If you play around with enough connected devices or hang out with enough people thinking about what it means to have 200 connected gizmos in your home, eventually you get to a pretty big elephant in the room: How the heck are you going to connect all this stuff? To a hub? To the internet? To each other?
It’s one thing to set a program to automate your lights/thermostat/whatever to go to a specific setting when you hit a button/lock your door/exit your home’s Wi-Fi network, but it’s quite another to have a truly intuitive and contextual experience in a connected home if you have to manually program it using IFTTT or a series of apps. Imagine if instead of popping a couple Hue Light Bulbs into your bedroom lamp, you bought home 30 or 40 for your entire home. That’s a lot of adding and setting preferences.
If you take this out of the residential setting and into a factory or office it’s magnified and even more daunting because of a variety of potential administrative tasks and permissions required. Luckily, there are several people thinking about this problem. Mike Kuniavsky, a principal in the innovation services group at PARC, first introduced me to this concept back in February and will likely touch on this in a few weeks at our Mobilize conference next month. He likens it to a more organic way of programming.
The basic idea is to program the internet of things much like you play a Sims-style video game — you set things up to perform in a way you think will work and then see what happens. Instead of programming an action, you’re programming behaviors and trends in a device or class of devices. Then you put them together, give them a direction and they figure out how to get there.
Over at IBM, a few engineers are actually building something that might be helpful in implementing such systems. It’s called node-RED and it’s a way to interject a layer of behaviors for devices using a visual interface. It’s built on top of node.js and is available over on github.
The idea behind the node-RED effort came from playing around with connected devices, and the work it took to make things work together. The engineers behind the code — Nicholas O’Leary, Dave Conway-Jones and Andy Stanford-Clark — are also working with IBM’s MQTT messaging protocol. But with node-RED they aren’t focused on how devices talk to each other, but how they work together.
“The first version of node-RED was all about MQTT and how can we move messages between different topics and do it in a really lightweight way,” said O’Leary. But eventually it became more about a way to tell devices what you’d like them to do as opposed to having to tell each of them how to do it added Conway-Jones.
More info here.