Over the last decade or so we’ve all enjoyed the rapid expansion of the Internet – faster speeds, better connectivity and mobile range are all lovely things. But you can do so much more with them than play Draw Something against your friends while waiting for a bus.
Some intrepid geeks believe the next logical step is connecting normal everyday devices to the Internet as well. Forget the laptop and phone – they’re already covered – what about that bedside lamp, toaster or alarm clock? Before you start fretting about SkyNet, the uses for this concept do become more apparent as you explore further.
Liverpool is alive right now with invention and creativity, especially when it comes to technology. Adrian McEwen is an IoT developer based in Liverpool and his company builds devices such as Bubblino, the little blue guy you may have seen blowing bubbles at various events and trade shows around the UK.
Bubblino is a bubble machine that connects to the Internet via an Arduino kit; a small, inexpensive circuit board you can fit with sensors and program to do all kinds of funky stuff.
In Adrian’s case he made Bubblino, who searches Twitter at regular intervals for specific phrases or tags. When a particular hashtag appears he’ll do his thing and blow some bubbles, making for a great spectacle and talking point at events.
I’m not winning you over with the usefulness of all this yet am I? OK, here’s another real-world example. On the roof of the FACT building there’s a little garden, which is lovingly tended by the TenantSpin folks.
They’re using Arduinos to help monitor the state of the garden automatically, combining an Arduino with a moisture sensor in a plant pot. When the soil gets too dry the plant can then effectively send a message to the gardener complaining.
Another solid Liverpool example is the Wheredial, a small clock-like device that can report the location of a relative or friend via their mobile phone data. For example, when I go from the office to the pub the dial moves around to “pub” on the display.
It’s the creation of local developer John McKerrell and will hopefully go into full production very soon. There are also many other great IoT projects with a Liverpool connection, such as the Good Night Lamp (pictured, top).
We’re still in the early stages of this revolution but you don’t need Donald Trump’s wallet or Stephen Hawking’s brain to make it work for you. As tangible consumer devices emerge we’ll all become used to talking to our everyday objects. Some of us already do. The revolution will be connected, and Liverpool is at the forefront.
There you’ll find laser cutters, 3D printers, vacuum formers and all kinds of other rapid prototyping tools to make your idea a reality, plus a friendly team of experts – including Adrian and John – who’ll teach you how to connectify your life.
If you’re a coder, product designer, electronics engineer, artist, tinkerer or just curious you should come along. You don’t need to be an electronics guru to get involved, just bring yourself and your ideas.