(My) History of the Internet of Things

Back in 2007, Jason Winters and I started working on what would become ioBridge, RealTime.io, and ThingSpeak. The phrase “Internet of Things” got added to the discussion when Richard MacManus resurrected it from the RFID days in the late 90s and applied it to companies like ourselves in a 2009 article in the New York Times. Jason and I had experience with projects going viral such as a remote-controlled tractor with a webcam and an aquarium with real-time controls and monitoring. “Jason’s Fishcam” had sensors reporting temperature on a webpage and an interactive gator inside the aquarium. People used to watch the fish and control the gator mouth.

Jason’s Fishcam (January 2006)

The “Slashdot Effect” used to crush our homespun servers and render our projects useless for a period of time. Jason had the idea of moving the “control” part of our projects to the web. If all commands routed to and from a web server instead of going directly to a device, then we could control which commands went through, secure the connections using SSL, create access lists, and change things on the fly. This idea became our obsession for over a decade with several patents, licenses, open source projects, and customers from all over the world to show for the effort. We still work on large-scale IoT, Internet of Things for short, projects and have helped companies of all sizes reduce costs, predict equipment failures, and bring about connected products that serve a purpose.

“Twitter for Things” Demo App

When I first heard about Twitter back in 2006, I thought this is a perfect idea for things. Why would a human want to post short statues? Devices have a lot to say. “The HVAC system just turned on.” “The conveyor is drawing 3.1 amps.” “SYSTEM FAILURE: Code 87643.” If a web application could capture these messages, then the messages could be used for analysis. Jason and I started ioBridge in July of 2008 and built a scalable out-of-the-box solution plus a hardware dev kit. The only issue is that we only knew 30 people that were interested in the aquarium project. We sent an email to all 30 people and one person named Pete purchased a dev kit. He built a monitoring system for large aquariums in the Baltimore area. The next wave of users and customers didn’t come until Stephen Myers created an interactive pet treat dispenser for his dog. Stephen didn’t have an aquarium, but he did have a dog. Everything is a remix. Stephen blogged about his project on December 3, 2008, and his project got picked up by “The Unofficial Apple Weblog” since he used the iPhone as the controller.

iPhone Controlled Pet Treat Dispenser (December 2008)

To demonstrate the idea for a “Twitter for Things” to investors, I created @MyToaster – a Tweeting Toaster that used our system to send status updates about whether or not it was toasting. I followed Stephen’s idea and blogged about the toaster with my article, “Social Networking for My Toaster” on December 8, 2008, and described in detail how to build your own connected appliance. A few days later, Priya Ganapati picked up the story of MyToaster and wrote an article for Wired Magazine. This project and our company… took off.

First MyToaster Article in Wired Magazine (December 2008)

The toaster allowed me to start conversations with product manufacturers and designers that had ideas for new products. I worked on a number of consumer products and industrial systems that all use the same technology that Jason and I created. The Amazon Echo wouldn’t be possible if the Echo device had to understand all aspects of speech and user intents locally. The web allows Echo to tap into a huge data set that enhances its functionality. ThingSpeak is still going strong. You can still sign up today for a free, non-commercial account and join a community of over 350,000 developers around the world that are all learning about IoT and building new IoT applications.

ThingSpeak System Diagram (December 2010)

Fast forward 10 years, and we are still working on the same thing, but the things are now factories, agricultural systems, windmills, and space probes. I was really happy when Katie Blackley from Pittsburgh’s NPR New Station asked me for an interview and an update regarding the MyToaster that started my journey. It has been 10 years and the toaster still works. It is now outfitted with a Particle Photon and uses the ThingSpeak web service to update its thousands of followers. I am glad she reached out to me as it caused me to reflect a bit about the journey and prompted me to share my history of the Internet of Things.

Appendix: MyToaster

MyToaster has been popular on its own for a long time. I have gotten requests to talk about the toaster on news stations, interviews for magazines, and to have the toaster brought to IoT conferences. Every trade show we did had MyToaster on display. The “touring toaster” was a stand-in and took a lot of abuse over the years.

Another significant event for MyToaster is when the Washington Post posted an infographic on “The Marriage of Appliance and Internet“.

They listed that MyToaster from 2008 was a significant event that shaped “Connected Appliances” and “Consumer Internet of Things Products”.

