Spring Networks are among those supporting the effort.

In addition, HyperCat is incorporated into the London Infrastructure Plan that was launched last year. Two other UK cities, Milton Keynes and Bristol, have also recently embarked on IoT projects using HyperCat.

How HyperCat works

How does HyperCat make the IoT work better? The protocol addresses the issue that many companies currently build IoT devices using their own proprietary set of standards. These varying standards thwart, for example, the ability of one company’s devices to communicate with another’s unless a developer creates an API. As the HyperCat Consortium puts it, the Internet of Things is becoming “the Internet of Silos.”

“Connected product after connected product was being brought to market, but each was built in a vertically-integrated fashion, with all its components integrated to deliver just that one solution, without consideration for anything else,” states a consortium at its website.

The technical remedy offered by HyperCat is the “hypermedia catalogue format.” In short, the protocol ensures that data from one IoT device gets created and stored on a data hub in a manner that another connected device can access and use it. It also adds security and authentication measures to control data access.

For device manufacturers, adoption of HyperCat means a third-party app could query its hub about the types of data it holds, and what permissions the app would need to access that data. For folks hoping to see the IoT universe grow smoothly in the years ahead, HyperCat means access to device data can happen without human intervention or APIs required.

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Doug Cooley is a staff writer with the Smart Cities Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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