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The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies Of 2015 In The Internet Of Things

from Kickstarter to Nest, the most innovative companies and devices keeping us connected.

[Photos: courtesy of Tesla, Nest, and Samsung]

1. Kickstarter

For bringing funding to the Internet of Things, one backer at a time. Kickstarter has brought millions of dollars of funding and countless consumer eyeballs to Internet-enabled household devices—including toothbrushes, cooking pots, lightbulbs, and even lawn sprinklers. "Kickstarter is where people come to see where the future is going," says John Dimatos, the company's lead for design and tech partnerships. "There’s a huge sense of optimism around every one of these projects." The crowdfunding site not only brings Internet of Things startups money, it also provides them with a community of dedicated customers who are interested in improving their lives through technology. "If you have a really great idea and a really great prototype, and you really want to see how people are going to use it and going to respond to it, Kickstarter provides a really great connection to a group of people," says Dimatos. That makes companies building consumer-Internet tech eager to jump on the site, even when they already have funding from other sources.
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2. Samsung

For learning from its mistakes. Samsung briefly outflanked Apple in the smartphone wars, but it has now lost ground to competition from Xiaomi. Of course, Samsung is a lot more than smartphones—and in an era full of new, Internet-connected devices on our bodies and in our homes, that may matter more in the long run. While Apple fusses over the intricacies of luxury watch design and Google crows about buying a fancy thermostat company, Samsung has been cranking out next-generation wearables and building dozens of smart appliances: refrigerators that text you when the door has been left open, dishwashers that decide when to run a load based on spot energy prices, robot vacuum cleaners that you can control with your smartwatch, your Galaxy Note, or (gasp) your iPhone. "Imagine a world in which these appliances are connected to each other," says David Eun, a Samsung executive vice president. "What you’d have is one of the largest platforms for distributing content and services and apps—even ads."
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3. Spark

For bringing rapid development to the Internet of Things. It’s common to rapidly iterate and update websites and apps, but it can be harder to do that with physical hardware. Spark helps it: It provides a cloud back end and Arduino-compatible, WiFi-enabled breadboards to make iteration faster for Internet of Things creators. The boards make it possible to connect sensors, controllers, and other hardware without a soldering iron, and the cloud platform lets developers remotely reprogram their products, build web and app interfaces, and access device data through a prebuilt API. The company said in July 2014 that it has shipped more than 30,000 of its Spark Core prototyping platforms, after raising more than $500,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. Spark has already served as the core of devices including the Lono smart lawn sprinkler controller and CleverPet, a game console for dogs.

4. IFTTT

For bringing simple automation to the Internet of Things. IFTTT initially won the hearts of the geek community by letting users write simple "recipes" to connect purely digital Internet services. (For example: "If I'm tagged in a photo on Facebook then save it to Dropbox." Or "If my company's mentioned in The New York Times then send me an email.") But lately, IFTTT has been integrating Internet-enabled tangible devices as well, meaning that users can write recipes to set their Nest Thermostats or share their Nike+ or Fitbit-recorded athletic accomplishments on Facebook. There are premade recipes for generating color-coded weather alerts on Philips Hue bulbs, for turning on space heaters at the touch of a smartwatch, and even for remotely scheduling an automated fish feeding. But connecting all these devices to IFTTT's platform means even nondevelopers will be able to innovate on their own, customizing how their hardware interacts with the Internet in just a few clicks.

5. Transport for London

For bringing the world's first subway into the 21st Century. The Underground has run below the streets of London for more than 150 years, and combines lines and tunnels originally built by competing companies with more modern additions. But Transport for London is striving to mind the gap between its Victorian heritage and state-of-the-art technology, working with Telent, CGI, and Microsoft to integrate cloud-connected sensors into the Tube. That means transit officials can spot problems in real time from one set of central control panels, instead of monitoring disconnected sets of archaic devices. Tracking everything including air conditioners, equipment vibrations, video cameras, and automated alerts, the new network has made it easier to route repair personnel and tools to the right places and should cut costs for the rail system and its 1.2 billion annual riders.

