Filament, a new wireless networking startup that unveiled itself this week at O’Reilly SolidCon, intends to transform the Internet of Things by allowing smart, connected devices to declare their independence from centralized networks.
The company’s transceivers, called Taps, combine short-range Bluetooth Low Energy signals with long-range radios operating in the sub-gigahertz range. These transmissions don’t carry a ton of data, but have minimal power requirements and can travel for miles even in dense urban areas.
It’s the same technology used by companies like Sigfox and Actility, which are actively deploying cellular-style networks for communication between IoT devices in cities around the world. But whereas those companies are working alongside traditional mobile network operators, Filament’s Taps are designed to be operated independently — whether by corporations, local governments, or individual citizens.
A company might set up a Filament network to connect sensors and equipment throughout a manufacturing facility; a city might deploy Taps in every neighborhood to create a network dedicated to municipal infrastructure; a farmer might use it to connect crop sensors and vehicles across acres of fields. And then they could each choose whether to keep their network private, or allow it to interconnect partially or fully with each of the others.
This decentralized model is achieved through the use of open protocols for direct and secure machine-to-machine communication, such as blockchains, BitTorrent, and Telehash. Instead of relying on consolidated, third-party cloud services to exchange data and broker transactions, the idea is that devices on Filament networks — whether in the hands of users or acting independently according to their programming — will negotiate these functions one-on-one.
“We are building a platform that operates in distributed environments; removing the need for a ‘cloud’, or central network authority,” the company wrote in a blog post laying out its vision. “Imagine a future where devices have the autonomy to discover other devices, connect directly to them in a secure manner, and establish trust with them through contractual agreements.”
Filament’s philosophy is closely linked to ideas about how the blockchain, which is the foundational unit of “cryptocurrencies” like BitCoin, will create revolutionary new business models and economic opportunities for the IoT. The blog post referenced ADEPT, IBM and Samsung’s proof-of concept for the kinds of emergent behaviors that arise when devices can start to sense their own environments and use the information to negotiate with one another on a decentralized network.
“There is an adjacent possibility where a device not only interacts with others, but transacts value; where devices can pay each other directly for access to sensor data or to make something happen,” Filament wrote. “It’s clear that there is a world of new marketplaces and opportunities available.”
Here’s the full text of Filament’s Declaration of Device Independence: