"Solid" entries

9 things to consider before deploying sensors

Defining application requirements for IoT networking standards.

This article is part of a series exploring the role of networking in the Internet of Things.

Each networking technology has very different attributes and capabilities. When evaluating protocols and standards for your IoT project, you’ll need to understand all of the technical and financial requirements underlying your application in order to effectively choose a technology to implement. Let’s take a look at the typical networking requirements in designing solutions for the Internet of Things.

To provide a concrete illustration of the requirements analysis, I will describe a hypothetical building energy management application and outline a comprehensive list of its wireless network requirements. This list of requirements will form a framework for future discussion of the networking technology standards currently on the market.

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Most of what we need for smart cities already exists

Culture, play, and an emphasis on fair use will help smart cities take root.

The compelling thing about the emerging Internet of Things, says technologist Tom Armitage, is that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — or the water and sewage systems, or the electrical and transportation grids. To a large degree, you can create massive connectivity by simple (well, relatively simple) augmentation.

“By overlaying existing infrastructure with intelligent software and sensors, you can turn it into something else and connect it to a larger system,” says Armitage. “Yes, you could simply design and construct an entirely new system, but that’s incredibly expensive, it would take a lot time, and you may lose some things (of cultural or architectural value) that you may want to save. It’s better to adapt existing systems to your goals if you have the technology to do it — and we have it.”

Armitage speaks from direct experience. He was one of the collaborators behind Hello Lamp Post, a 2013 Bristol, England, project aimed at engaging people on a deep and intimate level with the urban landscape. In conjunction with PAN Studio and media artist Gyorgyi Galik, Armitage designed software interfaces for Bristol’s “street furniture” — the eponymous lamp posts, of course, but also manholes, post boxes, telephone poles, traffic bollards, and trash cans. Read more…

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Bitcoin: what happens when the miners pack up their gear?

When the mining subsidies end, will the bitcoin network centralize into a bank?

Radar has a backchannel, and sometimes we have interesting conversations on it. Mike Loukides and I recently had a long chat about bitcoin. Both of us were thinking out loud and learning as we went along, and on re-reading the thread I’m astonished by our advanced level of ignorance. I would like to publish it because it hints at just how hard it is to understand the bitcoin network. The founding papers that describe the system leave a lot of implementation to the imagination, and the level of mis(dis?)information around the web is staggering. It’s no small thing to get the basics right. But beyond the basics, the bitcoin network has that property of an inside-out onion, where the harder you look, the more (and bigger slices of) complexity you find.

Anyway, we’re not going to publish it. I don’t mind looking stupid, but I don’t want to look that stupid — also, the comments would be torture.

However, some of the things we were wondering about are worth wondering about publicly. Especially this: what happens when the mining subsidies end? Will transaction fees pick up the slack? I think ultimately the answer is yes, but maybe not in the way a lot of people expect. Read more…

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The Internet of Things: enabling the era of precision manufacturing

When the Internet of Things is fully implemented in factories, the benefits will be varied and far-reaching.

Remember pictures from old factories where a low-level employee roamed the factory floor on a regular schedule, writing down on a clipboard readings from gauges and other instruments? Who knows when his supervisor ever looked at the results, and what value they actually had to monitoring and optimizing performance.

Fast forward to GE’s Durathon battery factory in Schenectady, where 10,000 sensors on the assembly line — plus others embedded in each battery — report components’ status on a real-time basis, which a manager can read instantly on her iPad as she roams the factory floor — data that can also be shared in real-time with others throughout management, product design and other departments.

This and other prototype factories worldwide are building a new era of precision manufacturing (some call it “Industry 4.0″) that will cut operating costs and resource use, bring about unprecedented integration of the factory with the supply chain and distribution networks, continue companies’ relationships with customers far beyond the point of sale, and even create profitable new revenue streams. Read more…

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Biology as I/O

Solid's long view includes biology as part of the creator's toolkit.

Tim O’Reilly subjected himself to an engaging Ask Me Anything session on Reddit earlier this week. The focus of the exchange was the Internet of Things, in anticipation of our Solid conference taking place next month.

We’re always listening for faint signals from our community about what they’re getting interested in, and one area that’s stood out to us is biology, which is becoming easier to experiment with at home, as a hobbyist, and through hackerspaces like Biocurious and Genspace. You’ll find a few threads on biology at Solid this year, but we’ve tagged it to be a little more central at Solid 2015. Beyond the hobbyist and health-related applications, we see synthetic biology as another way to translate between virtual and physical, like 3D printers and stereoscopic cameras.

Here’s an exchange from Tuesday’s Reddit thread that sums it up nicely.

Question from rhops:

What prompted the start of BioCoder? Are people really doing biotech in their garages in the same way that many computer hardware and software innovations happened?

Thanks.

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The robotics industry could use an infusion of new DNA

A melting pot of technologists, makers and product minds will lead to a new wave of robotics companies.

Editor’s note: this post originally published on Chen’s blog Beyond the Bell Curve; this edited version is republished here with permission.

