Charles: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 172 of the iPhreaks Show. This week on our panel, we have Jaim Zuber.
Jaim: Hello from Minneapolis.
Charles: Andrew Madsen.
Andrew: Hello from Salt Lake City.
Charles: Layne Moseley.
Layne: Hello from Lehi, Utah
Charles: I’m Charles Max Wood from devchat.tv also calling in from Lehi, Utah. We have a special guest this week and that is Justin Grammens.
Justin: Yes, thank you and I’m in St. Paul.
Charles: Nice. Do you want to introduce yourself really quickly?
Justin: Sure. My name is Justin Grammens. I’ve been kind of a software engineer for the past 20 years or so. Currently, I teach a class under the Internet of Things at the University of Saint Thomas here in St. Paul. I also am the founder of a company called Recursive Awesome where we work with Internet of Things and in particular kind of data analytics around it.
I also have a weekly newsletter called IoT Weekly News that I’ll kind of pimp here a little bit. If you want to check out what’s going on in the world of Internet of Things, check out IoT Weekly News. I’m also a founding partner in a company called Lab 651 where we’re actually building connected devices through software engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering all under one roof. Finally, I’m a part of a non-profit called IoT Fuse and we work in the community to do pack days, monthly meetups and conferences to try and promote the Internet of Things in the state of Minnesota and beyond.
Jaim: Justin’s been in the mobile space for a long time. My first iOS project I had done it and I rolled off. I went to one of your conferences that you threw, Mobile March this was, I’m not sure, probably 2007. That’s really when I got that phones and tablets are going to be a huge thing, iPhones, iPads.
Justin has been a leader in this space for a long time and I think a lot of the things that went well with mobile are transitioning to IoT. I think driving in the same type of changes in the industry, do you think that’s the case?
Justin: Yeah, for sure. In 2005, I’ve been kind of sick of working for a large corporation so I left and went on my own and kind of fell in love with mobile development just in general. I was kind of looking at BlackBerry and Nokia phones and that sort of stuff during that time. When Apple came out with the iPhone, it was a game changer. We all kind of knew that but I don’t think we knew to the extent that it was going to change that much.
Myself and another person formed a mobile development company and that’s when I kind of had started doing contracts and work and around that really got involved in community. I’m kind of a community guy. I work better with a team. I think everything’s better when you can be open and share a lot of different things.
We started a thing called Mobile March. That was around 2009 is when we started Mobile March and there was a conference that we would do every year in March. We also have monthly meetups so there’s a Mobile Twin Cities user group. We’ve kind of been doing that for many, many, years but around 2011 I hopped into Arduino and it kind of really was sort of a game changer for me. It was realizing how simple it was to have anybody be able to kind of create a connected device and be able to make light blink or a motor turn or anything like that.
If you’re not familiar with Arduino, it’s an Open Hardware platform that anybody can buy and it’s pretty low cost. It’s around $20 for one of these boards and there’s kits you can get for $50 and my mind just exploded. I was sitting there in my office I remember in 2011 and I was like, “You mean it’s this easy?” All of a sudden I started thinking, “Well geez what happens if I can make the motor turn when the temperature gets below a certain threshold or I can make the lights turn on when a motion is detected,” all that type of stuff. I was like, “This is phenomenal.” I really saw this idea of a connected world.
It was not really called Internet of Things at that time. The industry now is kind of glammed on to the term but I saw that as the next wave. It’s basically, like you said Jaim, I feel like it’s kind of the whole sort of mobile revolution is happening all over again here with the Internet of Things.
I formed a community group here in town in 2011 called Arduino.MN. Myself and another guy Jake Berendes ran that group for many, many, years and it was all about open hardware, how can we build really cool stuff. Same thing that happened with mobile in this sort of Mobile March and sort of the Mobile Twin cities initiative. I’ve realized that if I’m tinkering with something in my basement, chance are probably my neighbor is or somebody down the street is.
We kind of ran the flag up the Arduino flagpole and sure enough people started coming to our meetups. We built a really solid community around open hardware and kind of just building on this platform. We always have something to talk about. Somebody was always working on a project. The group is 500, 600 strong now and it’s been kind of morphed now into IoT Fuse which is huge. We have 15,000 people on our meet up now.
It’s one of these things where it’s like if you’re doing it in your basement, reach out to the community, see who else out there kind of wants to do this and chances are you’ll find somebody. Once you start working every month, make sure you meet on a certain day, what happened with us is that the word IoT the Internet of Things kind of became the industry term that people started kind of glomming onto.
In 2015, we decided, “Well, let’s do a Hack Day.” We launched Minnesota’s first IoT Hack Day and everybody came together. We had 15 teams compete and it’s one of these things that, “Well, what can you build in 12 hours?” You start at the beginning of the day, company Minnetronix here in town was nice enough to host us at their space, pitch your idea and after 12 hours we open the up doors and anybody from the community can come in and vote. The winner, they get bragging rights, there are some hardware that they’ll get from various vendors but it’s just a fun day. We did that in the fall of 2015. We did it in the fall of 2014, fall of 2015, and now we’re setting up to do it again here on the fall of 2016. Lots of fun stuff.
Jaim: It’s a really cool event. I was the iOS mentor for the last one which wasn’t at Minnetronix but Leonardo’s basement.
Jaim: In Minneapolis. Great event, cool to see people working on. I was really excited about the tacobot which delivers tacos based on your location.
Andrew: I want one of those right now.
Jaim: They’ll go into production someday.
Charles: Mm. Tacos.
Justin: Now there’s been enough interest where we’re going to be doing it twice a year. The one you did Jaim was kind of our mother’s day make-a-thon so that was in the spring. We’ll have ones in the spring and ones in the fall now. It’s just a lot of fun to have people. I actually have a deadline so this is what happens to me too. I sit on projects for months, “I’ll get to that, I’ll get to that.” Well, with the whole thing of a Hack Day, there is a deadline. What can you get done. It really forces you to really buckle down and spend the whole day really working on your idea.
