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.

Internet of Things DCWEEK Workshop during DCWEEK

DCWEEK invited me to host a dedicated workshop for the Internet of Things. We had a session learning about what IoT is all about, some basics of electronics, and then a hands on section. In a matter of minutes, we had things online. A group sent a tweet from a button and others moved a motor from a web page. It was great to see a roomful of adults happy to tinker with some new technology. What a great experience!


Keynote Speech at Web of Things 2011

I had the distinct  privilege to be invited to give a keynote speech at the Web of Things Workshop 2011 at Pervasive 2011 in San Francisco on June 12, 2011.

The perspective of my presentation will be from my vantage point of being involved day-to-day working on Internet of Things projects with ioBridge and how we turned projects into products for consumers and manufacturers. Our perspective is that we see the Internet of Things being built from the ground up versus the top down. This means that there is so much innovation that will bubble up from small companies that will revolutionize the industries above them. I am honored to be part of the Web of Things Workshop.

Updates:

The Web of Things conference turned out great. I got a chance to meet the researchers and developers in other areas related to the Internet of Things and the cross over into wireless, social networking, and web technologies.

Here are the slides from my keynote presentation at the Web of Things Workshop:

ThingSpeak: Building My Own Twitter (for Things)

Over the past several months I have been working on software to allow “things” to form social networks and send status updates via the Internet. At first glance this may sound very impractical. Hopefully, in a few years this will make more sense as better applications come out. Remember how ridiculous my toaster sounded three years ago? I gave that thing a voice and since has been on TV and more people are interested in it than my Twitnot not saying ter status updates. More proof? At CES 2011 there were at least 10 appliances that could send Twitter status updates. I am not saying that I created them, but I am that they didn’t know about My  Toaster and it’s 600+ followers on Twitter. With this project, I wanted to take it a few steps further and build something from the ground up that’s focused on collecting enormous amounts of data from everyday objects, allowing devices to interact with each other, and building applications to present some meaning. The ThingSpeak project is finally ready to go and open to anyone that wants to start building applications.

My Problem

One problem with the Internet of Things is the concept of “the killer app” – the app that defines a new industry. The internet connected refrigerator is our poster child. Recently, Ryan Rusnak connected a mini fridge to the iPhone via ioBridge, added a motor controlled beer selector, and strapped on an air cannon to fire beers to his couch from 25 feet away – now that’s a killer app. So, my problem was trying to find an application that highlights key features of ThingSpeak and why it’s different.

My App

What I come up with is the idea of “my_house”. “my_house” is a collection of “rooms” that all hold computers, appliances, and sensors aka things. I recently installed some light sensors in “my_room” that push light levels to the ThingSpeak API. I did this to remind me when to turn my lights on so I don’t work in the dark when I get plugged in. And an interesting side benefit was that now I can detect whether or not someone is in the room based on the light level. I will admit this could have been done other ways, but sometimes you solve problems with what you have lying around. “my_house” already keeps track of my location using Google Latitude to control my thermostat.

Eureka moment…

Now I can tell when my mom goes into my room when I am out on the town, most likely Sheetz!!!

Below is a screenshot of the demo app and how I aggregate the data collected by my light sensors. Here are a few things I want to point out:

  • “my_house” is sending the status updates via a collection of networked sensors
  • The status updates were generated by the light sensor device itself
  • The timestamps were recorded by the ThingSpeak API
  • If you click the chart icon you get what the actual light level was
  • The app works in real-time and you can check it out here

"Twitter of Things" ThingSpeak Demo App

The Technical Details

The light sensor uses a Netduino Plus that connects to my home network over Ethernet. This device uses Microsoft .NET Micro Framework and I wrote an application that interfaces with the ThingSpeak API. I also wrote a tutorial over at the ThingSpeak community site on how to use the Netduino Plus for those that want to get started with it fast.

The front-end application is written using only HTML, CSS, and jQuery. I have the fully documented source code attached and you can also see the app live in your web browser.

Light Sensor Netduino Plus

Project Files:

Web of Things Talk at Ignite Pittsburgh

I will be giving a talk at the first annual Ignite Pittsburgh a part of the O’Reilly Ignite Global week. Ignite is series of 5 minute talks on any topic – 20 slides at 15 seconds each. I will be giving a talk about the “Web of Things” aka “Internet of Things”. This is the future of connected devices and a new era of self-serving applications. This topic is near and dear to me as I have been connecting things together for a long time. It’s also the focus of ioBridge and some of the projects I work on. We used to kid about ioBridge being one step closer to SkyNet…it may actually be true given enough time, iterations, and scale. Who knows how many times civilizations have been to this point before?

My talk is about the things that surround us – iPads, Toasters, Fridges, and Cars – and pose some questions – what if they were connected? What are the issues that we must consider? How can we can we disconnect in a connected world? After the talk I will post the slides and if they record it, I may or may not post the video.

Web of Things Ignite Talk

Ignite Pittsburgh

Brillobox
7pm
Febuary 10, 2011

Abstract and Credits

Update:

Ignite Pittsburgh

Social Networking for My Toaster

My Toaster Tweets

That statement sounds odd. Well, let me explain. My friends would describe me as the kind of person that has a lot of time on their hands. They would be right. That time is never put to productive use, but over Thanksgiving I got the gumption to start a new project. Sometimes, I start little servo, robotic, web-based projects for my own gratification, but I get fed up with all of the time I invest just so I can impress my 3 friends that also have nothing do to over the holidays.

My friend Jason Winters has been working on an module that simplifies the connecting of projects to the internet. He sent me one of his ioBridge modules to beta test and my mind started spinning. My goal this Thanksgiving was to think of a crazy project that would be the most senseless thing someone has ever heard of before.

Again, My Toaster Tweets…

Twitter is a social networking site that allows you to tell the world your current status – kind of like a microscopic blog that gets to the point. You can write, “Hans is going to lunch” or “Hans is tired”, etc. It’s fun to follow people and see what they can do creatively with just a few characters of updates.

I use my toaster when I am home and I thought that the world may want to know when I’m toasting.

Twitter Screen Shot

How do you make a toaster twitter?

I grabbed my old bagel / toast toaster and glued a switch to the outside, so when the slider gets pressed down it triggers the switch and when it pops up, the switch opens (couldn’t be any more binary than that).

Toasting Position

The ioBridge module has a digital input that I can hook the switch up to and monitor that state of toasting or not. Using a terminal board, a pull up resistor (1k), and some alligator clips, I hooked up the resistor from the digital input to the +5v source from the module, and clipped my clips on the resistor and the ground. A few pictures are worth more than my description.

Toaster Hookup Close Up

Module Hookup

Here is the whole system hooked together:

Twitter Toaster System

The Web Stuff

Using the ioBridge website, I created an event widget that monitors the input state of that particular digital input. And when the input is “high”, the site sends an HTTP POST to the ThingSpeak API to send a message to Twitter. ThingSpeak calls this “ThingTweet” and is one of many services that you can use to build Internet of Things projects.

MyToaster IoT Gadget

Follow My Toaster on Twitter at twitter.com/mytoaster. I think that I proved that I have too much time on my hands.