Featured on a Samsung Blog: My Thoughts on the IoT Fuse Conference, IoT Pain Points and How Minneapolis Fits In…

In the wake of this year’s IoT Fuse Conference, I was invited by Samsung to write about the state of IoT, how Minneapolis fits into the past and future state of technology.

Event Recap: IoTFuse connects Minneapolis and beyond

Article follows below.

Continue reading Featured on a Samsung Blog: My Thoughts on the IoT Fuse Conference, IoT Pain Points and How Minneapolis Fits In…

IoT Pre-Mother’s Day Makeathon Report

On May 7th, 2016 the organization I co-founded, IoTFuse held an Internet of Things (IoT) Makeathon, which was titled the, “IoT Pre-Mother’s Day Makeathon,” given that it was held the day before mother’s day.

I strongly believe in the makeathon format as a vehicle for idea generation and innovation within the, “Internet of Things.”  We are at an age where technology has advanced to the point where from a hardware prototyping standpoint, people, not just highly trained engineers, but people of all different stripes, can easily prototype amazing connected inventions within a short timeframe.  We are living in an age where using open-sourced electronics hardware platforms such as Arduino, we can focus on, “what to build,” rather than, “how to build it,” which opens up the floodgates of creativity and value in much the same way that software deployment via internet collaboration has done over the last decade.  What’s great about the makeathon format is that this creativity takes place in a social realm.  IoT Makers from nearby areas are able to meet and hang out with each other, feeling relaxed, having fun and allowing minds to expand while doing what they love.  This environment is one that allows us to move upward among the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, gaining social fulfillment and bits of self-realization along the way as we accomplish tasks which we thought were not possible.

This face-to-face social interaction among like-minded intellects is something that has often been missed in our modern, remotely-connected world: the spontaneous, productive yet non-work-related, effect of creativity through fun and serendipitous social interactions among diverse mindsets.  Community-driven makeathons today truly are a marketplace of ideas, the modern-day analog to the Ancient Agora of Athens, where schools of thought forming the basis of Science and Philosophy were born, the coffee shops of London in the early 1700s, where modern insurance was invented, or the role that taverns played in forming modern Democracy leading up to the American revolution.

We are living in a society and an age where innovation and creativity is more important than ever.  As the world transitions from an American-dominated economy to one in which multiple large, formally developing countries and regions such as China, India, Latin America and certain areas of Africa continue to contribute greater manufacturing and innovation prowess, we need to find ways for our own citizens to train themselves to become even more innovative, and add greater value through creativity and exploration for where we lack in numbers.  Makeathons are a way to achieve that self-training, to accelerate learning in a self-motivating, dare I say, “fun,” way.

With that being said, the following is an abridged run-down of the Pre-Mother’s Day Makeathon, which I had posted originally at our Meetup group.

First off, here’s a Twitter Feed of Pictures from the Day.

Jen of IoTFuse, sporting the new IoTFuse T-Shirt, who is also taking a picture of someone wearing an IoTFuse shirt (also pictured – Alex).

IoT Pre-Mother’s Day Makeathon: WINNERS ANNOUNCED

First off, congrats to our top three winners:

GRAND PRIZE – CHOREBOT!  Angeliki B.

Angeliki returned to this IoT Makeathon with another extremely ambitious project, after founding the robotic xylophone team during the Fall IoTHackDay 2015, in which the team built a fully automated xylophone and hooked it to an EEG, all in one day, with a team of four.  Chorebot was another highly ambitious project where Angeliki and her team started from scratch and built both a physical containment robot body with “report buttons,” as well as a screen with a user interface, all in one day.  Her team’s ambition is truly incredible, and what they pulled off in one day in terms of both technology, and physical building of a nice-looking prototype is amazing and reminiscent of an episode of myth busters.  Kudos to Angeliki and team!

GOLD MEDAL – Internet of Lakes – Doug T.

Another highly ambitious project from Doug T., who also happens to be the guy who originally proposed that we make this particular IoT Makeathon have a, “Mothers Day,” theme.  This project, which included five total team members, was particularly interesting not just because it is an environmentally-beneficial invention, being designed to get rid of invasive species in a sustainable way, but also because of its use of a vision system to detect algae.  This is an autonomous floating droid which essentially sits out on the lake, working away throughout the summer.  A mobile phone camera was strapped to an internal tube, through which lake water is pumped. An algorithm that the team built helps identify and filter out and separate algae from the healthy lakewater.

SILVER MEDAL – Mood Changing Speakers – BROCK J.

If you have met Brock personally, then you may already know that he is a visionary who pushes the limits of what people normally believe to be possible with the current state of technology, and that he truly embodies the IoTFuse spirit.  On Saturday, Brock and his team of two other developers started out with a pile of LEDs, a couple of old mobile phones, and a few dusty bluetooth speakers, and ended the day with exactly what he had promised – a system that uses facial mood recognition to reactively operate a speaker and LED light column in-real time, as well as play a song which coordinates with one’s mood.  It sounds incredible, but if you were at the makeathon that day, you would have seen that they actually did it.

