New products, Conferences, Books, Papers, Internet of Things

Archive for May, 2013

Wanted for the Internet of Things: Ant-Sized Computers

freescalex299If the Internet is to reach everywhere—from the pills you swallow to the shoes on your feet—then computers will need to get a whole lot smaller. A new microchip that is two millimeters square and contains almost all the components of a tiny functioning computer is a promising start.

The KL02 chip, made by Freescale, is shorter on each side than most ants are long and crams in memory, RAM, a processor, and more. The genesis of the chip was a customer asking for help creating a wireless device small enough to be easily swallowed and cheap enough to be considered “digestible.” Freescale is now offering the chip for general sale, and also embarking on an R&D push to create more tiny computers that also include sensors and wireless data connections.

“The Internet of things is ultimately about services, like your thermostat connecting to the Internet and knowing when you’re coming home,” says Kaivan Karimi, director of global strategy for microcontrollers at Freescale, “but the technology those [services] are based on is embedded processing and sensors.”

If connected sensors are to be spread throughout the world around us, those technologies need to shrink in size, power consumption, and price, says Karimi. Freescale is betting that one of the best ways to do that is to integrate, into a single chip, components such as processors, memory, sensors, radios, and antennas that would usually be laid out across a circuit board.

More info here.

Control your HVAC Infrared Devices from the Internet with IR Remote

Cooking Hacks -the open hardware division of Libelium- has just released IR Remote, a small shield that allows you to record any infrared command sent by a remote control and resend it from the Internet. It works connected to Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and let us to control any HVAC system including heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and thermostats from the Cloud. More than 6 different wireless interfaces are available to connect Arduino and Raspberry Pi to the Internet: WiFi, 3G, GPRS, Bluetooth and 802.15.4 / ZigBee. With IR Remote you can easily control our home HVAC system from a laptop, a webserver or even from your smartphone. The shield is compatible with both Arduino and Raspberry Pi so you can choose your favourite platform to automate your home.

Read more.

Welcome Arduino Yún

Arduino_Y_n_isoMassimo Banzi announced it some minutes ago during his annual “The state of Arduino” presentation at Maker Faire Bay Area:  Arduino Yún  is the first of a revolutionary family of wifi products combining Arduino with Linux.

Yún means “cloud” in chinese language,  as the purpose of this board to make it simple to connect to complex web services directly from Arduino.

Designed in collaboration with Dog Hunter, a company with extensive experience with Linux, the board adopts the Linino distribution which provides signed packages to ensure the authenticity of the software installed on the device.

Historically, interfacing Arduino with complex web services has been quite a challenge due to the limited memory available and they tend to use verbose text based formats like XML that require quite a lot or ram to parse. On the Arduino Yún we have created the Bridge library which delegates all network connections and processing of HTTP transactions to the Linux machine.

Arduino Yún is the combination of a classic Arduino Leonardo (based on the Atmega32U4 processor) with a Wifi system-on-a-chip running Linino (a MIPS GNU/Linux based on OpenWRT). It’s based on the ATMega32u4 microcontroller and on the Atheros AR9331, a system on a chip running Linino, a customized version of OpenWRT, the most used Linux distribution for embedded devices.

Like a Leonardo, it has 14 digital input/output pins (of which 7 can be used as PWM outputs and 12 as analog inputs), a 16 MHz crystal oscillator and a micro USB connector.

More info here.

Mote learning

From the Economist:

TAKE a vast windowless hall. Squeeze in hundreds of garish booths vying to produce the loudest and most obnoxious music possible. Then add thousands of busy people and bake at a high temperature for several days. Visiting a large conference or trade show can be an unpleasant experience, as Babbage can attest from many years of writing about technology. Precisely how unpleasant, though, no one has measured until now. At Google’s annual I/O conference for developers in San Francisco this week, scientists are finally trying to turn sharp elbows, raised voices and sweaty brows into cold, hard data.

The Data Sensing Lab, a project of O’Reilly Media, has deployed over 500 sensor motes at key locations around the Moscone West centre. Each phone-sized mote is a self-contained computer based on a cheap Arudino micro-controller and linked with low power ZigBee digital radios. Some measure temperature, pressure, noise, humidity and light levels. Others are tracking air quality, the motion of crowds or how many mobile phones are being used nearby. Together, they form a network producing over 4,000 streams of data that are uploaded to Google’s Cloud Platform software for analysis.

The network is an example of the “internet of things”, where physical objects are digitally interconnected and communicate without human intervention. At a shindig like I/O, this could one day mean rooms pre-emptively activating air conditioners when they detect delegates arriving, or organisers rating speakers by the level of mobile phone use during their presentations.

