Over the weekend there was a hackathon held to promote the Internet of Things (IoT), when real world objects get connected to the Internet. The event was run by London-based IoT platform company Pachube. So what got created at this hackathon and what does it tell us about how the Internet of Things is progressing?
I took a look at a number of the projects that were worked on. In this post I’ll highlight three, two from the U.K. and one from NYC. What all 3 projects show is that development around the Internet of Things is still very experimental. Perhaps too experimental. While there was lots of creativity on display, in all honesty I was hoping to see more projects that showed commercial potential. So I have to ask, as an open question at the end of this post: is there enough commercial activity currently happening in IoT?
The Pachube blog has an excellent round-up post about the event. According to the company, about 150 people from cities around the world were involved. “The Hackathon was our first concrete opportunity to work directly with developers who are actually making the ‘things’ in the Internet of Things,” the post states.
Remote Controlling a Microscope
The following was an interesting project from the New York City hackathon, showing how a cellphone can be made into a remote control for a real world object connected to the Internet. This was developed using sensors and Arduino (“a tool for making computers that can sense and control more of the physical world than your desktop computer”).
The speaker in the video explained that one use case might be enabling people to operate a microscope in a museum, using the phone as remote control – so they can’t touch the actual microscope. It allows people to “interact with the real world, in a way that’s a little bit shielded off.” The first one and half minutes of the video has a good explanation of this.
Apple Hacking (Actual Apples, Not Steve Jobs’ Company)
The hackathon in Lancaster, England, ran their event outside – in an orchard at Lancaster University. Participants used tree sensors to detect things like tree growth patterns and orchard weather. The goal going in to the event was to plant 4 apple trees and sensors, then “get applehacking through
The results (made available as a PDF poster) included an
“Apple of the month” system. It deployed tree sensors to calculate tree growth patterns, from which “apple
recommendations” can be made. The organizers explained that this “recommendation system
helps students rediscover local orchards as
sustainable source of healthy and enjoyable food.”
The results unfortunately didn’t delve more into how these systems were made or what they actually do, but from what I can gather it was a fun day of experimenting with apple tree sensors. It’s unclear what these sensor systems would be used for, other than educating students. But I can imagine this kind of sensor system being useful for apple harvesting and giving consumers information about the apples they purchase.
Marvin the Paranoid Laptop
Finally, at the main London event, Pachube founder Usman Haque named Marvin the Paranoid Laptop, by Sarah Mount, as his favorite project. Haque explained that the project “involved using Pachube to monitor a range of internal variables from a laptop (temperature, load, capacity, threads, etc)” and then using that data to interact with the laptop. Haque found this to be an inspiring project because “it wasn’t about the data, it wasn’t about the hardware, it was about the human interaction.”
As with the previous two projects, Marvin is very experimental and pretty geeky. However, like the NYC remote control project above, it enables people to interact directly with Internet-connected devices. In the case of Marvin, the device is just a common computer. Imagine though that it’s a car, or a garden shed, or a washing machine. Being able to interact with and communicate with devices like that is where the real power of the Internet of Things will show through.
Too Many Experiments, Not Enough Commercial Activity?
Given what I saw of the projects from Pachube’s hackathon, many of the developers are still playing with sensors and data feeds and hooking those up to either computers or electronics devices using Arduino. The apple tree experiment was probably the closest I saw to something that could be developed commercially – and even that was very experimental.
Granted, this was a developer-focused hackathon and this is cutting edge technology. Much of the commercial potential in it is yet to be discovered. So I’m being provocative asking this question. Still, I am itching to see more development done with real world objects. Something that we can all look at and think, wow so that’s the Internet of Things. I didn’t see that from the hackathon and I really wanted to.