Overall it was a great day, with amazing participation from experts and volunteers who came to help out.  Special thanks to our experts Jaim Zuber (Jaim’s Podcast)Theo Kanning (Android Developer from the Nerdery), Jake Berendes (Logo Design), Nick Velander (CAD Design & Manufacturing), Dale Brose (Marketing), Justin Grammens and Brock Johnson for helping to source prize sponsors, Jen Denglman for all of her help, support and for buying and bringing food, everyone who helped out and participated at the workshops throughout this year and of course thanks to our platinum sponsor the Nerdery, and hardware/IoT donations from Seeed Studio, Electric Imp, Intel, and Punch Through Design.

Huge thanks to Leonardo’s Basement, Steve J. and Connie R., for hosting us, and helping to spread the word about the event.  We definitely could not have done this without such an awesome maker-space to be able to work in.

Until next makeathon!

Shenzhen, China: The Roots of the Internet of Things, “Giving Tree”

From November 30th through December 20th, 2015 I traveled back to China by way of Beijing, and down through Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, Nanning and back through Guangzhou and Shenzhen.  I had worked in China from 2009-2010 and have been back and fourth many times, mostly doing consulting and sourcing work.  My motivation for travel this time was because of the emergence of the importance of the concept of the, “Internet of Things.”  I would like to write a bit on why China (and specifically Shenzhen) relates to strongly to the Internet of Things in my mind.

Definition of Internet of Things

I take great pleasure in pointing out the silliness of those who use the term, “IoT,” to indicate something precise and definitive, when in reality the term, “IoT,” is an abstraction, tantamount to saying, “putting computers on stuff,”…perhaps one could even coin an acronym “PCoS.”

When discussing IoT, there are those who furrow their brows and give the ‘stink eye’ to technologists, making statements such as, “We don’t think the IoT is right for our company,”  or, “It’s too early for IoT.”  This is tantamount to saying, “We don’t think the technology of the Universe is right for investment.”

What I believe has happened as the term, “IoT,” has come to prominence, in essence becoming a more democratized term which many are familiar with – the usefulness of the term among technologists has gone down as the pool of people purely interested in technology becomes further diluted with people who have a less fundamental understanding of what it takes to build new technology.  The meaning of words change over time, and the acronym, “IoT,” has shifted to become more of a marketing term, and less of a technological designator.  Ultimately as large technology companies have pumped enormous amounts of money into advertising campaigns, Twitter hashtags and YouTube commercials featuring the wonder and magic of an imagined future.  This has appealed greatly to consumers, bloggers and dreamers, but I believe in the process the term has become diluted among those who are interested in actually hacking, building and learning things.

Full disclosure: being that I founded a Meetup group focused on, “Internet of Things,” discussions, I am just as guilty of perpetrating this term dilution as the large technology companies such as Cisco, but I would be remiss in saying that I have not enjoyed the process.

Moving the Internet of Things Forward in 2016

We live in a free marketplace of ideas, so terms and words shift over time.  I believe that the core of many technologist’s interest in IoT is the enablement of a global neural network of software-laden, connectable devices which can work in tangent or with existing network infrastructure.  Freescale has used a, “tree analogy,” to describe the Internet of Things in a 2014 white paper, What the Internet of Things (IoT) Needs to Become a Reality.

  • The Leaves are the Applications
  • The Trunk and Branches are the Software
  • The Hardware(s) are the Roots

Internet of Things Tree

This analogy is good because it is simple, but also because it elicits an allegory of responsibility. Like the 1964 Children’s Book, “The Giving Tree,” teaches environmental stewardship ethics, the 2014 Freescale Tree analogy can remind us that we have a responsibility for technological stewardship, much as the boy from, “The Giving Tree,” had a responsibility to take care of the Tree.  Technologists who are interested in designing, coding, and making/manufacturing a have a responsibility to give back and nurture and grow the Internet of Things, in much the same way that the boy had a responsibility to nurture and grow the Tree.  Those who do not have a good enough understanding of how designing, coding, and making/manufacturing work have a responsibility to improve their skills and understanding to continue to be valuable in the future. We must use the fruits of the Internet of Things, but we must also all take responsibility for helping to grow and nurture the Internet of Things.

Why China

Guilin, Guangxi in December 2015
Guilin, Guangxi in December 2015

As such, I took it upon myself to travel back to China, and gain a better understanding of what the current state of the, “Roots,” of the IoT, “Tree,” are in the centermost point of the world’s electronics and mobile phone assembly, Shenzhen.  I also took a look at what the current state of, “Chinese Internet Innovation,” in multiple other cities in China known for Chinese Internet development.  Since I used to work and live in Shenzhen, I’m hoping that my insight on the city and what I found there will be valuable to whoever reads my articles.

My background is in electrical engineering design, product development and manufacturing.  As I mentioned above, I have spent over a year cumulatively working and living in Shenzhen (and nearby Dongguan) since 2009, and developed and launched my own product out of Shenzhen, the Solar Ninja.  Over the years I have watched Shenzhen and Dongguan transition from a highly hand-assembly and completely volume-focused manufacturing center in 2009, into a much more automated design center with factories scurrying away from the center to other more low-cost cities.