At the Google event, the Data Sensing Lab showed live visualisations of people flowing out of seminars and forming an eager cluster around a stand showcasing Google Glass wearable computers. It also highlighted the noisiest area (the keynote by Larry Page, Google’s co-founder) and the quietest (a pop-up shop selling Google-branded products). All the data will be made freely available online after the conference wraps up.

More info here.

The history of the internet of things includes a Swedish hockey team and LEGOs

adam_dunkelsThirteen years ago Adam Dunkels was trying to hook up a hockey team in Lulea, Sweden with sensors and cameras so coaches and fans could track helmet cams and players’ vital signs. It was an academic project but it was also an early example of the internet of things. The project was doomed to fail for a variety of reasons, but out of that experience came a lightweight code for connecting devices called Lightweight IP.

A later version of that code became the base for LEGO Mindstorms and a variety of other connected projects. But Dunkels realized that to truly build a platform for connected devices he needed even lighter weight code. So he built Contiki, an operating system of sorts of the internet of things. And now he’s commercializing all that he’s learned in a startup called ThingSquare. In the podcast we discuss the history of the internet of things and when we reached the tipping point that made the internet of things inevitable.

Listen to the podcast here.

World’s First Online Development Environment for the Internet of Things Announced

Thingsquare  announced Thingsquare Code, to help connect products such as light bulbs, thermostats, and smart city systems to smartphone apps. Thingsquare Code is the world’s first online interactive development environment (IDE) for the Internet of Things and works with a number of recent chips that target the emerging Internet of Things market, from leading chip vendors Texas Instruments and ST Microelectronics.

Thingsquare Code lets developers of Internet of Things products program their wireless chips from a web browser. Before Thingsquare Code, developing Internet of Things products used to be time-consuming and would require extensive expertise on behalf of the developer. With Thingsquare Code, developers can quickly prototype and validate their products, directly from their web browsers.

“The latest IP/6LoWPAN solutions for IoT applications from Texas Instruments (TI) will be ready for Thingsquare Code,” said Oyvind Birkenes, general manager, Wireless Connectivity Solutions, TI. “Thingsquare opens the door to developers from various disciplines to connect their products faster to the Internet. This is truly revolutionary.”

“Thingsquare Code already works with a number of microprocessor platforms, including the ARM Cortex M3 and the TI MSP430,” said Thingsquare chief architect Adam Dunkels. “With our secure cloud connectivity solution, devices can be programmed without cables and without having to install compiler toolchains, which is a large step forward for IoT programming.”

Thingsquare Code is currently available for beta testers and will be available for use with a number of wireless chips for the emerging Internet of Things market developed by Texas Instruments and ST Microelectronics.

More info here.

LogMeIn and ARM want to help you build the internet of things

Just a few weeks ago, my colleague Stacey Higginbotham covered an interesting Spanish outfit called Carriots that’s building a platform-as-a-service (Paas) geared specifically towards the internet of things (IoT). As with other startups such as Electric Imp, the aim here is to make it super-simple for developers of connected devices and the services around them to, well, connect those devices. It’s a lot easier to innovate on top of an established platform than to rebuild the fundamentals each and every time.

Well, those startups now have seriously heavyweight competition in the form of LogMeIn, the remote connectivity specialist, and ARM, the British firm whose low-power chip designs underpin the vast majority of mobile devices, and which is now competing with Intel to own the IoT space.

LogMeIn has just launched its own PaaS for the internet of things, calling it Xively(the beta version was known as Cosm). And developers wanting to start creating connected devices on this platform are being offered the Xively Jumpstart Kit, which combines Xively with ARM’s mbed platform, for building devices using ARM’s microcontrollers. With this kit, the companies promise, developers can “rapidly progress from prototyping to volume deployment”.

Xively is based on LogMeIn’s Gravity infrastructure – the same one used to support the company’s cloud storage offering, Cubby — and it comes with development tools for writing and prototyping services, a provisioning engine for deployment and a scalable management console. It supports real-time messaging and directory and data services, as well as analytics, and it uses a “pay-as-you-grow” pricing model that should make the platform attractive to startups.

The directory services extend to a “commons” named the Xively Connected Object Cloud, through which different companies’ devices can interconnect. According to LogMeIn, a “fundamental philosophy” baked into the Xively terms of service states that “customers own their data and can choose whether or not to share all, part, or none [of] it.”

showcase page for the platform shows early projects built on Xively that include the Visualight smart lightbulb and even some of the post-Fukushimacrowdsourced radiation-monitoring efforts (which used an earlier iteration of the platform, called Pachube at the time).

More info here.

