How to control a lot of IoT devices – remotely

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“Are you not IoT weary?” I asked the other people hoping to get into the hands-on workshop. This was the last morning of the five-day World of Watson conference. I thought there might be IoT overdose. I didn’t think there would be a queue for the “Introduction to IoT – Build Your Own Basic IoT App” workshop.

The kit

The presenter, IBM’s John Walicki, gave a quick introduction to the Raspberry Pi. This is a £30 tiny computer designed to encourage children to code. Ten million of these computers have been sold in just four years. It is so good only a third are actually used in education. A third are used by tinkerers, hobbyists and makers. But a third are in use in industry – from factories to theme parks.  The Pi is not a child’s toy.

We also were given a Sense Hat. This is a board with a suit of sensors including a gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer, as well as an LED panel. This Hat plugs straight on top of the Pi, like a, erm, hat.

We were given a comprehensive worksheet full of separate lessons. John and his team were on hand to help with queries. I found it very intense. I think I would have struggled if I had not played with a Pi and the visual flow programming language Node-RED before.

The kit for Introduction to IoT – Build Your Own Basic IoT App

The kit for Introduction to IoT – Build Your Own Basic IoT App

Bluemix and Watson IoT Platform

By using Bluemix and the Watson IoT platform, we could monitor temperature locally, but remotely set a boundary for “safe” or “dangerous”. Great if you have 100 different items to monitor, but don’t want to individually change the boundary on each. There was also a more secure option that required a password token.

It was great fun to warm up the Pi and watch the LEDs turn from green (safe) to red (danger). It was also fun to watch the other participants shake their Pi. Their faces always lit up when they received a tweet about the acceleration.

I didn’t finish all the lessons. However, I will spend time learning to use Twilio to send me text messages and a Cloudant NoSQL database so I can run historical analysis.

The possibilities for IoT

I feel the workshop didn’t really show me why I would want to use the different modes. But it did show me how to use them. Now it’s just up to my imagination…

How about kids’ boots? Parents could send a tweet so they flash blue when it’s time they came home? Or if there was a recall on a washing machine? The manufacturer could send a message to all of the affected machines to flash a warning light. Or a theme park where you want all of your dinosaurs to roar at once

Raspberry Pi and Node-RED have reduced the barriers to putting “things” on to the Internet. Bluemix and the Watson IoT platform make controlling, monitoring or even updating those things – securely and in bulk – just another simple step.

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