Applications From The Internet of Things – An Analysis of Pachube

Last week we reported that Pachube, an open source platform enabling developers to connect sensor data to the Web, had released a real-time notifications feature. We at ReadWriteWeb think that Pachube is an excellent example of one of our Top 5 Trends of 2009: Internet of Things. So we’re going to explore Pachube in-depth in a 3-part series.

This is Part 2, where we’ll look at what applications we can expect to see in the coming years from Pachube. I spoke at length to Pachube founder Usman Haque to find out what developers – and Haque’s company itself – will build on the platform.

Brief Overview of Pachube

For end users, Pachube enables automation of your environment. For example controlling the lighting in your house, via sensors and the Internet. With its new notifications feature, called “triggers,” Pachube can cause a specific action in external applications or devices. Such as turning on your living room lights when a sensor (say on your garage door) activates.

Pachube can be difficult to understand at first glance. At heart it is about connecting environments. However it’s more than just connecting sensors to the Internet. Pachube wants its users to interact with sensor data and use it to actively engage with their environment.

Experimental Applications

A lot of current Pachube projects are using Arduino, an open-source electronics prototyping platform that we briefly profiled in February. In July we wrote about an example of Pachube and Arduino being used in concert, Web-connected light sensors.

Here’s a newer augmented reality demo, showing live Pachube data displayed in real-time ‘on top’ of Arduino sensor boxes.

We’ll explore some more commercial and consumer applications below – most of them in development or on the agenda for the future. Usman Haque admits that currently Pachube is still at an early, experimental stage. Its website is very much focused on developers and prototypers right now.

So what does Pachube offer developers? Usman Haque told us that Pachube’s goal “has always been to do the simplest thing we possibly can, so
people can get going [connecting their environments].” In a practical sense, Haque explained to us that Pachube is almost like offsite storage for low power processes.

Pachube also wants to reach out to existing popular Web platforms. For example it plans to submit to Apple’s iPhone/iPod Touch App Store a “generalized data logger.” This will enable developers to tap into sensor data gathered by the device, using Pachube as the backend to hold and manage the data.

Haque added that Pachube’s new notification system will make it possible to build more applications;
up till now Pachube has been used mostly by developers as a repository (a place to upload data to).

What Commercial Applications Can We Expect in Future?

Although Pachube is currently targeting developers, it has an eye on enabling and creating commercial applications for sensor data.

A big driver currently is energy monitoring. Haque told us that this will be an area with the most
innovation in the near future. For example, he said that people could have graphs tracking their long term energy use and comparing it to other people. He noted that this is an “obvious one to build, but nobody has built it yet.” You can see from the Pachube website tag cloud below that energy data is a significant part of Pachube already:

Pachube’s sister company, Haque Design + Research, will also build use cases for Pachube. They’ve been doing this already, for example using some Siemens building management products to demonstrate the power of Pachube.

Haque told ReadWriteWeb that Pachube will also be used for large-scale urban infrastructure projects. He referred to this as “massively networked cities,” where there is a lot of data collection and sensor stream management. He declined to name specific examples, but said that Pachube is currently “focused quite heavily on
East Asia.”

Haque noted that Pachube is especially concerned with how to make sure sensor data
is accessible to consumers. He said that “people aren’t passive consumers of the
data, but actively engaged in producing it.” The idea being that people will take an active role in understanding their cities. This is an ongoing theory that Usman Haque extols in the talks and interviews he does for Pachube.

Conclusion: Early Days, But Commercial and Consumer Apps Are Coming

Overall, Pachube is “still quite experimental” according to founder Usman Haque. However he said that it will be increasingly used for things like climate data, home automation systems, and more. The company will try to drive usage from both cities, commercial entities (like Siemens) and consumer applications.

In Part 3 of this series tomorrow, we look at Pachube’s business model, how it competes with large companies like IBM, and why it’s an open platform.

The full 3-Part series on Pachube:

  1. Pachube Adds Real-Time Notifications – More Power to The Internet of Things
  2. Applications From The Internet of Things – An Analysis of Pachube
  3. Business Models of The Internet of Things – An Analysis of Pachube’s Open Source Platform
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