Conference Analytics: Data Sensing Lab

tn_1509_data-sensing-lab-mote3-1368480553The Data Sensing Lab is a project sponsored by O’Reilly Media with the tagline “Hardware hacking for data scientists“. By deploying custom wireless hardware at tech conferences like Strata and Google I/O the team is looking to advance what real-time sensor network data collection, analysis, and visualizations will look like in the near future.

We will soon begin to move in a sea of data, our movements monitored and our environments measured and adjusted to our preferences, without need for direct intervention. What will this look like? How can we create and shape it? How can we introduce the relevant hardware to people who already possess data analytics skills?

Developed by Alasdair AllanKipp BradfordRobert FaludiKim Rees and Julie Steele the team uses Arduinos, XBee radios, 3d printed enclosures and cloud database tools to track temperature, humidity, noise, light, air quality, audience engagement, and foot traffic levels in real-time for each of the conference venues.

The sensor deployments gives conference attendees a better glimpse into their surrounding environment and the team wanted to remind them what actual data collection looks like “what it means to build your own sensors from scratch, deploy them into an environment where they might be kicked or stolen or partially blinded by a wall, fine-tune the reporting rates to work within the available bandwidth, and collate data from multiple sources reporting at differing rates. These things are the roots of data science, and we wanted to go back to them.

More info here.

Connecting Things to the Internet Does Not an Internet of Things Make

iot380The Internet of Things has continued to emerge as a trend this year within the consumer electronics sector. Everyone’s trying to get into the game, with connected devices now ranging from dog collars to toasters to sneakers, all getting connected to “the cloud.”

This is an exciting trend for consumer electronics in general, but we as an industry need to take a step back and realize that true connectivity extends beyond just the cloud.

Just because something is connected to the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s truly part of an Internet of Things (or as we like to call it at Qualcomm, the “Internet of Everything”). What’s unique about the Internet is its openness — the ability for one website to link to any other and leverage information in novel ways. Remember when the word “mashup” was all the rage in Web talk? Why was that? Because you just could. You could have one website leverage data and APIs from another website and mash that up to deliver a completely new, cool Web service, a la,,, etc.

So what’s the problem? Aren’t all these hot new connected IoT devices connected up to the cloud? Well, that’s the problem. We are oversimplifying the landscape. Each specific device seems to connect to its particular cloud service. There isn’t really one cloud. Every manufacturer has their own cloud service, and often these clouds are closed, proprietary environments. Devices that live in their own siloed cloud cannot speak to one another, meaning they cannot benefit from the data, context or control of nearby IoT devices. That is why we currently need a separate app to control — and interface with — each connected thing we buy. This may be acceptable in the near term, but it cannot scale.

More info here.

What to expect when elevators and toys start phoning home

Your next elevator pitch might actually come from data derived from your elevator. That’s the case for an unnamed elevator manufacturing company that used Splunk’s machine data logging software to track how often its elevators were taking trips in its clients’ buildings. It noticed that the fewer trips people made, the more likely it was that the client would cancel the lucrative maintenance contracts the firm offered.

So it took that data and tweaked its approach. Now when it sees a slowdown it reaches out to the client to try a new plan or just make sure the clients don’t cancel. In the future it may offer new pricing plans to adjust for slack usage.

That’s just one way connected devices and the data they offer can be used for benefitting a business. But the value of constant connectivity to a firm goes far beyond that — and could change the way businesses operate. Even after a product goes out the door, the company responsible can still keep an eye on it. That has big repercussions for business and consumers — and not all of those repercussions may be welcome.

For example, the constant contact can also help tweak a design or improve the function of a product — even out in the field. In a recent conversation, Splunk’s Tapan Bhatt walked me through a few examples such as the one above, where the company’s machine logging data helped businesses adjust. For example, the makers of the Nest thermostat use Splunk to analyze data uploaded from hundreds of thousands of homes, and tune their algorithms for energy performance.

Medical device manufacturer iRhythm uploads remote monitor data to Splunk to make sure devices run as expected, as well as help ensure that patients can use the devices intuitively. In many ways this isn’t new. Jeremy Conrad at Lemnos Labs pointed out to me in a conversation last month that many manufactured devices are tweaked again and again after the first manufacturing run to smooth out perceived and real flaws in the design.

The shift is that it can now happen constantly and that the changes might be implemented weeks or months after the product has been manufactured. Advertising firms and online publications have been using such data to refine their products for years. The Huffington Post’s love of A/B headline testing is well documented, while the use of eye tracking in web site design is a common practice. But more connectivity in devices means the fine-tuning and easy tracking that are common in digital products are now available in the real world.

More info here.