Why IoT will Fail (and How to Save It)

Buzzword technology has two possible fates: they fail and disappear or they succeed and disappear. Remember at one time “multimedia” and “networking” were buzzwords. They succeeded and now they’ve vanished into ubiquity. Of course, there are plenty of failed buzzwords (like telecosm) that you probably don’t even remember. They just vanished into obscurity.

Unless you’ve been living under the CNC mill in your local hackerspace, you’ve probably heard or read about the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Companies big and small have realized that getting in early on The Next Big Thing is good for share prices and, right now, IoT is where everyone is trying to make a play.

There’s two things I’d observe, though: First, IoT is far from new. Connecting embedded systems to the Internet is old hat (I even wrote a book called Embedded Internet Design way back in 2003). Second, the way it is going, IoT–in its current incarnation–is doomed.

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Fight Frost with an Internet of Things Fridge Alarm

It has been incredibly humid around these parts over the last week, and there seems to be something about these dog days that makes you leave the fridge or freezer door open by mistake. [pnjensen] found this happening all too often to the family chill chest, with the predictable accretion of frost on the coils as the water vapor condensed out of the entrained humid air and froze. The WiFi-enabled fridge alarm he built to fight this is a pretty neat hack with lots of potential for expansion.

Based on a Sparkfun ESP8266 Thing and home-brew door sensors built from copper tape, the alarm is rigged to sound after 120 seconds of the door being open. From the description it seems like the on-board buzzer provides a periodic reminder pip while the door is open before going into constant alarm and sending an SMS message or email; that’s a nice touch, and having the local alarm in addition to the text or email is good practice. As a bonus, [pjensen] also gets a log of each opening and closing of the fridge and freezer. As for expansion, the I2C header is just waiting for more sensors to be added, and the built-in LiPo charger would provide redundancy in a power failure.

If frost buildup is less a problem for you than midnight snack runs causing another kind of buildup, you might want to check out this willpower-enhancing IoT fridge alarm.

Follow Me: Making Servos Track Hand Motion with Leap

The Leap controller is one of those gadgets that is probably better for its cool factor rather than its practicality. The time of flight optical sensor reads gestures, but it is hardly a substitute for a mouse in many cases. It seems like the best uses for it we’ve seen are dedicated systems that need to know where your hands are. [Justin Platz] and [Kurt Clothier], for example, have an interesting demo that uses a Leap to control a Raspberry Pi. The Pi commands servo motors that move LED blocks to track your hand motion. Their code is available on GitHub.

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Google’s OnHub Goes Toe to Toe with Amazon Echo

Yesterday Google announced preorders for a new device called OnHub. Their marketing, and most of the coverage I’ve seen so far, touts OnHub as a better WiFi router than you are used to including improved signal, ease of setup, and a better system to get your friends onto your AP (using the ultrasonic communication technique we’ve also seen on the Amazon Dash buttons). Why would Google care about this? I don’t think they do, at least not enough to develop and manufacture a $199.99 cylindrical monolith. Nope, this is all about the Internet of Things, as much as it pains me to use the term.

google-onhub-iot-router-thumbOnHub boasts an array of “smart antennas” connected to its various radios. It has the 2.4 and 5 Gigahertz WiFi bands in all the flavors you would expect. The specs also show an AUX Wireless for 802.11 whose purpose is not entirely clear to me but may be the network congestion sensing built into the system (leave a comment if you think otherwise). Rounding out the communications array is support for ZigBee and Bluetooth 4.0.

I have long looked at Google’s acquisition of Nest and assumed that at some point Nest would become the Router for your Internet of Things, collecting data from your exercise equipment and bathroom scale which would then be sold to your health insurance provider so they may adjust your rates. I know, that’s a juicy piece of Orwellian hyperbole but it gets the point across rather quickly. The OnHub is a much more eloquent attempt at the same thing. Some people were turned off by the Nest because it “watches” you to learn your heating preferences. The same issue has arisen with the Amazon Echo which is “always listening”.

Google has foregone those built-in futuristic features and chosen a device to which almost  everyone has already grown accustom: the WiFi router. They promise better WiFi and I’m sure it will deliver. What’s the average age of a home WiFi AP at this point anyway? Any new hardware would be an improvement. Oh, and when you start buying those smart bulbs, fridges, bathroom scales, egg trays, and whatever else it’ll work for them as well.

As far as hacking and home automation, it’s hard to beat the voice-activated commands we’ve seen with Echo lately, like forcing it to control Nest or operate your Roku. Who wants to bet that we’ll see a Google-Now based IoT standalone device quickly following the shipment of OnHub?

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Cute Countdown Timer Reminds you of Impending Doom

As things get busy, whether it be an upcoming product launch, a pregnancy, or even the release of your favorite game (or movie!) sometimes it’s nice to have a little countdown timer. Not an app on your phone, but a tangible, physical timer to set on your desk. Which is why SevenSeg is such a cute idea.

[Mohit] wanted to design something that was simple, but aesthetically pleasing — he’d seen free-form electronic projects before and wanted to give it a shot. What he came up with is pretty elegant! A seven segment display is connected via 1/32″ brass rods to the controller, a Particle Photon — which is kind of like a Teensy with WiFi for the internet of things. After putting a few resistors in line with the display, and a bit of frustrating bending of wire later, and SevenSeg was complete.

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Another IoT Platform in the (Blue)Mix

Many major companies (Intel, Oracle, Atmel, and IBM, for example) are competing to be the standard interconnect fabric for the Internet of Things. As a developer, it is hard to cut through the marketing hype and decide which platform is the best for you and your application. Luckily, there’s a plethora of projects on the web that showcase these frameworks. These project sites are an easy way to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of IoT frameworks in practical applications without having to develop prototypes yourself.

[diyhacking], for example, posted a demo of using IBM’s Bluemix along with a Raspberry Pi, to do some simple home automation tasks. The project hardware is modest, using a PIR motion sensor and a relay to control an AC load. However, that’s good because it lets you focus on the Bluemix tools. The example client and server software is less than 200 lines of Python.

Bluemix looks like it has good integration with the Raspberry Pi and features a simulator so you can work without real hardware for development. Bluemix does offer a free plan (with limits), but the fee options may be a turn off to some IoT hackers.

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The Internet of Soldering Irons

The Internet of Things needs — well — things. Do you really need your paper shredder hooked up to the Internet? Maybe. But [Vegard Paulsen] put something on the network that every hacker can relate to: his soldering iron.

In typical hacker fashion, fixing a broken digital display on the soldering station turned into a development project that allows [Vegard] to monitor the temperature of his soldering iron on his phone. He found a handy source of power on the station’s PC board and connected a NodeMCU WiFi device (that uses the ubiquitous ESP8266 and an onboard Lua interpreter).

internet-of-soldering-irons-meterThe data pushes out to the Thingspeak server which handles pushing data out to the bigger network, and data representation (like the cool Google gauge in the picture). The best part: [Vegard] gets a phone notification when he accidentally leaves his soldering iron on. How perfect is that?

One unique challenge he faced was soldering the power wires to the soldering station. This could be a problem because the iron tip is grounded so making the joint while the iron was energized would probably blow a fuse (or worse). Luckily, [Vegard] thought ahead and devised a plan that apparently worked.

We’ve seen other examples of how easy NodeMCU and Thingspeak work to put the mundane on the Internet. It seems particularly appropriate to hack a soldering iron, though.