Andrew: What are some of the examples of what people came up with during the Hack Days?
Justin: Hack Days. The team that I worked on, we were actually sensing your face, your facial recognition. Google has a series of APIs that you could use. I wrote an Android app based on what your facial expression was. There’s happiness, there’s fear, there’s sadness, there’s anger.
I did the Android app and I sent the data up to the cloud and then two other members of the team, they dealt with analyzing that data and then we actually had a light and a speaker system that would adjust based on your happiness. The more you smile or the happier you looked, the music would change and it will start playing Celebrate Good Times by Kool & The Gang. If you were sad or whatever, we had other music that would be played and lights would go up and down based on that. That was really cool.
We had the tacobot like you said. There were people that were doing sensors based on noise throughout the city and collecting and analyzing data and then plotting it against maps which is actually really cool. Most people know visually what a city looks like but what they wouldn’t understand or be able to visually see I guess is how much noise pollution goes on within the city especially if you were say, a developer and you’re looking to build a new campus, it would be great if you were to understand how much noise you’re basically going to be running into. That was kind of a big data analytics play. There was another group that was doing water, basically the cleanliness of the water.
Again, the whole point of a lot of these stuff is actually piping it to the internet, sending that information up remotely so you don’t actually have to go out and do a lot of measurements and samples. I know at the Hack Day, there was a group that did, they were GoGo gadget and they connected teddy bear and when you grabbed its harm it would say, ‘left arm, right arm’ but what’s kind of cool is you could actually adjust it and it could speak in Chinese or speak in some other language. Not only do you actually have a toy that your child would play with, the kid will also be able to kind of get some education out of it too, as well.
There’s a group that I worked with in a previous one, that was last fall. We did an internet connected pillbox. Whenever the pillbox was open, it would actually snap a picture. There were lights that were lit up underneath so the patient would know which medications they should take and then the caregiver would be alerted that the person had opened the pillbox and actually be able to see the picture of their pills.
It’s really over the place. There’s some really, really interesting stuff. The group was actually connecting and playing music based on your brain waves so they actually had a xylophone that was there that they had wired up on a bunch of motors to.
What’s so cool about that stuff is that it’s so maker-oriented. The electronics are one piece of it but I really think the Internet of Things is more than just the tech and the electronics. It’s really the experience and in a lot of ways the craftsmanship of what you build. That’s where I think this whole world between physical objects and the electronics inside of them takes a number of different skill sets to be able to build something that is actually valuable and that actually really solves a problem well.
The Hack Days are a time to just really explore. People bring in 3D printers so we 3D print stuff there, we’ve had laser cutters that we’ve had access to use, of course soldering stations all that type of stuff, and people just really get their hands dirty and just build some stuff.
Charles: That sounds really, really fun. I’ve done a few things with Arduino. I know that Andrew’s done a bunch of stuff with Arduino as well. Do people tend to gravitate to that platform or do they use some of the other ones that are out there as well?
Justin: Most people I think start out maybe with Raspberry Pi, I guess. It feels to me like most people just kind of go there first. I don’t know why for one reason or another, it just seems like Raspberry Pis are just more well-known still to this day even though Arduino has been out for 10 years now. Most people maybe start on Raspberry Pi.
The beauty of Arduino and even Raspberry Pis and all these type of stuff is really sort of the democratization of this technology that literally anybody can work on this stuff. I tell people it’s not going to be Apple or Google or Facebook or those people that are going to have the next billion dollar idea, it’s going to be the kid in the garage next door or it’s going to be somebody who’s playing in their basement and working with Arduino or Raspberry Pi. That to me is just amazing. I love the fact that this technology that was before could be thousands of dollars now. It’s so reachable by such a large group of people that it just opens up a whole bunch of really very unique opportunities for people to do this stuff.
To tie it back to iOS, that was phenomenal what Apple did too. For $99 now all of a sudden, you can start publishing your app to millions of people. They opened up essentially the ability for somebody to sit in their garage and sit behind their Mac or Macbook and create something that would make them a lot of money and that actually solved a lot of problems which is really, really, fascinating. That’s how I see a lot of similarities with what is going on with open hardware, Arduino, Raspberry Pis in the world of Internet of Things.
Layne: I want to ask about the class you teach, It sounds cool and maybe somewhat unique.
Layne: Tell us how that got started and what you do.
Justin: Sure. In fact, it’s very unique. It’s probably the only graduate level of class in the state of Minnesota that’s actually pinned as Internet of Things. The University of Saint Thomas has kind of led in a couple of different areas. They started a big data analytics practice. The thing is part of their graduate programs there, probably three or four years ago. They really started and it’s grown. It is just one of their biggest programs going on right now. There’s such a need for people to do big data and analytics. They approached me last fall and they said, “Hey, we’re looking at kind of doing a class on the Internet of Things. We know that a lot of stuff that you are doing out in the community. We’d like to have you do this class.”
I did my graduate work there. I actually have a masters in the University of Saint Thomas. I kind of knew the faculty, I knew some of the people there. I was like, “This sounds like a great opportunity.” I knew it would be a lot of work. There really aren’t any books like, “Okay, here’s the step by step way to create a class on the Internet of Things.” I really had to kind of feel my way through it.
We launched the class this past spring. It’s kind of funny, I met with the associate dean and he was getting ready to basically put it out for registration and he’s like, “If we only get five or six people, we’ll probably have to cancel the class.” I’m like, “Okay.” He puts it out there and within two days it was full, 30 people signed up for the class and they had a waitlist. There was definitely a huge amount of interest there.
I was like, “Okay, well I guess it’s time to get to work now.” I started putting together what this class is going to look like. Knowing the mindset of a lot of people that are in the class, it’s the graduate programs in software, GPS there, the people that are going through this program are taking this as a night class first of all. Pretty much 99% of them have day jobs. Typically they’re not in the Internet of Things.
