Back in June we went along to the Open Internet of Things Assembly down in London. It was a packed weekend of talks and discussions, and we made far more progress on defining what an open Internet of Things would look like than I imagined possible.
However, I came away with a nagging feeling that something was missing. Lots of time had been devoted to data and the people using or encountering the Internet of Things, and rightly so, but...
There was a distinct lack of Things.
Plenty of people are building services that all the Things can use, which is understandable because software scales more easily and is better understood, plus you don't have to worry about the atoms or trying to fit the software into the more constrained platforms that ubiquitous computing offers. However (and we may be biased because the devices themselves are what we mostly build here at MCQN Ltd), that seems rather a missed opportunity. The fun and exciting parts of the Internet of Things are when you start getting actual connected devices into the world.
The technology isn't the main barrier to wider adoption of the Internet of Things - what we're missing are the examples and compelling solutions which make people's lives more enjoyable and richer.
We're starting to see a few glimpses of this with devices like BERG's Little Printer, the Air Quality Egg, the Good Night Lamp, and even our own Bubblino - but we need many more people to be experimenting and building things that scratch their own itch. As BERG's Andy Huntington puts it - before we'll get to a fully defined Internet of Things world, we'll see the Geocities of Things, as individuals play around with the possibilities and find out what works and what doesn't.
The parallels with the web and early homepages are apt. In the same way that the big ideas on the web like blogs and social networking didn't come from the existing, big companies - likewise the interesting and game-changing connected devices won't come from the big machine-to-machine vendors.
So, how do we seed the ground from which these Internet of Things ideas of the future will blossom? As a small step towards it, we're organising a weekend of collaboration and experimentation with the Internet of Things at the start of November - the IoT Howduino. The aim is to get coders, electronics engineers, product designers, artists... all sorts of people together and to see what Things they can come up.
The resultant projects don't have to be fully functional, some hand-waving and design fiction prototyping will be fine, but at the same time there'll be plenty of expertise on hand to tap into and the full facilities of DoES Liverpool available to use - laser cutter, soldering stations, 3D printers, vacuum former, etc.
The hope is that there'll be a host of new ideas and thoughts around the Internet of Things once we get to the end of Sunday, and who knows, maybe a few that have the germ of an IoT product or business. We'll be looking at how to help any that get that far - with follow-on workshops on PCB design or manufacturing techniques or whatever, and there's also the next Liverpool DoES Startups lean startup weekend a fortnight later for people who want to work on the business further.