This “Internet of Things” is kind of a big deal

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IoT is a big deal

Eventually, most of my things will talk to the internet to make my life easier. My smoke detector will let me know when it needs batteries. Our house will let us know when it senses a tornado is coming. The thing I am most excited about is my car driving me to work. With so many applications and the continued price drops in sensors and processors, it is estimated that there will be 20.8 billion things on the network by 2020.

Do you remember the first time you had the internet in your pocket? It was game changing… right?  Any conversational dispute with your friends was easily resolved by asking Google at that very instant. Pretty soon you could not imagine life without your phone. An entire mobile industry was born to leverage your device to make your life easier.  Eventually, IoT will lead to a similar paradigm shift.

Why Build a Lab?

Over the last few years, I have been attending RobotsConf and have become very excited by the maker movement. Eventually, I built a very small lab in my basement where I hacked a radio controlled rock crawler to allow it to be controlled from a mobile device or desktop through a raspberry pi.  Through this journey I have learned a ton about electronics, embedded software, sensors, and machine control systems.

rover

Based on the leanings and experiences of our team at RobotsConf, we decided as a company to create our own lab that could be used by anyone in our organization for project or personal research.   Having previously built out my lab, the partners asked me to lead up the creation of our IoT lab space.  The goal of the lab was to provide the infrastructure and tooling to allow our team to solve problems and build things.

The following is a summary of what we initially put into our labs, and what we would recommend if you are looking to setup something similar:

Key Components of a Lab

When building a lab with a limited budget these are the core things you need.

  • Workbench Sturdy workbenches are crucial to any lab. We love these because they are totally customizable, and you don’t have to spend a ton of money.
  • 3D Printer A 3D printer is very useful for printing sensor housings, or other components to support rapid prototyping.
  • Soldering Iron You have to glue your components together somehow, right?
  • Multi-meter Very important for debugging components that do not work.
  • Storage and Label Maker Lots of little things need to be organized.
  • Wire Tools Making your own wire allows you to customize its length and buy raw wire in bulk.
  • Sigfox Base Station Sigfox provides networking technology specifically designed for IoT applications. The base station creates a local test network for us to build solutions upon.
  • Components Open hardware (Raspberry Pi, Spark Core, SigFox radios, and sensors) that can be used to rapidly experiment.
  • Pi Station Made up of a cheap monitor, keyboard, and mouse.  You need this for debugging your Pi, trust me.

The Build Out

It took about a month and a lot of sweat to build our lab out.  I was amazed by how willing teammates were to help.

First step was a seating area where we could brainstorm ideas (or just kick back and relax on the Oculus):

couch

Standing desks have become the preferred desks,  we added a few in the lab for people to work from:

standing-desk

The Home Depot trip to get lumber for our workstations was a bit cramped:

getting-wood

Building our soldering and our printer stations:

workbench-assembleworkbench-done

Storage bins are great for organizing parts and keeping track of small pieces:

workbench-staged

Lastly, test out all of the equipment.   We did a test print of a blue whistle on our 3D printer:

3dprint

Ben verifies the we have a functioning whistle:

What is next?

We plan to solve some interesting problems. Most importantly, we want to hone our skills building real world IoT applications.  Let us know if you have any interesting business problems that you would like us to tackle for you. Contact us at info@bluefletch.com.

 


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