I would say the breakdown of the class was probably 90% people that were software engineers at all sorts of place, Thompson Writers, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, General Mills, these are all places that are traditionally not doing Internet of Things. I would argue that they should be. Now, we’re starting to train people that are going back to their workforce that are thinking about this type of stuff but these are people that are usually just doing software by the day and are just kind of curious about sort of how hardware works.
The class is 14 weeks long. The first part is a lot of industry and trends, where it came from, where it’s going, where I see it going and even I encourage the class do a lot of explorations. There’s news articles being written literally every minute on the subject. I had a lot of homework sessions and other work that they do to kind of find the latest and greatest articles that are going out there. Hence, my IoT Weekly News publication, that’s a great source.
The soon as they understand what the IoT is, what it’s possible of doing and just kind of start thinking differently about how connected devices are going to change the world. After five or four weeks or so into it, we get these kits and students actually start getting hands on. They learn how to solder which is totally unique for somebody who thinks somebody going through, at least when I went through the software program there wasn’t anything like this.
Layne: I did electrical engineering in college and I don’t think we ever soldered. I did a lot of my own as a hobby before I went to school. I always thought it was silly. There’s no soldering iron anywhere in electrical engineering curriculum.
Justin: Right. I really wanted people to actually get their hands dirty. On day one, they are told that they’re going to have a capstone project that they’re going to have to develop. I have them start thinking about what they want to do because that’s like 60% of their grade is basically this capstone project.
The capstone project is very open-ended. I didn’t want to pigeon hole anybody. You can use any platform you want, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be Arduino or anything but what I want you to prove to me is that you understand the pipeline. You understand how you get data off a sensor, somehow through the internet to some cloud-based service, and then show me a chart or a graph or some sort of time series data that’s real time that we can kind of see, “Oh great, you understand how to work through it.”
From there on up, it just gets better. How does this thing scale? How would you use a message cue for this? What happens in remote deployments? All that type of stuff. What sort of fallback measures do you have? That’s when you start talking about, “Okay, now you’re talking about A type work.” But to just basically be able to understand all the way through is really what I’m looking for in sort of that capstone project.
Throughout the middle of the course is really giving you the tools and the time to be developing this stuff. Like I say, they all get the SparkFun kit. I also think it’s very important that they don’t just hear words from me but they hear people from the industry. I invite in guest speakers to speak. We’re very fortunate here in the Twin Cities. We have a lot of really awesome IoT companies here that most people maybe haven’t heard of or maybe you have but I’ve been fortunate enough to kind of be in touch with a lot of these companies.
One is a company called SmartThings. They are all around home automation, smart home. I know a couple of the founders over there. I had one of their VPs of engineering come in. He talked all about connected home and kind of how SmartThings is positioned. They got purchased by Samsung a little more than a year ago. They are now basically a Samsung company but they still brand themselves as SmartThings, I had those guys come in. We also have a company called ExoSite. They’re in town here, they have a platform for aggregating this data, collecting data. They’re kind of whole cloud-play.
A couple of other companies are in town too, one of them is called Particle, they actually were founded here. They have a Wi-Fi module that allows you to write Arduino code and can take data off sensors and push it up to their cloud. It doesn’t have to be their cloud, I should back up on that. You could push it anywhere you want but the beauty of what they did is basically to kind of extract all of the headaches that you would typically have to deal with setting up Wi-Fi. They found a module that works very well, they made it small, they made it low power, they made it cheap, and you essentially can buy one of their boards. They have a board called Photon and they also have a new one that they just came out with now called the Electron which is a cellular-based one which some of the students actually ended up using for their project.
Another company in town called Punch Through Design, they do bluetooth low energy, very similar to what the guys at Particle are doing. They allow you to write Arduino code and then be able to interface with any BLE device out there. The biggest BLE device out there that everybody will probably know would be the iPhone. A lot of people actually ended up writing some pretty cool apps that would use Punch Through’s technology to communicate with their iPhone. They wrote an app in Swift and were able to communicate.
One of them that just comes to mind, just as a sidebar, this guy actually created an internet-connected toothbrush which is at first glance is kind of a bit ridiculous but there actually are health studies that are out there that show that lack of oral hygiene actually leads to heart disease and hypertension and a number of other things. He was coming at it from more sort of health angle play.
I don’t shoot down anybody’s project ideas. These are all very worthy ideas that all these students created. He used Punch Through’s little board, attached to a toothbrush. He actually made this. He brought in his toothbrush that was connected on the last day, their module actually has an accelerometer built on it as well and a temperature sensor on it as well.
He was using the accelerometer. He would open up an app that he had written in Swift. He pretended that he was brushing his teeth, you could see all the data basically flow through on the app. The data will also get sent up to a centralized depository in the cloud too as well. That’s really, really, cool stuff. It’s awesome to have these companies here in town that are literally in our back door.
We have a company called Digi International which I’m going to be having one of their engineers come in. They have a number of different modules and boards, stuff that they’ve developed in particular around this technology called ZigBee and Z-Wave. They actually have their own module called XBee which they’ve done very well–which is kind of an ultra low power frequency protocol. They’re in town. The list goes on and on.
There’s a number of really, really awesome companies here in town. I’m really excited to have other people come in and kind of speak to the class so they don’t just kind of take my word for it. Over the course of that, they’ll get one of these Punch Through boards, they’ll get a Particle board, they might get some XBee stuff from Digi, and so they can kind of assemble together what they would like their project to be. The last two classes will have–this is what we did, past in the spring and what we’re going to do again here in the fall, there will be big presentations at the end. All the students were able to present their ideas of what they built. That’s kind of the class in a quick nutshell.
Charles: That just sounds like fun to me.
Justin: Yeah. It’s funny, some of the people that are in the class, a lot of them worked at these big corporations. There were a couple that were in the class that actually have been doing sort of IoT projects on their own or worked for a company that was kind of this space already. I was like, “Why are you here? You could probably teach this class.” Those students in particular we’re just like, “I just don’t do enough of it at work. Even though it’s kind of my job, I really want to have time outside of work to really work on fun stuff that I want to work on.”
