(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

Are Open Source IoT Platforms Ready for Primetime?

Bruce Sinclair of IoT-Inc. recently asked me to be a guest on his Internet of Things podcast, the IoT Business Show. I have been a faithful listener to the podcast since it started so I was honored to be a part of his show. Bruce asks very interesting questions and has his audience at heart. His questions help answer questions that the audience might be wrestling with when making a decision about getting into IoT (or not).

In his latest episode, Bruce asks, “Are Open Source IoT Platforms Ready for Primetime?” My open source IoT project is ThingSpeak. I created ThingSpeak back in 2010 as an ioBridge project and it has really taken off. The source code for the ThingSpeak API is available on GitHub and is being worked on by over 100,000 developers from around the world.

Open Source IoT Platforms Podcast

To listen to the IoT Business Show podcast, check out iTunes or the IoT-Inc. website.

In this episode of the IoT Business Show, I speak with Hans Scharler about where open source platforms are today, and when it makes most sense to use them.

Bruce Sinclair

 

Internet of Things Pittsburgh Kicks Off on the Global Internet of Things Day April 9th

I have started a new Meetup — Internet of Things Pittsburgh (#iotpgh) — this meetup is open to all steel city innovators looks to explore the emerging  Internet of Things. Join me as your host on the first meetup on April 9th at 6pm at the TechShop Pittsburgh.

IoT Pittsburgh

In each meetup we will feature the following:

  • Current state of IoT
  • Privacy and Security
  • Technology trends
  • Business cases
  • Open discussion
  • IoT project demos
  • Industry presentations

Follow us on Twitter using the hashtag: #iotpgh and join us on Meetup.com.

Ziggy Comic – Is It My Tweeting Toaster?

On September 17th, I got a bunch of Facebook messages that said my Tweeting Toaster was now a Ziggy comic. 🙂

Ziggy Toaster Comic

My Tweeting Toaster is a step in the self-aware direction for appliances. This Ziggy cartoon made me smile, but it also made me realize the inevitability of social objects and the Internet of Things and then Skynet. Hmm, and Ziggy was the name of the computer in Quantum Leap…

[via gocomics.com]

Internet of Things Speaking Tour

As it worked out this summer, I have been asked to speak at a number of events around the United States about my connected projects, ThingSpeak, and the Internet of Things. Many of the events are over a 2 month period so it is a bit like being on tour, but on this tour we are talking the Internet of Things. I will be sure to tear up my hotel rooms and have unrealistic demands. Diva!

May 16 – Online Tweet Chat about Big Data

Join Hans Scharler (@scharler) of ioBridge at 2pm EST for a Tweet Chat about Big Data, M2M, and Internet of Things Platforms. This will be a live chat via Twitter – use the hashtag #DataCW to follow the conversation and to post questions. Ask Us Anything!

May 17 – Internet of Things and OEMs (Canton, OH / Private Event)

Hans Scharler (@scharler) of ioBridge discusses the intersection of Internet of Things (IoT) technology with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). Learn how to incorporate IoT strategies into your business plan and roadmap, increase customer engagement, and maintain your competitive advantages.

May 21 – EntreTech Forum: The Internet of Things – A new Frontier for Entrepreneurs (Waltham, MA)

Hans Scharler of ioBridge will be joining the EntreTech Forum to discuss Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and the Internet of Things from a startup perspective. I will share my thoughts on business opportunities, commercialization, and things that I have learned since I co-founded ioBridge in 2008. The next EntreTech Forum session will be May 21, 2013 – 6:30pm held at the Emerging Enterprise Center in Waltham, MA. EntreTech Forum is in association with the Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship. More Info

May 23 – Geoweb Summit Internet of Things Panel

Hans Scharler (@scharler) will be returning to the Geoweb Summit’s Internet of Things Panel on May 23, 2013 in Dumbo Spot, New York in New York City. We are excited to return for a second Geoweb Summit. This event is perfect those looking to explore the Internet of Things and looking to connect the digital realm to physical location. Registration for the Geoweb Summit is available at geowebsummit.com. More Info

May 30 – Internet of Things and OEMs – Part 2 (Canton, OH / Private Event)

Hans Scharler (@scharler) of ioBridge returns to discuss the intersection of Internet of Things (IoT) technology with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). Learn how to incorporate IoT strategies into your business plan and roadmap, increase customer engagement, and maintain your competitive advantages.

