Getting in touch with the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things involves making objects smart by giving them the ability to communicate with the outside world. We've been prototyping - and we're pretty pleased with the results.

The Internet of Things (IoT) was one of the core themes at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.  For those who aren’t familiar with the term, IoT involves making objects smart by giving them the ability to communicate with the outside world.  This means that your fridge could tell you what is available to eat for dinner, your car could tell you where it’s parked and your sandwich maker could tell you that is unloved, disillusioned and alienated. And so on.

This month I’ve had the opportunity to get the soldering iron out and install a bit of digital chattiness into some of the ‘things’ we use in our stores.  Like Nick’s Christmas Robot Project, I’ve been using an Arduino for the main control board. This has the advantage of being a) very cheap b) difficult to break c) easy to program and d) very extensible.   Extensibility is probably the biggest benefit since there are a large number of readymade circuits, such as WiFi and Bluetooth modules, that are ready to be ‘plugged in’. Then all that’s left then is a bit of simple electronics, which can be picked up pretty easily by looking through some of the examples online.   If anyone’s interested, we could run a couple of workshops that would get you up and hacking pretty quickly.

Now that the soldering is complete, and three wreaked prototypes later, I’m actually pretty pleased with the results. The next step will be concealing all the snazzy looking electronics inside a rather plainer little black box. I’m using our office Makerbot 2 3d printer to help me to do this.

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It’s interesting to reflect that this could be the future of consumer electronic products. That is modular electronics, housed in a customised case that can be 3d printed specifically for the purpose in hand.  We’ve already seen the start of this trend with the popularity of multi-purpose boards like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Google’s Ara has taken this a step further, by creating what has been described as a ‘Lego’ phone.  But equally some experts argue that the cheapness of hardware could also negate the benefits of hardware customisation, so his approach may never be economically viable.  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime though, grab hold of an Arduino and a WIFI module, integrate it with something bizarre and tell us all about it!   In the words of Bob Hoskins ‘It’s good to talk’*

*Especially if you are a sandwich maker.

If you'd like to know more information you can email us at labs@uk.tesco.com, or let us know your thoughts with a tweet @TescoLabs