It goes back to this kind of having a timeline thing. My basement is littered with tons of projects that I’ve just started and haven’t ended. For them to be like, “Hey, every Wednesday night I have three hours here and I’m going to learn about this stuff and I’m going to actually be able to set aside time to really follow through and make some progress on these projects,” is great for them.
Jaim: That’s very cool. You talked about a number of ways collection the data, and some of the basic ones are just cellular. You can buy a Particle kit and they’ll talk right to the cell tower. That goes right up the cloud. You could do Wi-Fi. You talked about BLE which is a good way to get to your phone. Your phone can upload the data however you want. You also talked about some other technologies that listeners probably haven’t heard of like ZigBee and there are ton of other ones. Can you talk a little bit about those?
Justin: Yeah. I could tell you a little bit I guess of what I know about them. A lot of these other ones have actually been used in home automation for quite some time. There would be a wall plugin you can plug into your wall to remotely turn on and off a light. Those have been around for a long time and a lot of those were actually ZigBee-based.
Again, it’s another range in the Wi-Fi spectrum or in the radio frequency spectrum just like the old cordless phone days where you just have a cordless phone that would connect to a central place. ZigBee, Z-Wave, XBee, these are all various technologies that are very cheap, they are very low cost, the cost of these chips are a fraction of what would be to have a cellular chip or to have even a Wi-Fi chip. They’ve been very popular for hobbyists and other sort of home automation people to kind of work with. I guess I wouldn’t say that home automation is the only place that they’ve been used, they’re definitely used in sort of industrial space as well but the hardware has been pretty specialized.
The downside with some of these type of things going with the ZigBee type solution is it needs to be able to talk to sort of protocol both ways. Getting it to then to talk to your phone, your phone doesn’t participate in this, I guess the other thing that I would say is that these are all mesh networks. These devices communicate with each other via a sort of mesh topology. They’re broadcasting out and communicating point to point.
There is actually underlying specifications on how this technology should work. It’s not secure at all which is interesting. You’ll read about Internet of Things companies actually putting out devices that are not secure and a lot of the reasoning behind that, I feel, is that the underlying technology a lot of the stuff was built on was actually predates. A lot of the SSL and encryption and requirements that are now put in place and that everybody kind of expects on a lot of these devices.
These technologies like ZigBee and Z-Wave and such, they have their place and they’re for short to medium ranges. I hear that the new BLE, 5.0 and some of the stuff that the guys are doing at Punch Through, now they’re getting BLE ranges that are going hundreds and hundreds of feet. I was over at their office this past spring and the guy was like, yeah, I was standing here at our door and he’s like, “Do you see that parking lot out there?” And he’s like way on the other side he’s like, “We’re still picking up a signal.” I was like, “Wow.” BLE again uses more power, get much more longer distance but can talk with your phone or most–phones come with BLE chips in them so they can communicate with that.
Things like ZigBee, Z-Wave, XBee, those type of things are very specialized but they work well on a small scale, cheap devices, mesh network. One of them can go down and the whole network doesn’t go down. There are ways for them to continue to communicate with each other not being reliant on the cloud. Again, they’ve been around for quite sometime, they’re just a different sort of range in the radio frequency spectrum.
Jaim: Before IoT is the buzz word, this was all done in manufacturing places they call them machine to machine, M2M. They did a lot of the same type of things where you’re going to wire the whole factory for wireless. It wasn’t even available back then. You wire these devices so you can get whatever sensor you needed from whatever machines or components. It’s definitely been around for a long time.
Justin: Yeah. I guess how I classify IoT as being different than M2M because it’ one of these things I really talk to my students a lot about is that in a lot of those cases, those factories were just one factory and it was just one machine talking to one other machine. They were based on various arcane and proprietary technologies and they weren’t bringing any other data from any other source. Really, what IoT kind of did is let’s kind of blow the doors off this thing, let’s start connecting factories to other factories, let’s start bringing in weather data real time or other types of data from other systems that are not even related to your factory and how can we analyze that and crunch that data and even close to the edge. Even within the factory, it doesn’t even have to go to the cloud anymore.
There’s a lot of companies that are actually putting edge computing devices out there like Cisco and Dell are kind of the two most well-known ones that are putting these edge computing devices out there that are actually monitoring all of your machines at the same time and monitoring with other data and then now can react. I think in a lot of the worlds of machine to machine, it was just collect but not actually take action. The world of the Internet of Things is based on all this data. Now, how can I change the outcome?
One of the biggest things that I’ve seen is Intel on their factory floor, they’ve been doing this for quite some time, they will actually monitor the vibration and other critical things of their machinery. When a machine goes out of balance, they actually shut it off. The machine is actually able to turn itself off because what they’ve learned is that if this machine continues to work out of balance, now all of a sudden it becomes $100,000 maintenance fix whereas if this machine would actually shut down and maybe slow down production for a period of time until they fix it, that would be no way near the consequences of this machine continuing to function until it actually completely broke.
IoT really takes that idea of M2M and it just kind of raises it up with more data, actionability back into the environment and then of course more insights and sort of analytics around what’s going on within your entire business, not just within the factory.
Jaim: That’s cool. IoT is M2M extreme.
Justin: You got it. M2MX.
Jaim: You heard it here first.
Charles: This is a question I always like to ask, If somebody is new, is there a good place for them to get started? You mentioned kits, is that a good way to go or do you want to go on some maker website and see what projects they recommend? What do you tell people who aren’t taking your class that think this sounds really fun?
Justin: Well, there’s two sort of required books for the class. One of them is free. It’s actually a free PDF, I would suggest you download it. It’s called Designing the Internet of Things. There is a ORiley one called Designing for the Internet of Things which is super confusing but that one’s not actually very good, I don’t think surprisingly. This free book, a guy named Adrian McEwen put out, it’s really, really, good. It’s a couple hundred pages. It talks about Arduino. There’s actually code and stuff that’s in there that you can follow along with. It talks about security, it talks about good design which I think is super important.
