HyperCat Spec Takes Aim At Internet of Things

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

A consortium of British firms develops an Internet of Things (IoT) data sharing standard

A consortium of 40 British firms backed with £6.4 million of government money has developed a new Internet of Things (IoT) specification, which aims to make it easier for devices and apps to communicate with each other. Firms involved include ARM, BT and IBM.

The new IoT specification is known as HyperCat, and is an open specification designed to encourage the uptake of IoT and provide a new way for machines to work together. HyperCat is based around an open hypermedia catalogue, with specifications online here.

Open API

The consortium that developed the specification was funded to the tune of £6.4m by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board. It included development teams from the likes of ARM, BT and IBM, as well as personnel from UK start-ups and UK University departments.

The aim is to “break down vertical data silos and find a foundation for connected products and applications to interoperate.”

Internet of Things - Shutterstock - © Mert TokerSounds great, but what exactly is HyperCat? Well the specification is designed to allow things including lamp posts and smart-meters to interact and communication with each other. Traditionally, there had to be individual and tailored APIs to allow for this. And because HyperCat offers a common approach to describing important information held on data hubs, the group hopes it will help developers to find the required data, quicker and easier.

The consortium describes the HyperCat specification as an extremely simple yet powerful, thin interoperability layer for the IoT. The interoperable API allows applications to “explore what data and resources are available on a specific data hub, or search for particular types of resource across the Internet.”

It cites the example of an application which only understands temperature measurements. The HyperCat specification provides a means to search for and discover this type of data – buried amongst other data that the application may not understand.

“HyperCat has been designed to move us from the Internet of Silos to the Internet of Things,” said Pilgrim Beart, CEO of IoT start-up 1248. “Previously, applications were vertically-integrated, working only with specific services, which confines data to narrow vertical silos. HyperCat enables apps to discover data across all services, freeing machines from the human programmer bottleneck and allowing a many-to-many relationship to develop, which is the key to IoT.”

“We are using HyperCat at our Cambridge headquarters to share data such as office occupancy, energy use and even car park lighting between different applications,” said Amyas Phillips, IoT Research Entrepreneur at ARM. “By linking our infrastructure in real-time we are reducing our energy costs and generating other information including external temperature data that others can use. This is a research project but it has proven tangible benefits that consumers and Enterprises can gain from a more connected world.”

“While there is still the need for applications and services to agree on standard ways to describe data – so called ontologies – HyperCat offers a common approach to describing the information held on data hubs, thereby allowing people to find data relevant to their specific needs more quickly and easily. This will drive commercial use of the hubs and lowers the barrier to participation, particularly for SMEs,” said John Davies, Head of Semantic Technology at BT.

IBM meanwhile said the specification has allowed it to develop whole new applications very quickly.

Growing Interest

“For example, we can take illumination data from streetlights belonging to another project cluster and display it on our own application,” said Andy Stanford-Clark, Master Inventor at IBM UK. “Being able to explore the HyperCat metadata in human and machine readable formats makes it easy to mash-up new applications.”

People and companies are beginning to explore ways they can exploit the Internet of Things. Intel for example has just opened an innovation centre in Swindon that will develop new technologies for IoT.

Last month it was announced that a new city-wide open access IoT network would be built in Milton Keynes, aimed at attracting investment to the area and proving the viability of M2M applications and infrastructure in a real-life environment.

Arqiva has also announced it is to build a nationwide IoT network based on ultra narrowband technology.

Beart previously ran smart meter firm AlertMe, and was involved with the early, failed wireless charging start-up SplashPower.

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