June 7-9 – Connected World M2M App Challenge

Join Hans Scharler (@scharler) of ioBridge for a hackathon held in Silicon Value to build connected apps. Each participant will receive access to the RealTime.io cloud platform and an Iota Wi-Fi evaluation kit. You get a change to win cash, prizes, and fame. The top prize is a feature article in Connected World Magazine and $3,000. Hans will be on hand teaching Internet of Things concepts and everything about the ioBridge platform. More Info

June 10-12 – Connected World Conference (Santa Clara, CA)

Hans Scharler (@scharler) and Robert Mawrey (@mawrey) of ioBridge will running an interactive exhibit at the Connected World Conference in Silicon Valley. Booth #207 will feature the original Twitter Toaster, a social coffee maker, the new ioBridge IO-201, and first look at new ioBridge cloud services and apps. Follow the activity on Twitter using the #CWConf13 hashtag. More Info

June 28-29 – Driving the Internet of Things with Mobile Apps – Appcelerator Titanium Mobile Conference (Baltimore, MD)

ticonf.us is a new mobile development conference primarily based around JavaScript and Appcelerator Titanium.

The “Internet of Things” is a pervasive concept and movement where devices are being connected to the Internet and interaction with devices, social networks, and people are being built. In general things are sensors and actuators which include things such as temperature sensors, energy monitors, radiation detectors, lights, thermostats, and sprinklers.

In the talk “Driving the Internet of Things with Mobile Apps” by Hans Scharler (@scharler), you will discover that mobile apps are leading the development of the Internet of Things. A mobile device becomes the user interface for a device and all of the supporting features. An app is the center of the entire experience and in fact the mobile device is an Internet of Things device. In order to keep up, apps need to be nimble and must support iOS and Android out-of-the-box. Hans will discuss how Titanium is being used by ioBridge to solve the common issues and patterns for the Internet of Things. More Info

Feel free to contact me (Hans Scharler) if you are interested in having Hans participate in your next conference or meeting.

CheerLights: my lights are linked to everyone else’s

If you have been following my projects for the last 12 years, you probably figured out that I must have a master plan. And this plan involves connecting things to the Internet that may or may not turn against us in the future. Way back in 2001, my partners and I released FuzzBox – this technology allowed for artificial intelligence to be distributed to devices via the Web. Our thoughts were if the decision making could be made on the Internet the devices themselves could focus on their task vs. trying to be a super device on their own. This was way early on and the ideas were premature, but it started a series of events and failures that led to even more projects involving devices linked together over the web. I guess this is now called, “The Internet of Things”.

Something that has emerged over the years is social networking. I have been fascinated by the idea of collective intelligence. It’s fun to follow a football game on Twitter or on Facebook’s live stream. You get to see the take other’s have on the same event that you are experiencing. If the Steelers score, you can feel it reverberate through social networks. These networks only work if there is lots of participation by many people. I have heard that people have predicted STD outbreaks from Twitter status updates, food poisoning sources, and even where earthquakes have taken place. This is fascinating to me.

The results are two-fold: you can learn from this data and that we are all connected. Enter in, CheerLights – CheerLights is my combination of distributed devices with social networking. This project that involves connecting multicolored lights to other people’s lights and allow Twitter keywords control them all. If someone tweets, “@cheerlights let’s go green” – every light connected to the project would change to green. To me this is a physical representation of a social network trending topic. It’s a way to share a moment in that moment. Just like with social networking, CheerLights requires scale to be very interesting.  If you check out CheerLights.com, you will see how to build a set of lights that are linked together with other people’s lights via Twitter. I have examples using things from ioBridge, Arduino, and Digi. Please let me know if you decide to build something and connect it to CheerLights.

We are all connected. That’s my purpose for building all of this technology. Nothing else matters.