It’s in one of these things that I actually try and stress very much with the class. The students that are in the class, they’re software engineers but I want them also to think like a startup and actually think like a designer. When they go ahead and design there capstone project, they need to think about what is the user interface. Could you do something with a light or vibration instead of a screen? What’s the setup mechanism for getting this thing set up? How easy is it to the cellular and sort of plug and play, that’s great. If it’s Wi-Fi, how does a person configure it? If they need an app, what app do they get? Can you build the app? All that type of stuff or is it as simple as, “Wow, I can just type in a couple of things and a light lights up and the device just works.”
Where a lot of that stuff is moving towards is another book that I have required for the class that’s called Calm Technology. It’s by a woman named Amber Case. She was our keynote at our last IoT Fuse conference earlier this spring. Her big thing is how can you design these devices to basically work with you. You as the human don’t need to change your routine, these devices sort of adapt to what you need to have them do.
There’s a guy who’s been doing this for many years. If you just Google David Rose from MIT, he has a book called Enchanted Objects, that’s another one I definitely recommend a book that you check out. In one of his books or his videos, he talks about an umbrella that the handles lights up based on the weather. If it’s going to be raining or whatever, it will turn red. If it’s going to be clear, it’ll be blue. The whole idea is you don’t need an app anymore. You literally on your way as you walk out, you just look at the color of the handle and be like, “Should I grab this or not?”
That’s what he does at MIT is basically develop a lot of these really, really, cool technologies that are there and are around us but really don’t impact our life because they should only have to impact our life whenever they’d really need to do. We don’t always need to have to be looking at an app or looking at our screen or typing something in. What if these devices were these intelligent enough or enchanted as he calls them, enchanted objects, to basically be able to sort of adapt and kind of work with us. Those are sort of three sort of books that I think are good.
There’s various sites out there, Hackster is one. I think there’s one called Hackaday too as well where people just post their projects, stuff that they’ve done which is awesome. They will basically post up, here’s all the components you need to build this, here’s a video of various pieces of it, here’s the code and you can literally just kind of assemble what the project that they did in the day.
Adafruit is a really good site. I mentioned SparkFun so that’s what we used for our inventor’s kit but Adafruit is another really, really, awesome site that I would suggest checking out to buying components and kits. They have a bunch of stuff there but they also have a whole section on tutorials, just a bunch of different stuff that people have built and you can literally like just follow along, buy all the components and kind of assemble that.
I’ve written a number of mobile apps in my career. I’ve been a software engineer for a long time and the best thing to kind of go off of and get kind of your appetite and get going is actually looking at somebody else’s code, looking at what somebody else did and just getting something simple going. It’s really what it’s all about is just getting something very simple and then you can tweak it from there. You can be like, “Oh wow, theirs doesn’t do this. I’m going to work on now enhancing what this initial sort of project did.” Check out some of those resources for some good places to kind of get started.
Andrew: I really like the word enchanted for these devices. However, I think I’ll really believe that when my dishes start to wash themselves for me, I think that’d be pretty great.
Charles: Oh, please invent that, please.
Andrew: I mean, can you imagine how cool that would be? Now, I got my brain thinking like what if you put a little chip in there that could sense when it was in the sink and it would like start to vibrate or something or trigger the water and vibrate so that it would kind of wash everything off. There you go. Free idea.
Layne: That is a billion dollar idea right there.
Justin: We had some really interesting ideas I guess that came out of the class and I can try and remember. I mentioned the toothbrush. There was a guy that did Internet of Things fishing rod. Based on the bend on the rod, it would light up and vibrate. It would be kind of the virtual fishing assistant, I guess. That one was kind of cool.
A group did a smart mirror which was actually done at a Hack Day. This was a different group but we actually did that at one of our Hack Days where they actually took a tablet, mounted it to the backside of a mirror and you can actually still see what was there. As you’re getting ready in the morning, you could actually speak to this thing. There’s some really, really cool voice recognition software out there. They could speak to it and ask it to read about the weather, read about the news, take a look at its calendar and stuff like that. That was neat.
A guy did a project called Hotdog where he was monitoring the temperature inside of a car. This dog would basically wear something on their collar and it would be one of this sort of alert system through his dogs and other animals I guess that get locked on people’s cars and they end up dying. This was a unique idea to help you monitor your dog.
There was also like a homemade thermometer, it’s like a sweatband that this guy put on his child and basically monitor their temperature while they’re sleeping.
Speaking of monitoring and monitoring your kids, there was a guy, again I’m going from memory here, but it would basically sense noise and he wanted to make sure that his daughter was actually practicing her piano everyday. He had this little box that he put inside the piano and it would alert him wherever he was that she was actually playing the piano at that time. Of course, you chart it over time and see how long she was playing and all that type of stuff. It was just some really, really cool types of stuff.
From that stuff to even this guy who had an impact sensor, a lot of these sensors come in this kit. We’re taking stuff that’s just off the shelf components and using them in kind of unique and different ways. I did in a concussion monitor. This is something that would be put inside of a helmet for hockey. In his particular case, he wanted to understand the amount of impacts that his son was having.
Lots of really cool stuff like I said, that’s just sort of off the cuff kind of example of some of the projects that I remember the students doing this past spring. We’ll have a whole round of doing them again this fall. The class starts next week already.
Andrew: That’s really cool. One of the things that I have trouble with is thinking of what to do. Possibilities are endless which in my brain means that there are no possibilities at all. If you give me like one sensor, one application I can come up with 50 things but like give me a million things and million sensors, I have no idea what to do and I’m going to go watch TV or something. How do you coach the students or how do you guide the students to get ideas?
Justin: That’s a great question because I could tell a lot of the students their eyes were huge. For the first class, I was saying, “You can do anything.” They’re like, “You mean I can do anything?” I was like, “Yeah.” I mean it’s like wow, I don’t even know where to start because like you said.
