Toshiba Digital Solutions is aiming to create a world where it is easy for everyone to leverage the IoT. It is a co-creation type of IoT platform that modularizes IoT devices and web services and makes it possible for anyone to create easy systems by freely connecting them (referred to hereafter as "our IoT platform*").
In this article, we will introduce examples of IoT-based products developed through co-creation and explain the key technical features of our IoT platform.

* An overview of our IoT platform and the activities of the community, which is promoting the use of our IoT platform, is provided in the article of DiGiTAL T-SOUL Vol.34.
* Our IoT platform is not currently available for purchase outside Japan.

Case: Developing IoT-based products without special skills, experience, or knowledge

We introduce what can be accomplished with our IoT platform through the example of the community member PUZZLCE Inc.

PUZZLCE is a mold maker with a long history. They handle from planning to fabrication and sales, using an integrated approach, and are also responsible for operating "giant-salamander," an outdoor brand created by a group of town factories in Gifu Prefecture. The CEO of PUZZLCE wanted to provide campers with products that would make camping even more fun, and while brainstorming ideas, he came up with the concept of combining traditional technologies and IoT technologies to create outdoor products that leveraged IoT, which is still a rarity in Japan. However, PUZZLCE did not have skills, knowledge, or experience in IoT, so they were unable to proceed with product development -- until they discovered our community.

It is a place where companies, schools, and organizations in various fields gather to collaboratively create user-first solutions on the co-creation open platform. The community members share an open "give & give" mindset, exchanging ideas about how to leverage the IoT by using our IoT platform, concepts for sensor devices and web services to be modularized and connected using our IoT platform, and their own specialized techniques and knowledge, in order to effectively and rapidly create innovative value. By combining the strengths of the members, we aim to create a world where it is easy for everyone to use the IoT.

When PUZZLCE voiced its desire to commercialize camping products that utilize IoT technologies, various experts in the community came together to turn that idea into a reality (Fig. 1).

* Source: Case Studies of Everyone’s Wishes Coming True YEARBOOK 2021

First off, PUZZLCE shared its concept for these "Camp x IoT" (synergy between camping and the IoT) products with the community. Then PUZZLCE and the community used our unique methods to come up with use cases, IoT recipes (see Section 2), product specifications, functions, sensor devices, implementation systems, and other methods and ideas for turning the product into a reality. They used our IoT platform to rapidly and repeatedly perform prototype implementation and site verification. In a matter of months, they had developed a prototype of a unique "Camp x IoT" product with the waterproof and shock-proof qualities needed to stand up to actual camping use. PUZZLCE is now preparing for test marketing, and plans to launch Japan's first "Camp x IoT" product by the end of the fiscal year 2022.

As described, the use of our IoT platform enables the development of IoT-based products. Without using this, this development work would likely be time-consuming and costly. Below is a comparison of the general IoT product and service development process with and without our IoT platform (Fig. 2).

IoT development requires the embedding of sensors in devices and the development of systems, both for edge devices such as smartphones used to control devices, and for the servers, such as cloud servers, that manage those edge devices. It requires a broad range of software technology-related knowledge and experience. It is also necessary to ensure the functionality and quality of the system. It is difficult for an average engineer to handle every part of this system creation, and even when outsourcing to a development company, that company might not be able to cover every area of development. As a result, it is often difficult for a single company to proceed with development. Requirements definition, design, and development also take a long time. Furthermore, companies wishing to create these products need to secure personnel who can perform the development work. The hurdles to developing IoT-based products and services are very high.

However, PUZZLCE was able to develop the IoT-based product without additional resources. There are three reasons why initiatives like PUZZLCE are possible with our IoT platform.

Three reasons to make it possible to rapidly develop IoT-based products without changing company resources

The first reason is that modules connected to our IoT platform can be used to create IoT-based products and services without the need for programming.

Our IoT platform modularizes various IoT devices and web services. With our application, users can easily connect various modules with "if" and "then" conditions to create their own unique services.

One actual product is a product that connects a CO2 sensor and a warning lamp to provide visual notice of crowded conditions with insufficient ventilation. It uses the "if" condition of "if the carbon dioxide concentration rises" and the "then" condition of "then issue a visual notification." The "then" condition can also be set to configure a module that audibly alerts the user, such as by using an alarm.

* The above mentioned CO2 concentration monitoring service won the 9th Platinum Award Grand Prize/COVID-19 Countermeasure Prize in Japan. 

We call these "if" and "then" combinations "if-then rules" or "IoT recipes."  Users can use not only their own IoT recipes but also those created by other users. These convenient recipes enable users to leverage the IoT in a few minutes without knowledge of digital technologies.

The second reason, the development elements used to connect new modules are labor-saving. Our systems consist of the operator-side application and the management-side cloud. The application is installed in devices such as smartphones and has functions for coordinating with modules to execute if-then rules. The cloud has functions for managing users, if-then rules, modules, devices, and more. Modules connect to our IoT platform using the microservices (Fig. 3).

When using new modules, microservices must be developed to absorb differences such as those between the unique transmission methods used by each module. Our development kits, templates, and sample codes make it easy to develop these microservices. It is like a DIY kit.

The final reason is that our IoT platform is an open one that can be used by anyone. That makes it possible to fully leverage its superiority as a platform. Through our IoT platform, the number of people creating modules will increase 10-fold, and coming up with ideas will increase 100-fold, resulting in the number of solutions will grow 1,000-fold. We believe it will lead to creating a world where anyone can use the IoT, and we established the community with these beliefs in mind.

The growth of the ecosystem will provide new user experiential value

All kinds of people and organizations have already joined our community. These include people who provide modules such as IoT devices (e.g. sensor devices) and web services. Developers of microservices that connect modules to our IoT platform. People who create use cases that provide user satisfaction. People who create IoT recipes by combining use cases and modules supported by our IoT platform. People who utilize IoT recipes supply products and practical services to users. People well-versed in product production and IoT development. The community is a truly diverse one.

These diverse community members come together to develop countless modules, unique recipes, ideas, and business-producing ecosystems to enable people to experience the joy that comes with solving the problems they face every day.

Toshiba Digital Solutions will continue to support the activities of the community and aim to create a world where the IoT can be used by everyone. We will supply products and services that contribute to people's lives.

Toshiba Digital Solutions employees involved in our IoT platform development and commercialization (rear row, left to right: Nobuhiro Nakada, Hiroki Marumori; front row, left to right: Akira Murakami, Kanau Horie)
  • The corporate names, organization names, job titles and other names and titles appearing in this article are those as of September 2022.
  • Other company names and product names mentioned herein may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.