by Claire Thorne
Wednesday 28 March 2012, Crayon London
The “Internet of Things”, the vision of a world where physical objects are connected and part of a world-wide information network, has been a buzzword for more than a decade now. With the widespread use of smart phones, the availability of cheap sensors and microcontrollers and the rise of data sharing platforms such as Pachube (pronounced as “patch bay”), groups of enthusiastic people are working on making this idea come true and developing business plans taking advantage of the recent momentum.
In cities around the world people are gathering at monthly “IoT Tech Meetups”: informal, evening discussion groups with speakers presenting their work/ideas/businesses. And there’s free beer. The IoT Tech Meetups are founded by Ed Borden (Pachube, Chief Business Development Officer) and Alex Deschamps-Sonsino (who also was a panellist at one of Digital Economy Lab’s Guardian Tech City debates). The meetings are held in different – interactive and interesting – venues each time, courtesy of space sponsors. We joined the 6th meetup in London at Crayon in Oxford Circus.
Tech Meetup attendees seem to range from the techy enthusiast who tinkers with sensors in their spare time, to the d-i-y app developer and the business-savvy start-up sponsor. Everyone there was genuinely passionate about ‘big data’ and ‘building things’.
The evening started with a brief introduction of the Air Quality Egg – a new project to set up a community-based sensor network for local air quality. They are currently raising money online to implement it via kickstarter. In the first of three talks the “mbed-based gateway” (slides) was presented, which kindled a discussion on what we need first: applications and sensors, or gateways which collects data from (wireless) sensors and allows for them to be connected to the Internet. Without gateways sensors are not part of the IoT, but without sensors and attractive applications people will not purchase a gateway…
The second talk addressed open telematics and introduced the E:drive app (slides and Beta registration) taking advantage of data which is collected under the bonnet of all modern cars. This could be used for personal journey data collection and in visualisation apps, showing fuel economy management with a social, competitive personal ‘rating’. Potential applications include total energy use/management (car and household), smart roads, car sharing schemes, real-time traffic flow monitoring, and police investigations into car crime.
The last talk of the evening was about Data Citizen Driven City and the work of MediaLab in Madrid. For example, some of their six research projects focus on data visualisation (see their façade project) and engaging citizens in data capture (see their City Sense competition entry). They have a strong focus on documenting every step and making this publicly available and acting as a mediation hub bringing people with the same interests together. Also, they have ongoing open calls for collaboration.
Digital City Exchange touches on several aspects of the Internet of Things, including challenges and opportunities of dealing with dynamic and distributed sensors, access to data and making it available to others, and finally the development of applications and services on top of such data.
We’re certainly keen to participare in future sessions. Note that the IoT Meetups are usually booked up well in advance – before all speakers or even the venue have been confirmed! Another clear sign that this is not just a series of presentations but a community of people who share a common vision and want to make things happen.
Watch this space…