This week I had the distinct pleasure of attending ThingMonk, the Internet of Things conference organized by RedMonk. An excellent conference, full of character and — hardly surprising given that it was organized by Mr. @MonkChips himself — characters.
Between the Connected Device Lab at Dreamforce and ThingMonk I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “Why is Salesforce engaging here”?
Simple: IoT, Connected Devices, M2M — whatever you call this new wave of computing that promises to expand our understanding of the world — it has a unique potential to improve the way organizations work with their customers. In fact, the more closely connected these streams of data are to customers, the better. It’s a natural fit for the Salesforce Platform.
ThingMonk IoT Presentations
The event featured a number of great presentations — short & sharp, the best kind! Presentations were recorded and will be available on YouTube in the near future, but, for now, here are some of my key takeaways.
* First and foremost, the “Maker” community is doing the most interesting work. However, most haven’t figured out how to really monetize their efforts. The vast majority of practitioners are concentrating on experiments, a few are attempting to make their work self-funding and a very small number are turning it into longer term businesses.
* There are wide swaths of proposed IoT projects that serve no legitimate purpose. This doesn’t matter much at this stage in the game since most developers and organizations are in learning mode. There are two key challenges here: figuring out what kinds of problems IoT can address well and expanding people’s imagination enough to see those problems in a solvable light. @goodmachine is worth following on this topic and I loved it when @seemaj asked, “Does your project deserve to exist?”
* The wild west approach to “standards” is likely to continue for foreseeable future. This also doesn’t matter much. In fact, at this point in the game, it’s probably a good idea to have people adopt whatever protocol is most useful to them. I predict these issues will sort themselves out in the not too distant future (3 to 5 years). Some approaches will go away and new ones will emerge, but not before we get a couple of relatively pointless “where to put the curly brace” style wars. @rickbullotta is worth a follow in this area as is @ianskerrett.
* User experience, design and other human factors play as important of a role in this emerging model of computing as they do in mobile and other apps. In fact, they may be more important than other areas given the problems IoT is trying to solve and some natural hesitancy on the side of humans being pushed down this path. Check out @clurr‘s UX slides.
* We need to think twice about what we consider a “connected device”. @TomRaftery’s presentation on “People as Sensors” is excellent. The critical part, to co-opt a line from @faludi‘s book on wireless sensor networks, is that once you have a signal, you can use that signal in multiple ways. One way is to use just the information in that signal, another is to interpret that information when combined with a larger context. That latter approach is often the most interesting.
ThingMonk IoT Hack Day
ThingMonk started off with an IoT hack day. I brought over some of the equipment from Dreamforce’s Connected Device Lab and spread it around to the attendees who didn’t bring their own and we got down to business.
James Governor, aka @MonkChips, issued three hack challenges: hack the coffee pot, conduct a robot war and fly a quad copter with bananas.
And then the power went out.
But here’s the great thing about hackers: most people kept going by candlelight. I was able to complete my coffee pot hack in the dark, and without the ability to brew coffee. The hack was simple but effective: I added a flow meter that measured output from a coffee spigot. Another attendee added a wireless sensor to automatically record the temperature of the coffee as its poured into a cup.
The hack itself was relatively simple, so when James asked me to bring it up on stage the next day, I added some of the infamous Salesforce1 Disco Lights and Quad Copter expert @darachennis wired up a way to fly a quad copter as we poured coffee. Here’s the home movie version of it. Yes, we had a lot attached, but it was really three wires that did the work: 5V, GND and digital 2.
I leave London even more energized about the IoT opportunity than I was before. If you’re a developer looking for a challenge, IoT is a fantastic option. Now is a great time to learn more about the people and the technology, and to create new solutions to problems in your industry. If you want to replicate some of the prototypes I’ve been building, checkout the documentation I’ve already posted. And if you have questions, let me know.