All those examples I gave to you, those were solving specific problems. This guy has a daughter who he wants to know that she can practice her piano. This other guy is worried that his kid is going to be sick and have a temperature in the middle of the night and he wants to know about it. This other guy has a kid who plays hockey and he wants to make sure that he’s safe. I guess really what I tell people is, “Solve for your problem.” I tell people, “Scratch your own back first. Look around and see things that you’re doing in the world where it’s like this would be easier if, fill in the sentence. Those will be the projects that you’re going to be passionate about and actually kind of get done in this time frame.
Also, B, if it’s a problem to you, it’s likely a problem to someone else out there too. You could write this in open source set or like I say, put it on Hackster and let other people learn from it. I will say that in particular for this class, if students said, “Look, I just want to monitor the temperature of my house.” I’m like, “That’s fine. That’s totally fine. That’s completely reasonable. If you can’t think of anything else that you want to do, just start with something like that.”
The very first project that I did was actually, and actually it’s still sitting there in my basement, in my office, it just monitors the light in my office. It doesn’t even do any motion, it’s not wired into a light socket or anything like that. It’s just sitting there with the light sensor that comes in one of these kits on it and when I flip the light on in my office, then people know that I’m in my office. When I leave my office, I turn off the light and people know that I’m not in my office. I’ve just been charting this data over time more or less just for curiosity in terms of how often I’m really in my office and in what days and all that type of stuff.
If somebody wanted to do that, very simple example for this class, great. I would say then once you do that, that’s cool. You could do it in the afternoon. How can someone configure this into a real product? What sort of case would this thing be in? Figure out how you would 3D print a case to put this type sensor and this board or whatever it is. How would this thing scale? Imagine there’s a million of these things now, are they all going to be pushing this data to one server in there? That’s not going to work. What’s going to happen when the internet’s down?
I really sort of encourage my students but I also encourage you, anybody out there who’s listening to this. Start with something simple, that’s great but then think about how to productize this and then you’ll come up with a ton of different ideas. You’ll come up with a ton of different problems that you’ll need to solve and it’s not so simple anymore which is where the fun part comes in. It’s all these sort of little wins as you develop the product or you develop your idea. Like I say, it doesn’t need to be a product per se. This could just be a hobby that you work on for years.
Charles: It’s funny that you mentioned like the temperature thing for the kids. I went to CES this last year, I go every year, and they had something like that there. They were just packaged up neatly and prettily and had a nice app on it. It’s interesting that we’re talking about something that’s, “Hey, this is an interesting and fun project.” But realistically, it’s something that people will actually use and buy and they’re going to give floorspace to at CES. IoT is everywhere and it’s becoming more and more prevalent. Your hobby project, as you said, maybe something that people are just interested in or really want.
Justin: Yeah, exactly. It could be the next billion dollar idea. It could be the next Kickstarter too. That’s another thing that’s been amazing. I talk about some of these companies here in town, SmartThings, Particle, Punch Through, these three companies all did Kickstarters. They all were basically born out of Kickstarter ideas. What’s so cool about a lot of these things that you can do in your weekends in your basements with component just laying around and kind of stitch them together in sort of a new way. It’s just that you can test the market. Kickstarter has really allowed lots of people to just kind of throw their stuff out there and see what sticks.
I’m sure that the guys at SmartThings had no idea that they were going to raise a million dollars with their Kickstarter campaign. Their whole story was their CEO had his house out in Colorado flooded and jeez it would have been nice for him to know about that before he shows up there and there’s $50,000 worth of damage. He was looking around the market and being like, “There’s nothing out here that really would sense a water and send me an email,” or whatever, a text, that’s all he needed. That was kind of where the whole idea of SmartThings and connected home sort of came from. They put it on Kickstarter out there and everybody bought it and the rest is history. Totally.
I encourage people just to create stuff. If you have the wear with all and the ability to actually test it on just an even smaller scale. A, test it within your home, cool, great, now you’re monitoring your kid. Give it to your brother or sister or your mom or your dad, or your friend or your neighbor and say, “Hey, would you be interested in sort of testing this?” You’ll be very surprised.
There’s a company that I’m working with as their CTO and we’re doing sort of smart connected lighting and actually passing information through this idea of not needing an app. Couldn’t there be a way that you could actually use lights to alert you in a different way.” We did a pilot this past spring around snow emergencies. Here in the Twin cities if you’re not familiar, there will be a big snowstorm and there’s certain sides of the street that you can park on. Every year, lots of cars get towed because they don’t understand it’s an odd side, or an even side, or a north-facing street, or south-facing street. These guidelines are posted and now they actually have apps, so the cities have apps. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just drive down the street and the one side of the street is lit up in red and the other side of the street is lit up in green and it’s like, “Oh, I parked on the green side.”
We actually did a pilot here in St. Paul where we controlled the lights where we had one side of the street red and other side of the street green. The guy who actually founded the company, he’s the CEO, we were setting these up on the street and one of his neighbors comes outside and he’s like, “What are you guys doing out here?” He’s like, “Well, why don’t you tell me?” “Which side would you park on?” And the guy’s like, “Green side.” He’s like, “Right.” His neighbor had no idea what’s going on but he’s like, “Makes sense to me,” and he went back inside.
Again, this was just an idea. We’ve been working on technology to kind of build that out. I’m not sure if it’s going to go the Kickstarter route but there’s a lot of other opportunities or places that you could just try this on your street with your neighbors to kind of see if it’s going to take off.
Charles: Now I want to go tinker.
Justin: Got that bug in you. That’s the point of a lot of this stuff. It’s just getting people excited enough to do it.
The other thing that I will say too is that I teach graduate level but I also mentor. There’s a group here in town called CoderDojo. Jaim, are you familiar with them at all? Have you gone and mentored at any of their stuff?
Jaim: Not with the CoderDojo. I’ve done the Code Camps.