As a final note, while I am aware of some of the many ethical and moral challenges China as a country faces, I tend to attempt to err on the side of engaging heartily and without judgement about these societal issues with Chinese vendors in Shenzhen and have chosen to keep my writings primarily related to technical and business-related considerations rather than ethical and moral.  I put this statement in here so that those who are concerned are aware and can reach out to me for a separate discussion.

The View From My Desk

I have been traveling a lot in the last week or so since my last post, so it has been a challenge getting some time to put together a nice, coherent post.  But I have definitely learned a lot about the startup scene in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou that I look forward to writing and posting some fascinating new info here.

For now, I’m taking a bit of time to sit and schedule my factory visits next week in Shenzhen and Guangzhou.  Here’s the view from my desk.

View from my desk in Yangshuo County, Jiangxi province, China.
View from my desk in Yangshuo County, Jiangxi province, China.

 

Yes, That “Fog” Really Is Pollution…But There’s An App for That!

I arrived in Beijing at around 8PM on Monday, Nov 30th 2015 after a long and grueling flight from Minneapolis via Detroit and Anchorage.  The flight in Detroit was heavily delayed and re-routed through Anchorage, Alaska of all places…much to my surprise.  The captain came on the loudspeaker just prior to take off, explaining why:

Folks ahh…we’re sorry about the delay here, uh, we’re having a bit of a delay and we’re going to need a stop off in Anchorage to re-fuel.  There’s ahh…heavy air pollution at our destination so we’re going to need a little bit of extra in case of the need for an overshoot.  Ahh…Thanks for flying Delta and we’re happy to have you aboard.

Basically the low visibility being caused by pollution in Beijing might have required an overshoot – necessitating extra fuel to bring us to some other, less polluted city…perhaps Seoul, or maybe even Gary, Indiana.

Forbidden City with Pollution
Purple Haze in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China makes me really not want to kiss the sky at all.  Photo taken Dec 1st, 2015 at around 7PM China time by Vance Trendov. (Caption thanks to Jimmy Hendrix)

When we landed and got off the plane into the airport there was a distinct, “angle-grindery” odor.  Beyond the purple / brownish / grey haze you see everywhere walking around the city, I kept noting this distinct lighter-colored, “indoor” haze in all sorts of interior areas which we visited – the train station, the airport, and large buildings.

There’s an App for That

If you’re from Minnesota like me, then you are either likely obsessed with talking about the weather or know someone who is obsessed with talking about the weather.  But whereas in Minnesota we’re talking about whether it’s going to either snow or be 90 degrees in October, in China it’s all about the AQI – the Air Quality Index.

There’s an app called Air Quality China which shows you this weather metric, so that you can take different types of actions – such as wear a mask, stay inside, or smoke some filtered cigarettes to clean out your lungs a bit.

Air Quality Index for Thursday morning at about 6AM Beijing time.
Air Quality Index for Thursday morning at about 6AM Beijing time.
Air Quality China shows you the air quality in real-time. Tuesday is shown on the left, ranking from "Green" (Healthy) to "Grey" (You're Dead).
Air Quality China shows you the air quality in real-time. Tuesday is shown on the left, ranking from “Green” (Healthy) to “Grey” (You’re Dead).

There’s Also an Internet-of-Things Device For That

I’m here with my friend Vance Trendov from Minnesota, and we were very fortunate to be able to go visit an old buddy of mine from the UMN – Justin Kwan, who has been living in China since 2007.  He runs a company he founded called Principle M – which features bespoke suits, mostly for the Beijing market.  I definitely recommend that you check them out if you’re ever in Beijing.  He showed me an interesting device he keeps at his office and home – the XiaoMi smart air purifier – Mi Air Purifier.

Justin Kwan with Xiaomi Air Purifier at the office.
Justin Kwan with Xiaomi Air Purifier at the office.

This purifier is WiFi connected, and app-controllable.  Obviously the pollution levels are not always, 100% in the, “Grey/Death” range – so you can control the air purifier remotely and shut it off from anywhere in the world.  This saves Mi Air Purifier customers energy at their home and office.  Interestingly…on a grand scale, if everyone were to use this device there would be a tiny bit less pollution because a lot of the pollution in the colder regions of China comes from coal-fired power plants.

I woke up Wednesday morning and surprisingly, it was 100% clear, blue skies.  The wind had pushed the pollution away.  You can see that reflected on the app shown above in this article.  So in effect, Beijing’s problems have temporarily been put on someone else’s lap – some other part of China, or perhaps Korea or the ocean.  Long-term, the Chinese government has a plan to reduce pollution – but with this week’s extreme highs it seems like they have a long way to go.

The north end of a Forbidden City Palace on Dec 2nd, 2015, the day after the sky had cleared after a period of high AQI.
The north end of a Forbidden City Palace on Dec 2nd, 2015, the day after the sky had cleared after a period of high AQI.