2008 – @mytoaster joins Twitter. It’s a toaster that Tweets. Hans Scharler rigged up his toaster to his Twitter so the appliance Tweets one of two things: Toasting or Done Toasting.

Time Logo

A man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has rigged his toaster to tweet “Toasting” or “Done Toasting” with each use, and — despite the account’s lack of variety — has gained more than 2,000 followers.

In order to further connect us with our possessions, Scharler and his friend Jason Winters created a platform for developers called ThingSpeak— a sort of Twitter for things — that lets objects send messages, broadcast their location, graph their temperature, and more.

 / Time

Wired Logo

“Tweeting appliances speaks to this whole ‘internet of things’ idea,” says Hans Scharler, a tech consultant who also writes comedy material. “If your appliances were outputting information, it can always go to a database. But we love to share information. So why not find a way to do that?” Scharler found online fame for his twittering toaster, whose tweets alternate between “toasting” and “toast is done.” @mytoaster has about 200 twitter followers.

Priya Ganapati / Wired

Control IFTTT Webhooks with MATLAB

Yesterday, I was building an integration with IFTTT and my Philips Hue lights in my office. I wanted the Philips Hue lights to change to the latest CheerLights color. IFTTT offers a webhook as a trigger, so I decided to use MATLAB to trigger the webhook. MATLAB will get the latest CheerLights color, then send it to IFTTT and IFTTT sends the color to Philips Hue.

When I created the IFTTT webhook, IFTTT presented a CURL example:

curl -X POST -H “Content-Type: application/json” -d ‘{“value1″:”green”}’ https://maker.ifttt.com/trigger/mwOffice/with/key/xxxyyyzzz

Here’s how to turn the CURL request into a MATLAB command:

webwrite(‘https://maker.ifttt.com/trigger/mwOffice/with/key/xxxyyyzzz’,’value1′,’green’);

Check out the IFTTT documentation for more information.

Meeting Richard Launius, Designer of Arkham Horror Board Game

As the story goes, Richard Launius designed a board game based on the Call of Chutulu RPG. Richard was not able to get time to play the RPG while raising his young family. He took matters in his own hand and created a game that he could play. He was able to pass the time and at the same time create a new era of board games. Games that were cooperative and still provided competition. Everyone in the Arkham Horror board game is fighting off insanity and encountering unmentionable horrors in a world inspired by H.P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. The game took over 10 years for this to catch on in the mass market. Now, there are many Arkham Horry themed and styled games. You can now buy an updated version of Arkham Horror and expansions published by Fantasy Flight Games.

At the Buckeye Game Fest in 2015, I was able to meet and chat with the legendary game design. He was awesome and told me about the early days, mail order games, and reworking the original game to what it is now.

ThingSpeak at the Boston TechJam

I recently got the change to give a ThingSpeak IoT demo at Boston TechJam. MathWorks is one of the sponsors so we got to participate with other tech companies and over 8,000 students and entrepreneurs from Boston. My demo used MATLAB to detect multiple faces from a live stream of video. The MATLAB analysis code sends the count to a ThingSpeak channel. I used the new ThingSpeak gauge widget to show how many people stopped and participated in the demo.

To learn how to build a ThingSpeak People Counter with MATLAB, check out File Exchange. To learn about the new ThingSpeak gauge widgets, check out the MathWorks Documentation for ThingSpeak or the MathWorks IoT Blog. Thanks for stopping by!

Getting Ready for the Bay Area Maker Faire!

I have a lot of favorite times of the year. I get excited about the holidays, weekends, evenings, and days. I am usually filling each day with something new and/or pushing a project further along. One of my favorite events is the Bay Area Maker Faire. Imagine over 120,000 makers, hackers, builders, engineers, and students putting on the world’s biggest show-and-tell? You will see things that spark new ideas and you will see giant robotic giraffes.

You never know who you are going to run into. I was so happy to meet one of the first users of ThingSpeak! This is Andy Leer of Leer Media. Andy was introduced to my IoT projects back in 2008 at Hack Pittsburgh! He was instrumental in me being able to kickstart my startup and help support my growing community. Andy provided meeting space for my IoT Meetup in Pittsburgh.

A couple of the Mythbusters also showed up at the Bay Area Maker Faire. I got to talk about MathWorks software with both Adam Savage and Grant Imahara. Grant remembers using MATLAB quite a bit in his education and later his engineering projects.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have been getting ready for this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire. Stop by the MathWorks booth to see our latest hardware projects and demos. We have giveaways and info on the latest products. See you soon at the Maker Faire!