Justin: Code Camps.
Jaim: Code Club, part of the Umbrella organization but not that event.
Justin: Okay. Every three weeks or so, they basically have three hours. It’s hosted by the University of Minnesota and they have mentors, they’re always looking for more mentors. If anyone’s listening to this and they’re in the Twin Cities area, please reach out to CoderDojo because they try to keep the ratios low where it’s like three students to one mentor. There’s always hundreds of students that want to do this and it ranges in ages from I think it’s like 7 to 17 are pretty much the age range of these students that come through.
I got involved with them very early on and we were doing all sorts of different sort of coding things. One of them was write a mobile app, the other one was develop a website. They use this thing called Scratch, if you’re all familiar with that that allows kids, young ages, to basically be able to do programming, programming by dragging blocks on the screen and the way that the blocks interlink forces them to understand how looping conditions work and how conditionals and if-analysis and all that type of stuff, sort of how that stuff works.
Anyways, they were doing some of that type of stuff and so I mentored there a couple of times and then I was like, “Hey guys, this must be really cool to have an Arduino on.” The guy who founded it, he’s like, “Looks like you’ve just volunteered to become the Arduino mentor,” and I’m like, “Okay.” I got our company to basically buy 15 of these starter kits and we’ve started doing Arduino sessions.
Now I’ve been working with kids all over the spectrum. It’s amazing. Kids will come in, they’re like seven to eight years old and the simplicity of going through one of these books, it’s literally like, “Take these and plug this in here. Take this and plug this in here. Here’s the code, cut and paste it. Upload it to the board and now you’ve got a light blinking.” The kids, their eyes just light up, they’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I made that light blink.” I’m like, “Next thing is how do you make it blink faster? How do you make it blink a pattern?”
There’s just so many different things that you can kind of take them on with three hours and have them sort of explore all that stuff. I’ve taught kids how to program Arduino as young as seven years old and they’ve got something out of it and then as they progress and sort of advance through it, there have been numerous times that the kids that are in there are better than me. There were a couple of kids in there that were 15 and 16 years old that have actually been tinkering with the stuff. Geez, I wish I had this stuff when I was that age. I had an Apple and I was programming basic but they actually have access to all the sort of hardware and sort of understanding Wi-Fi technology and cellular and just everything that’s kind of going on. These kids are just amazing. They’re asking me questions and I’m like, “I have no clue of what you’re talking about.” Very fun.
Jaim: That’s great and that sounds a lot like what Apple’s doing with their data code thing where you can go to an Apple store and you can program these little robots to move around and kids just love it. You can just see their minds working and figuring out, “Wow, look at the stuff I can do with those technology.” It’s really great.
Justin: For sure, yep. The Saint Thomas class is going here this fall. The University of Minnesota now is doing a class in the spring and one of the guys who’s a partner of mine in Lab 651, he’s going to be teaching that class. There’s another place in town here called Century College and they have this whole thing called Fab Lab, it’s this fabrication lab and they just opened that up just a month or so ago, they spent like a million and a half dollars building out this fabrication lab which has got 3D printers, and CNC machine and all sorts of really cool equipment that the students can use. The educational system now is actually starting to kind of wake up and realize, “Okay, we need to start training people in this stuff, this is the way of the future.”
I wish they would train iOS development or Android development or other type of mobile development in colleges, they seem to be kind of getting a little bit better in that space now. It’s taking them some time but it’s very exciting to kind of see colleges actually set up sort of these centers and trying to educate people around IoT and get them sort of thinking this way because we need to have a strong workforce to kind of keep things going here. Not even in the state of Minnesota, it’s just across the entire country and worldwide. This always helps when people have access to this technology but then also are kind of well-trained in best practices.
Andrew: I think you’ve blown our minds.
Justin: I know.
Andrew: Sitting here in awe, thinking of like a million different product ideas.
Justin: Cool, cool.
Charles: Alright, well let’s go ahead and do picks then. Andrew, do you want to start us off with picks?
Andrew: Sure. I’ve got two and a half picks today.
My first one, I know I picked it in the last two episodes but I’m going to keep picking it which is the Mac development workshop I’m teaching in November. That’s something I’m really excited about. Come to Salt Lake, we also have an online option if you can’t come to Salt Lake for a week and learn how to do Mac development. This is meant for people who are already iOS developers. If you want to find out more, it’s skillshop.me.
Then, my second pick is SparkFun which was mentioned earlier in the episode but I just think they’re a really great place to get all kinds of Arduino and Internet of Things and hardware hacking stuff. They have a lot of products that they’ve designed themselves. They sell stuff from other companies. One of the companies I like about SparkFun is that at least for the products that they design and make, they’re all open source so they give you the schematics and source code and everything you need that if you wanted to, you can build your own without buying from them. The reason that’s valuable is because say you built a prototype using their stuff and then you want to make a real version that you’re going to put into production and you use their battery charging board or something while you can actually see how their battery charging board works. You use that as the basis of or even just to learn about how you might design something yourself. That’s SparkFun.
Adafruit also goes in that category, also really good. I’ve just bought more stuff from SparkFun than I have from Adafruit.
Then, along the same lines is Digi-Key which is kind of an old stand-by electronic component supplier. They, do most of their business selling to companies. I know when I worked as an electric engineer we always ordered all the parts that we could get anyway from Digi-Key but they also sell to just regular people. You can order just a handful of parts and that’s a really good place if you want to buy just things like resistors and capacitors and chips, whatever. That’s where I get most of my individual components. That’s Digi-Key and those are my picks.
Charles: Very cool. Jaim, what are your picks?
Jaim: Okay, I want to do one pick and it’s kind of a piggy back pick but it’s something that I’ve been putting in the back burner for a while. I was at the IoT Fuse conference, Justin talked about earlier, and the keynote speaker Amber Case has talked about cold technology and that’s just something that works without banning your attention, something that is reliable.
