At the end of this week there was a two-day conference here in Liverpool, for student developers, called CodePool13. The second day kicked off with a talk from me, introducing the Internet of Things and providing some pointers to how to get started with it. My slides are below, and I'll include a brief version of my notes, but lots of it was just me talking about lots of nice IoT projects.
It was a really good event, and hopefully something that will be repeated in the future - we need to find more ways to get the local students engaged with and involved in the tech community.
I'm Adrian McEwen. I've been adding the Internet to things other than computers since 1995. Initially cash registers, then PDAs and mobile phones - that picture is a mobile phone dev board which ran the first web browser to run on a mobile phone, back in 1997.
Since 2008 I've been playing around with even lower end hardware, in the form of Arduino boards, and run MCQN Ltd., an Internet of Things consultancy (for want of a better word) and these days I'm in charge of the Ethernet library for Arduino.
I'm also Chief Technology Officer for Good Night Lamp. There'll be more on Good Night Lamp later. I'm also one of the founders of DoES Liverpool, more on that later too.
And I'm writing a book on the Internet of Things, which will be out later this year
So... The Internet of Things. You know what the Internet is...
...and what things are.
There's not a whole lot more to it than that on some level - the Internet of Things covers adding computing power and Internet-connectivity to items other than computers and mobile phones in order to give them new capabilities and behaviours.
It's pretty closely related to ubiquitous computing and pervasive computing, if you've come across those terms.
Why is it happening now? Well, basically the price of the computing power has dropped to a level that it's becoming cheap enough for it to be an option in the cost structure of all sorts of cheaper items. Designers can start to say "what if...?" about behaviours enabled by the network for furniture and toys...
A lot of it is moving from industry, in sensing and process control, where the costs have made sense for a while now... for example, these photos are from an R&D project we did to stick a load of sensors to monitor the food levels in silos on a chicken farm, and that was all about knowing when was best to send out a truck full of chicken feed. And we're starting to see this bleed into everyday life
The problem is that a lot of companies don't have a clue about what would be useful. So we get iteration after iteration of the Internet fridge, which I still don't see why people would want an extra tablet device glued to their fridge door...
The fridge which knows what's in it, and orders more milk automatically. Or something. Not very exciting. See fuckyeahinternetfridge.tumblr.com for more Internet fridges than you ever wanted to...
And lots of companies are pushing the idea of using this tech to give us "Smart Cities", which will magically solve all of the cities ills by working out how to fit us all into a grand orchestrated system. It usually comes out initially as talk of smart parking meters, which will let you book a space as you drive in.I think there's a use for some of that - this photo is actually from just down the road in Halifax; it's one of the sensors in the parking bays in Sainsburys, and that feeds displays at the end of the row to show which rows have spaces.
For a much better critique of "smart cities", see these recent posts from Dan Hill and Usman Haque.
Although polished, fully-integrated systems look attractive, we should really be looking to build solutions with beautiful seams. The Internet flourished not because it's neatly controlled from a central location, but because it isn't - it is a collection of services and machines following the maxim of small pieces, loosely joined.
Luckily there are many more examples of this. The growth of the Maker community is letting people experiment and build things that are useful to them, just like we did with the web. Andy Huntington gave this a lovely name when he called it the Geocities of Things. Lots of crazy and often ugly projects being built and experimented with.
But before I come to those, I want to show a couple of things which definitely aren't ugly, and which show that some of the more human products are starting to emerge.
BERG's Little Printer.
The Good Night Lamp.
Another Liverpool IoT product - the WhereDial.
The community of radiation-mapping which grew out of the Fukushima disaster and used Cosm.com to aggregate the data.
And then the follow-up community measuring air quality with the Air Quality Egg.
Making it easy for a bakery to tweet... Baker Tweet.
How can you get involved in all the fun?
Start playing around with Arduino...
...or a Beaglebone if you need more power...
...or (with not as much IO but cheaper and with video out) a Raspberry Pi.
Then you can build things like...
Botanicalls, to make your plants tweet.
Russell Davies' Bikemap to let you know which Boris Bike station to head towards.
The Go Free Range printer to make your own Little Printer-esque devices.
Nick O'Leary's Ambient Orb to visualise whatever data sources interest you.
And once you've got the electronics sorted, you'll need to build a case for it. That's where some of the new digital fabrication tools come in - things like...
3D printers. This is the Makerbot CupCake, one of two 3D printers we've got for people to use at DoES Liverpool.
Or laser cutters. Again, this is the one in the workshop at DoES Liverpool.
Here in Liverpool we run regular (two evenings and one Saturday a month) Maker Nights where people can come along for free, use the workshop facilities at DoES Liverpool, learn more about electronics and making things, and get to know others who are working on projects of their own.
Which brings me to DoES Liverpool. It's the home for tech startups and makers in Liverpool, and as well as Maker Nights holds all manner of events from learning Clojure to lean startups.
Join the mailing list to find out more.