"iot" entries

What you need to know for the hardware-software convergence

Core competencies and essential reading from hardware, software, manufacturing, and the IoT.

As I noted in “Physical and virtual are blurring together,” we now have hardware that acts like software, and software that’s capable of dealing with the complex subtleties of the physical world. So, what must the innovator, the creator, the executive, the researcher, and the artist do to embrace this convergence of hardware and software?

At its core, this is about a shift from discipline toward intent. Individuals and institutions — whether they’re huge enterprises, small start-ups, or nonprofits — must be competent in several disciplines that increasingly overlap, and should be prepared to solve problems by working fluidly across disciplines.

To use Joi Ito’s example, someone who wants to develop a synthetic eye might begin to approach the problem with biology, or electronics, or software, or (most likely) all three together. Many problems can be solved somewhere in a large multidimensional envelope that trades off design, mechanics, electronics, software, biology, and business models. Experts might still do the best work in each discipline, but everyone needs to know enough about all of them to know where to position a project between them.

Below you’ll find the core competencies in the intersection between software and the physical world, and our favorite books and resources for each one.

Electronics for physical-digital applications

  • Practical Electronics, by John M. Hughes: To know what’s possible and where to start, it’s essential to understand both the analog and digital sides of electronics. This is O’Reilly’s authoritative introduction to both analog and digital electronics, with information on circuit design, common parts and techniques, and microcontrollers.
  • Raspberry Pi Cookbook, by Simon Monk: The Raspberry Pi is rapidly becoming the standard embedded computing platform for prototyping and experimentation, with enough computing power to run familiar interpreted programming languages and widely supported operating systems.
  • Arduino Cookbook, by Michael Margolis: The Arduino microcontroller offers a fluid interface between digital and physical; it’s highly extensible and accessible to people with no prior experience in either electronics or code.

Read more…


Hardware is an elusive constraint on user experience

Andrew “bunnie” Huang on understanding the interplay between software, hardware, and the existing supply chain.

Editor’s note: this interview with Andrew “bunnie” Huang is an excerpt from our recent report, When Hardware Meets Software, by Mike Barlow. The report looks into the new hardware movement, telling its story through the people who are building it. For more stories on the evolving relationship between software and hardware, download the free report.

Andrew “bunnie” Huang has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT, but he is most famous for reverse engineering the Xbox, establishing his reputation as one of the world’s greatest hardware hackers. He sees an evolving relationship between hardware and software.

“It used to be that products were limited solely by the capability of their hardware. Early radios, for example, had mechanical buttons that acted directly on the physics of the receiver,” says Huang. “As hardware becomes more capable, the user experience of the hardware is more dictated by the software that runs on it. Now that hardware is ridiculously capable — you basically have supercomputers in your pockets that cost next to nothing — pretty much the entire user experience of the product is dictated by the software. The hardware simply serves as an elusive constraint on the user experience.”

Hardware is “a cage,” says Huang, and good software developers learn to work within the constraints of the hardware. “When I work with programmers on new products, I take the first prototype, put it on the desk and I say, ‘Welcome to your new cage.’ That’s the reality. There’s a hard wall. But we try to build the cage big enough so there are options for programmers. A quad core Android phone with a gigabyte of memory is a pretty big cage. Sometimes when programmers feel constrained, they’re just being lazy. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat in the software world.” Read more…


Physical and virtual are blurring together

Key signals from hardware, software, manufacturing, and the Internet of Things.

Hardware, software, manufacturing, and the Internet of Things

This essay updates a November 2013 article. We’ve expanded it in light of the success of our first Solid conference in May 2014, where we tested many of these ideas, and the announcement of our next Solid conference in June 2015. In addition to this update, you can stay in the loop on the latest developments in the space through our weekly newsletter.

Real and virtual are crashing together. On one side is hardware that acts like software: IP-addressable, programmable with high-level procedural languages and APIs, able to be stitched into loosely coupled systems — the mashups of a new era. On the other is software that’s newly capable of dealing with the complex subtleties of the physical world — ingesting huge amounts of data, learning from it, and making decisions in real time.

The result is an entirely new medium that’s just beginning to emerge. We can see it in Ars Electronica Futurelab’s Spaxels, which are LED-equipped quadcopters that make up a drone swarm to render a three-dimensional pixel field; in Baxter, which layers emotive software onto an industrial robot so that anyone can operate it safely and efficiently; in OpenXC, which gives even hobbyist-level programmers access to the software in their cars; and in SmartThings, which ties web services to light switches.

The new medium is something broader than terms like “Internet of Things,” “Industrial Internet,” or “connected devices” suggest. It’s an entirely new discipline that’s being built by software developers, roboticists, manufacturers, hardware engineers, artists, and designers. Read more…

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Four short links: 3 December 2014

Four short links: 3 December 2014

VIsual NoSQL, QA MindSet, Future Programming, and Interactive Cities

  1. Visual Guide to NoSQL Systems — not quite accurate in the “pick any two,” but still a useful frame for understanding the landscape.
  2. The QA Mindset (Michael Lopp) — Humans do strange shit to software that we could never predict in the controlled setting of our carefully constructed software development environments. This x1000.
  3. Future Programming 2014 Videos — a collection of talks on boundary-pushing ideas around IDEs, code control, distributed objects, GPUs, etc.
  4. Some of These Things are Not Like the Others (Tom Armitage) — writeup on sensor-rich interactive cityscapes designed for residents to thrive rather than for merchants to transact. Lovely.
Four short links: 20 November 2014