6. Microsoft

For opening Windows to the Internet of Things. Not content to let Google rule the "Nest," Microsoft stepped into the Internet of Things in a big way, announcing free Windows licenses for devices with screens smaller than 9 inches and a new accelerator aimed at backing home automation startups. Inviting customers to let Windows span their desktops, phones, and embedded devices, the company announced Azure Cloud services for processing data from embedded devices and a version of Windows for Intel's Galileo processing board for IoT devices. And, just a few months after launch, Microsoft announced it was working with partners to bring its technology to all kinds of "things," including elevators that know when they need maintenance, smarter home health-monitoring tools, and improved emergency response systems for New Orleans.

7. Quirky

For building a common platform for the Internet of Things. Buying a new Internet-enabled appliance usually means installing a new app and learning a new interface. Quirky, the product incubator that lets would-be inventors submit product ideas online and takes the best ones to market, set out to change that with its Wink platform, which was built in partnership with GE and now operates as a separate company within Quirky. Wink lets users control a variety of Internet-enabled devices, including lightbulbs, security cameras, and thermostats, through one common iPhone and Android app or through Android Wear wearables, meaning less of a learning curve for users. "With a simple command of ‘Okay, Google, start Wink,’ you can preheat your oven, turn your living room lights on, check to see if you remembered to lock the front door, and much more anywhere, anytime," said Wink's Izzy Johnston soon after Wink's launch. The company's built partnerships with Home Depot and Amazon to highlight the dozens of existing Wink-enabled products from a variety of makers, and offers Wink certification to new home-automation companies interested in working with the platform.

8. Nest Labs

For connecting its Nest and Android platforms with more everyday products. Google's Nest division has expanded beyond its lines of thermostats and smoke detectors, acquiring WiFi-camera maker Dropcam and announcing its "Works with Nest" program. This integrates its products with those from other smart device makers, so a smart car can phone home to tell a Nest thermostat turn up the heat before it pulls into the driveway, or a smart fan from Big Ass Fans can work with the thermostat to keep temperatures comfortable. Meanwhile, Google has expanded its Android platform beyond phones and tablets to cars, TVs, and wearable devices, like smartwatches. That means those devices will be able to communicate with Android smartphones and tablets and run apps from Google's Play Store built using APIs and tools developers already know.

9. Tesla Motors

For putting the Internet of Things on four wheels. Tesla's cars have mostly gotten press for their sleek design, all-electric engines and founder Elon Musk's legendary personal drive, but the innovative automaker has also provided a model for bringing cars onto the Internet of Things. Tesla announced a deal in early 2014 with AT&T to provide wireless connectivity to its cars for years going forward, enabling secure remote diagnostics, up-to-date maps, and Internet-enabled entertainment for drivers and passengers. New and existing Model S owners now get four free years of Internet radio and in-car connectivity, and smartphone apps let drivers preheat or cool their calls from afar—or remotely honk the horn if they can't remember where they've parked. Tesla even remotely fixed a safety defect tied to possibly overheating charging systems early in 2014, skipping a traditional in-person recall by reprogramming cars to compensate for fluctuations in electrical current.
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10. Salesforce

For bringing the Internet of Things to the workplace. Salesforce, the corporate cloud computing company, is working hard to get its customers using the Internet of Things. Its Salesforce Wear software development kit promises to get enterprise users onboard with wearable devices, such as Google Glass, the Samsung Gear smartwatch, or the Myo gesture control armband. And it's not just about novelty: Salesforce envisions surgeons using the Myo to order X-rays with a gesture without having to stop work to wash their hands, Glass-wearing pipeline inspectors recording voice notes and snapping photos with their hands full, and hotel guests waving a Bionym Nymi authentication wristband to get personalized service. And with Salesforce's Heroku web app-hosting platform, the company says, creators of cloud-connected things of all stripes can be able to put together a back end with ease.