One of the mains that you brought up is like a tea kettle. If you want to boil water, you put some water in the kettle, you turn the heat and you go away until it whistles and you know it’s done. That’s a perfect example of a cold technology. You’re putting it on there, setting at a temperature you want to do, making sure it texts with your phone and whatever things we have to do.
She’s got a book [01:05:06] that Justin talked about, but for developments of apps and especially Internet of Things, I use it as the goal of what we should get to or what we’re building or something that just works. It doesn’t demand much attention, configurations, it’s just something that people can use. It’s really an eye-opening concept just having a cold technology. That’s going to be my pick for today. That’s it.
Charles: Alright. Layne what are your picks?
Layne: I have two picks. My first pick is obviously this guy I met today named Justin Grammens who gave the best introduction to Internet of Things ever. It blew my mind.
Charles: Never heard of him.
Layne: Yeah, totally awesome. Thank you, so cool.
Totally unrelated, I finished a book last night called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s kind of a young adult book but I thoroughly enjoyed it. He, the author, what he did is he took all these real historical photographs and built a story around them and he has them inserted into the book. About every 10 or so pages you see this really old photograph looks kind of strange and it’s intertwined in the story. It just creates this fantastic narrative. A movie of the novel is coming out I think later next month, so super cool. That’s it.
Charles: My wife loved that book. I haven’t read it but she would back you up on that pick.
Layne: Yeah, it was fantastic. The pacing was amazing and the photographs were just so cool, really great.
Charles: Alright. I’ve got a couple of picks. The first one is, mostly the only IoT project that I’ve done so far is Pinewood Derby Track. I’m still tinkering with it. This is kind of inspiring me to go back and add a couple more features that I want it to have but I’m really digging it. It was a lot of fun to put together both the physical construction with the lumber as well as the electronics construction.
I did a whole bunch of electronic stuff in high school. I was also an electrical engineering major in college. Yeah, I did some stuff there but as Andrew said, not a lot of soldering for whatever reason. I guess it’s mostly math. That was a lot of fun.
I’ll also put a link in the show notes for another thing that I want to try and that is on the Raspberry Pi Build Your Own Amazon Echo. Now, I understand it doesn’t have the name recognition so if you say Echo or Alexa, then your own Echo will light up and do something for you. With this, you have to push a button in order for it to know you’re talking to it. But other than that, the idea is that developers can build these systems and then they can build skills is what they call them for the Amazon Echo. I think it would be really fun to build something like that and then build something into some other system so that you can essentially automate some other IoT stuff, and there are links into smart things and stuff.
Anyway, I’ll quit rambling about that. I thought it was an interesting idea though and I wouldn’t mind when I’m sitting in my desk just to reach over and tap the keyboard on my Raspberry Pi and then tell it to do something.
Anyway, the last two things I’m going to put out there, one is iOSRemoteConf last year. I finally got the videos up. Yes, I’m slow. Anyway, you can go check that out at devchat.tv. I’ll put a link in the shownotes but it’s devchat.tv/iOS-remote-conf-2016. I am currently in the early stages of planning next year’s Remote Conference so if you’re interested in that then when you go check that out, if you buy an After the Fact ticket then you’ll get notified about the next one and probably a discount code.
The other one is I know that there are a lot of different code bootcamps out there that people are involved in. They get going on the bootcamp and they graduate and some of them have trouble finding a job. In a lot of cases, it’s really just their approach in some of the things that they’re not doing that could get them there. I’m doing a series of webinars on that. Some of them are paid, some of them are free. You can go check that out at devchat.tv/webinars and you can get the full list of that.
I’m also working on a book about how to find a job. You can get a package with the book and the webinars. Anyway, if you’re interested in any of that, go check it out. Justin, what are your picks?
Justin: You stole one of mine with the Echo because that is a very much a calm technology. The future’s going to be with voice. You’re going to be able to ask things and Amazon I think really took a great leap ahead by putting this intelligent thing into your own. All the developers, it’s going to be very interesting to see this developer community, what they can start building. There are already integrations in the SmartThings and being able to tell Alexa to turn on and off lights and adjust temperature and all that type of stuff. Very cool.
The other thing that sort of came to mind that I was going to mention was have you guys seen the Dash at all? That’s just this push button thing where it’s like, “Hey, I want to buy more Tide.” It’s another sort of Amazon idea. I remember it came out actually in April 1st and everybody thought it was an April Fool’s joke and Amazon was like, “No, really you’re actually going to be able to push a button and you will have more stuff delivered to your house from us,” which is genius.
Apparently, Target’s been worried about Dash. They’re worried that Amazon one up them on this. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of proof out there to kind of say that they sold a lot of these but I think it’s an interesting idea and I would say definitely I guess my pick is look up the Dash and maybe buy a couple of them, see if it fits within your lifestyle.
Charles: Awesome. If people want to follow up, check up on what you’re doing, follow you on Twitter, GitHub, etc. where do they find you?
Justin: Just search for Justin Grammens and yes, I am on the social medias. You can find me there. Also, I’ll plug IoT Weekly News. If you got to iotweeklynews.com, you can kind of see my thoughts about the Internet of Things. Every week, we publish it on Wednesdays. All my contact information is there. Feel free to reach out.
If you’re in the Twin Cities, I’d love to get a coffee, I’d love to have you come over and see what we’re doing with Lab 651 as I mentioned in the beginning where we’ve kind of built this consultancy here now where it’s not just software anymore. You need electrical, you need mechanical, you need embedded design.
At Lab 651, we’re kind of a full service shop for connected devices. We do software embedded mechanical and electrical design all here. We have a lab, we have some really cool equipments. We’re just kind of getting set up and going here. We literally just opened our office a couple of weeks ago. Stop on over, love to have you in, and I’ll catch you on a conference or two.
Charles: Alright, sound good.
Jaim: Awesome. Thanks.
Charles: You have a fun one.
Justin: Thank you.
Charles: We’ll go and wrap this up and we’ll catch you all next week.
Layne: See you next week!
Justin: Take care.