A couple years ago, I dug deep into the robotics space because I thought we were seeing the birth of exciting next-generation robotics companies that would reshape the way our society lives and thinks. Companies like Rethink Robotics, Industrial Perception, and Redwood Robotics emerged to tackle factory and warehouse logistics. Willow Garage was gaining notoriety for being a center of robotics talent and innovation that spawned many of these companies. Meanwhile, Amazon had just acquired Kiva for $775M, driving even more entrepreneurial excitement.

Where are these players now? Rethink had a well-publicized round of layoffs, and Willow Garage ceases to exist. Industrial Perception and Redwood Robotics were part of Google’s robotics shopping spree, and while acquisitions can inspire activity like Kiva’s did, Google’s purchases may have had the opposite effect. In one fell swoop, many of the most entrepreneurial and talented roboticists were shuttered away from the world. I often worry that this has caused the entire field to take a step back, or at least is a major progress inhibitor. No longer will the acquired talent build and support new technology for others to build upon, at least for now. What Google decides to do with the talent they purchased will have big ramifications for how the industry and field move forward. There’s potential for a positive outcome here. Perhaps these groups eventually will leave Google with an understanding of best practices in building and operating a business, something Google is quite good at. Read more…

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iBeacons, privacy, and security

The technology is at risk of dying off — and that would be a shame.

iBeacons and various BLE technologies have the potential to shake up many established ways of doing business by streamlining interactions. Although there are potentially many uses for iBeacons, much of the initial discussion has focused on retail. (I’ll follow up with some examples of iBeacon applications outside retail in a future post.)

As I described in my initial post in this series, all an iBeacon does is send out advertisement packets. iBeacon transmissions let a receiver perform two tasks: uniquely identify what things they are near and estimate the distance to them. With such a simple protocol, iBeacons cannot:

  • Receive anything. (Many iBeacon devices will have two-way Bluetooth interfaces so they can receive configurations, but the iBeacon specification does not require reception.)
  • Report on clients they have seen. Wi-Fi based proximity systems use transmissions from mobile devices to uniquely identify visitors to a space. If you take a smartphone into an area covered by a Wi-Fi proximity system, you can be uniquely identified. Because an iBeacon is only a transmitter, it does not receive Bluetooth messages from mobile devices to uniquely identify visitors.
  • Read more…

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The crowdfunding conundrum

Miscalculating funding thresholds can sink your startup.

There is widespread consensus that crowdfunding is a boon, an egalitarian means for bringing products and services to market without relying on banks, venture capitalists, or established financial angels. Myriad platforms now allow entrepreneurs and folks with a little (or a lot) of cash to get together without the red tape and angst that so often accompanies the soliciting and procuring of startup funds.

But that doesn’t mean crowdfunding is a panacea. In fact, observes Scott Miller, CEO and co-founder of Dragon Innovation, Inc., crowdfunding platforms have an Achilles heel: an inability to deliver hardware.

“Over the past year or 18 months, we’ve seen a pretty disturbing trend in crowdfunding,” Miller says. “A lot of campaigns meet their thresholds, but they ultimately don’t deliver the goods. That’s usually not due to fraud — it’s largely because many of the people who launch these nascent companies don’t understand hardware. They may want to drive people to their campaign by posting a low threshold, or they may not understand the expense involved in getting a prototype to high-volume production, but in either event, they wind up with insufficient capital. So, when the time comes to actually manufacture their product, they don’t have enough money, and they can’t recover. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost as a result.” Read more…

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Ask Tim O’Reilly about the Internet of Things on Reddit

Join Tuesday's "ask me anything" session covering hardware, manufacturing, design, and intelligent devices.

Our new Solid conference covers a lot of ground: hardware, design, manufacturing, and, of course, software. At 10 a.m. Pacific Time / 1 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow (Tuesday, April 22), Tim O’Reilly will take questions on these areas and how he sees them fitting together through a Reddit question-and-answer session on the IAmA board.

The best way to get to the exchange is through this page, which will post the link once it’s available, about an hour before Tim starts taking questions. Tim will be available to answer your questions about the Internet of Things, etc., for about an hour — we look forward to seeing you!

If enough of you join, we might even get a watercolor out of it.

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Toward an open Internet of Things

Vendors, take note: we will not build the Internet of Things without open standards.

Open_19In a couple of posts and articles, we’ve nibbled around the notion of standards, interoperability, and the Internet of Things (or the Internet of Everything, or the Industrial Internet, or whatever you want to call it). It’s time to say it loud and clear: we won’t build the Internet of Things without open standards.

What’s important about the IoT typically isn’t what any single device can do. The magic happens when multiple devices start interacting with each other. Nicholas Negroponte rightly criticizes the flood of boring Internet-enabled devices: an oven that can be controlled by your phone, a washing machines that texts you when it’s done, and so on. An oven gets interesting when it detects the chicken you put in it, and sets itself accordingly. A washing machine gets interesting if it can detect the clothes you’re putting into it and automatically determine what cycle to run. That requires standards for how the washer communicates with the washed. It’s meaningless if every clothing manufacturer implements a different, proprietary standard for NFC-enabled tags.

We’re already seeing this in lighting: there are several manufacturers of smart network-enabled light bulbs, but as far as I can tell, each one is controlled by a vendor-specific app. And I can think of nothing worse for the future of home lighting than having to remember whether the lights in the bedroom were made by Sylvania or Philips before I can turn them off. Read more…

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