Four short links: 20 November 2014

Postmortems, Cloud Triggers, IoT Desires, and Barbie Can Code

  1. The Infinite Hows (John Allspaw) — when finding ways to improve systems to prevent errors, the process of diagnosis should be focused on the systems and less on the people. (aka “human error” is the result of a preceding systems error.) (aka “design for failure.”)
  2. Amazon Lambda — triggers in the cloud.
  3. Enchanted Objects (PNG) — organizing the Internet of Thing by human desires. (via Designing the Enchanted Future)
  4. Barbie Remixed (PDF) — brilliant remix of a book that missed the mark into one that hits the bullseye.

Solid 2015: submit your proposal

O'Reilly's Solid Conference, on IoT and the intersection between real and virtual, will return to San Francisco on June 23-25, 2015.

Last May, we engaged in something of an experiment when Joi Ito and I presented Solid, our conference about the intersection between software and the physical world. We drew the program as widely as possible and invited demos from a broad group of large and small companies, academic researchers, and artists. The crowd that came — more than 1,400 people — was similarly broad: a new interdisciplinary community that’s equally comfortable in the real and virtual worlds started to, well, solidify.

I’m delighted to announce that Solid is returning. The next Solid will take place on June 23-25, 2015, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It’ll be bigger, with more space and a program spread across three days instead of two, but we’re taking care to maintain and nourish the spirit of the original event. That begins with our call for proposals, which opens today. Some of our best presentations in May came from community members we hadn’t yet met who blew away our program committee with intriguing proposals. We’re committed to discovering new luminaries and giving them a chance to speak to the community. If you’re working on interesting things, I hope you’ll submit a proposal.

We’re expecting a full house at this year’s event, so we’ve opened up ticket reservations today as well — you can reserve your ticket here, and we’ll hold your spot for seven days once registration opens early next year. Read more…


Saul Griffith: build soft, not solid

Soft, or compliant, robots can be safer, lighter, more efficient, and easier to control.

As we get ready to launch the 2015 version of Solid, our conference about the intersection between software and the physical world, I’ve been revisiting some lessons from Solid 2014.

For instance, Saul Griffith, founder and principal scientist at Other Lab, advises that many machines would do well to skip solidity altogether. Soft, or compliant, robots can be safer, lighter, more efficient, and easier to control. In his work with compliant robots, Griffith has managed to substitute intelligent controls for mass—replacing atoms with bits.

Watch Griffith’s entire Solid 2014 talk below. If you’d like to be notified when the Solid 2015 call for proposals goes up and when tickets become available, be sure to sign up for the O’Reilly IoT+ newsletter.

For more videos from Solid 2014, visit our Solid YouTube playlist.


The next industrial revolution

It's all about software, but it's a little harder than that.


If you Google “next industrial revolution,” you’ll find plenty of candidates: 3D printers, nanomaterials, robots, and a handful of new economic frameworks of varying exoticism. (The more generalized ones tend to sound a little more plausible than the more specific ones.)

The phrase came up several times at a track I chaired during our Strata + Hadoop World conference on big data. The talks I assembled focused on the industrial Internet — the merging of big machines and big data — and generally concluded that in the next industrial revolution, software will take on the catalytic role previously played by the water wheel, steam engine, and assembly line.

The industrial Internet is part of the new hardware movement, and, like the new hardware movement, it’s more about software than it is about hardware. Hardware has gotten easier to design, manufacture, and distribute, and it’s gotten more powerful and better connected, backed up with a big-data infrastructure that’s been under construction for a decade or so. Read more…

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Four short links: 9 October 2014

Four short links: 9 October 2014

API Docs, Top Trends, Byzantine Fault Tolerance, and Devops in Practice

  1. dashoffline access to API documentation. Useful for those long-haul flights without wifi …
  2. Gartner’s Top Trends for 2015 — ubicomp, IoT, 3d printing, pervasive analytics, context, smart machines, cloud computing, software-defined everything, web-scale IT, and security. Still not the year of the Linux desktop.
  3. Byzantine Fault Tolerance — Wikipedia’s readable introduction to the basic challenge in distributed systems.
  4. Move Fast, Break Nothing (Zach Holman) — Gartner talks about “web-scale IT”, but I think the processes and tools for putting code into product (devops) are far more transformative than the technology that scales the product delivery.

Inside Solid: what won’t drones do?

How Moore's Law applies to drones — a backchannel meditation on drone limitations.

prime-air_high-resolution02Extrapolation is great fun — especially over technology, where Moore’s Law has conditioned us to expect exponentially falling costs and fast adoption. Applied to drones, extrapolation might lead us to conclude that they’ll fill the skies soon, delivering anything we want on demand. They are, after all, rapidly getting cheaper and smarter, and drone-related announcements get tons of press.

So, where will the drones stop? A few of us meditated on the limitations of drones last week on news that Facebook plans to use them to provide Internet connections to those who don’t have them, and on DHL’s announcement that it would begin making deliveries by drone to the island of Juist, in the North Sea. An edited excerpt of our exchange follows. Read more…

Comments: 3