Gaming with Edo Interview About Building Game Design Communities

I really love building communities. And, I really, really love tabletop games. After moving to a new area for my technology career, I wondered how I could meet other game designers, publishers, and playtesters. After reading Mike Selinker’s book, Kobold Guide to Board Game Design, I decided to create a game design workshop using the book as its basis. A lot has changed since the book was first published – Kickstarter, legacy-style games, and Kickstarter – to name a few. My workshop fills in the gaps with hands-on exercises and discussion using the very latest research and references. The workshop is live and in-person which I really like for board games since they exist in the physical dimension.

Through some mutual contacts, I got introduced to Eduardo Baraf’s work. Edo has built a community on YouTube and is always putting out fresh content. He is also publishing some really high-quality games and supporting a large community of backers on Kickstarter with Pencil First Games. We started talking about his efforts and my projects, and Edo decided to have me on his YouTube channel, Gaming with Edo. It was a blast and an honor to be a part of his show. My episode is called, Q&A: Hans Scharler – Game Design Workshops.

Thanks for having me on, Edo. I look forward to your new game and video releases.

Use the New MQTT Service from ThingSpeak for Real-time CheerLights Updates

It’s that time again. That time when people all across the world synchronize their lights together with CheerLights! People have built amazing CheerLights displays. I have seen everything from color-changing shoes to snowmen… and trees.

 

CheerLights Introduction

Here’s a quick introduction to the CheerLights project for those who are new to the project. Imagine 1000’s of multicolored lights all around the world synchronized to one color. When one of the lights turns red, they all turn red. To control CheerLights, send a tweet to @cheerlights or include “cheerlights” somewhere in your message with the name of a color. This will cause a chain reaction and all of the CheerLights displays and apps will change their color to red.

 

ThingSpeak MQTT Service

CheersLights is powered by ThingSpeak IoT. And, this year, I am happy to introduce real-time CheerLights updates using ThingSpeak’s new MQTT service. Using the MQTT service by ThingSpeak, your CheerLights change instantly. ThingSpeak has posted an example that gets a Particle Photon connected to CheerLights using MQTT. The Subscribe to Channel Updates Using Particle Photon Client example shows you how to use a Particle Photon Wi-Fi board to subscribe to channel updates from the CheerLights channel. The program displays the color read from the channel on the built-in LED on the Photon board. You can subscribe to the channel feed or directly to the color field on the CheerLights channel.

Once you learn how to use the MQTT service from ThingSpeak, you can easily adapt it to your IoT project. This is a great way to have real-time control of a device or real-time monitoring of sensors.

If you want to follow the project and see what others are building, visit CheerLights.com or follow on Twitter.

Use AWS DeepLens to Determine If Hotdog or Not Hotdog

While at re:Invent, I got to take a deep learning workshop to learn about the new capabilities of AWS such as SageMaker and Greengrass. We used a new device created by AWS and Intel called DeepLens to build an image classification model, deploy it to the device, and use the model to predict image labels. In reference to the TV show Silicon Valley, we trained a neural network to determine if the image from the video camera contained a “Hotdog or Not hotdog.” My machine learning model performed better when the hot dog had mustard on it.

Fun aside, the DeepLens device is a really powerful way to learn image and video-based machine learning and artificial intelligence. Once you get ahold of the device, you can follow the workshop by downloading the materials and code from GitHub.

Michael Stevens and Adam Savage at Brain Candy Live!

My friend and colleague, Paul Kassebaum, and I had the opportunity to meet Michael Stevens and Adam Savage after their touring show called, Brain Candy Live. Paul and I are extremely passionate about science education and community building. Michael and Adam have been very successful using TV and YouTube to build a culture of science and making. The show is filled with puns from Molecule Stevens, exploring fluid dynamics, and building up to a ping-pong ball finale. I particularly enjoyed Adam’s monologue about his father making a race car for a Christmas present while Adam was making a juggling club. This taught Adam as a young kid that you can make things that you don’t have or make things that don’t exist. Brain Candy Live was truly a remarkable show. Let’s demonstrate to the world that the US has a culture of science and making, and let’s get more scientists on the US currency (at least we have Ben Franklin).