Sometimes I hear people say that they were initially fans of open source tech as a means to gain free resources only to realize that they were entering into an environment that champions openness, transparency, and the power of collaborative development. In the last couple of years, I've seen a number of interesting commercial and community IoT products that celebrate the benefits of open source hardware and facilitate open source development.
Recently, Berlin startup Senic released their latest product on Kickstarter, a speech-enabled light and open source smart home hub called Covi. As well as being a very nice product, what grabbed my attention was the open source hub. Unlike many larger companies who build closed automation platforms, COVI is built on an open source platform. This allows COVI to integrate into any ecosystem or platform with an open API. It also provides the opportunity for tinkerers to create their own iterations of Covi, based on their interests.
Another company, Movesense, makers of motion sensing wearable tech, recently released an SDK opening opportunities to expand collection and analysis of performance data for over 8,000 sports and various industries.
Their tools enable wearable tech makers to track motion, analyze the data, and gain valuable insights while unlocking a whole new level of sports experience for participants and athletes. And you don’t need to restrict to sports – Movesense can track anything that moves with potential applications in healthcare and agriculture. Makers can build their own wearables or make existing gear smart and connected. They can use the Movesense toolkit to develop, test and take their idea to market faster.
According to Terho Lahtinen, Senior Manager, Future Concepts at Movesense:
“The Movesense SDK offers developers and engineers a powerful engine for motion-sensing applications,” said “Developing, designing, and manufacturing hardware from scratch can take years and millions of dollars, draining the momentum of startups and enterprises alike. With Movesense, companies can leapfrog development to the actual application, focusing on their area of expertise and what will actually deliver value to customers. Movesense democratizes motion data, and by opening the SDK, we expect developers to make possible applications and data-driven insights that we haven’t even considered yet.”
I suspect we'll see some great products emerge that might have sat in prototype stage (or lower) forever.
Open Source Hardware, Smart Cities, and Citizen Engagement
With the success of Arduino and Raspberry Pi, it's no surprise that open source hardware plays an integral part in the development of IoT. After all, without the tinkerer culture and the creation of products such as Lily Pad Arduino, we probably wouldn't see much of the wearable tech that exists today. But Open source software has also played an interesting part in another IoT vertical-smart cities.
Smart city infrastructure is arguably IoT's most prominent vertical after IIoT. It's often argued that smart cities need to be by the citizens, not for the citizens. There are many examples over the last couple of year where open source hardware is used to ensure that local residents were included in setting the smart city agenda in their cities. Here's just a couple:
In Amsterdam, a Smart City Lab empowered citizens to use open source technology to understand their environment better, and take action based on their findings. Citizens met with researchers and tech folks over a series of months to collaborate on local problems such as noise and traffic pollution. The project included classes on designing and building sensor measure kits (although most opted to use the smart citizen kit for ease and better accuracy). The data generated through the project was then used to lobby local city officials and industry over pollution levels.
Red Hook, New York
Another great project was in Red Hook, New York. Red Hook is an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. There is no subway service, only a few Internet hot spots and close to 70 percent of the population lives in New York City housing projects. Residents experience an asthma rate of more than 2.5 times that of the national average and more than a third live below the federal poverty line. Last year a pilot study was undertaken to measure the impact of the environment on resident well-being. To achieve this, researchers utilized IoT sensors to collect and analyze quality-of-life measurements at high spatial and temporal resolution in the neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn.
A new urban sensing platform was developed for the project, the QC Urban QoL Sensor. This is a low-cost, but reliable sensor array using the 5V Trinket Pro by Adafruit Industries. The devices measured air quality, noise, light levels, pedestrian counts, and temperature/pressure/humidity. Four sensors were installed Red Hook at different heights. Local residents were also provided with portable sensors for a short period of time to measure temperature, noise and air quality at five-second intervals. This provided an opportunity to identify problems through data science by those that know the area best.
In both these instances, in disparate parts of the world, open source hardware was utilized to generate data. When this kind of data is combined with administrative, mobility and Wi-Fi usage data it can help communities identify and solve problems, focusing on issues of environmental health and mobility, through new sensing modalities, analytics, and data visualization.
Is Open Source the Key to Interoperability?
Open source is a great way to create IoT products faster and facilitate a plethora of projects. But the sheer proliferation of IoT means that connected products cannot be viewed disparately. Currently, one of the biggest challenges for those that create IoT is interoperability. There's a bewildering number of players trying to facilitate interoperability (often only creating bigger silos of products that connect to each other). In the second part of this article, I'll be walking through the foundations, alliances, and consortiums and trying to make sense of the players, the products, and the possibilities.