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Build your own open source hardware Nest-style smart thermostat


Alan sez, "Spark.io provides instructions for making your own Nest-like 'smart' thermostat. Of course it's entirely open source, with files on github."

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Your refrigerator probably hasn't joined a botnet


A mediagenic press-release from Proofpoint, a security firm, announced that its researchers had discovered a 100,000-device-strong botnet made up of hacked "Internet of Things" appliances, such as refrigerators. The story's very interesting, but also wildly implausible as Ars Technica's Dan Goodin explains.

The report is light on technical details, and the details that the company supplied to Goodin later just don't add up. Nevertheless, the idea of embedded systems being recruited to botnets isn't inherently implausible, and some of the attacks that Ang Cui has demonstrated scare the heck out of me.

For more speculation, see my story The Brave Little Toaster, from MIT's TRSF.

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Cubli: motorized reaction-wheel cube that can balance and walk on its edges and corners

A clever combination of motorized reaction wheels, sensors, processors and software allow the 15cm^3 Cubli to balance on its corner or edge, and to stabilize itself in the face of disturbances, or spin on its corner. It can also ramp up its wheel speed, brake them suddenly and use the angular momentum to leap up onto its corner from a flat rest, then fall onto a proscribed side, and leap up -- walking, in other words.

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Internet of Things Bill of Rights

Pt and Limor write,

The New York Times asked Adafruit's founder and engineer, Limor 'Ladyada' Fried to contribute to an article series called ROOM for DEBATE. We believe Internet of Things devices should all come with a well established expectation of what they will and will not do with consumer's data. In the article we put together the start of what we hope will help this effort: Minimizing Risk Is Easy: Adopt a Bill of Rights

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By His Things Will You Know Him (podcast)


(art by Daniel Martin Diaz)

Earlier today, we published my story "By His Things Will You Know Him," which is from the forthcoming Institute for the Future anthology "An Aura of Familiarity: Visions from the Coming Age of Networked Matter." I've read the story aloud for my podcast, if that's how you prefer your fiction.

MP3 Link

Internet of Things and surveillance

Bruce Schneier's got smart things to say about surveillance in the age of the Internet of Things:

In the longer term, the Internet of Things means ubiquitous surveillance. If an object "knows" you have purchased it, and communicates via either Wi-Fi or the mobile network, then whoever or whatever it is communicating with will know where you are. Your car will know who is in it, who is driving, and what traffic laws that driver is following or ignoring. No need to show ID; your identity will already be known. Store clerks could know your name, address, and income level as soon as you walk through the door. Billboards will tailor ads to you, and record how you respond to them. Fast food restaurants will know what you usually order, and exactly how to entice you to order more. Lots of companies will know whom you spend your days --and night -- with. Facebook will know about any new relationship status before you bother to change it on your profile. And all of this information will all be saved, correlated, and studied. Even now, it feels a lot like science fiction.

Will you know any of this? Will your friends? It depends. Lots of these devices have, and will have, privacy settings. But these settings are remarkable not in how much privacy they afford, but in how much they deny. Access will likely be similar to your browsing habits, your files stored on Dropbox, your searches on Google, and your text messages from your phone. All of your data is saved by those companies -- and many others -- correlated, and then bought and sold without your knowledge or consent. You'd think that your privacy settings would keep random strangers from learning everything about you, but it only keeps random strangers who don't pay for the privilege -- or don't work for the government and have the ability to demand the data. Power is what matters here: you'll be able to keep the powerless from invading your privacy, but you'll have no ability to prevent the powerful from doing it again and again.

Surveillance and the Internet of Things

Internet-of-Things answering machine from 1992, with marbles

Durrell Bishop's 1992 grad project for his design program at the Royal College of Art was a brilliantly conceived riff on the answering machine, making use of physical, legible interfaces that made a point of exposing the conceptual workings of the device to its users.

Durrell Bishop is a partner in Luckybite with Tom Hulbert, working on physical interfaces, product design and interactive media. Prior to this he was a senior interaction designer at IDEO Europe. He co-founded Itch, which won a D&AD Gold award for large-scale work on the Science Museum Welcome Wing, and he was a partner in Dancing Dog, working on camera-based interfaces to computer games.

Durrell Bishop’s Marble Answering Machine (via Timo Arnall)

Hidden pint-glass QR code is only visible when filled with Guinness


A clever bit of advertising gimmickry from Guinness: these pint glasses bear QR codes than can't be read when the glass is empty, nor when it is filled with amber-colored beers. But when filled with black, murky Guinness, the revealed QR code can finally be scanned: "it tweets about your pint, updates your facebook status, checks you in via 4 square, downloads coupons and promotions, invites your friends to join, and even launches exclusive Guiness content."

Yeah, so the last part is a bit of a nightmare.

Guinness QR Cup

HOWTO make an Internet of Things camera

Following on from their Internet of Things Printer, the good folks at Adafruit have produced a set of plans and a kit for making an Internet of Things Camera -- a tiny, standalone gizmo that turns an Arduino, a webcam's guts and an EyeFi card into a device that can wirelessly transmit photos to a computer, with complimentary software for processing, uploading and filing the images it captures.

Here’s our Arduino based “Internet of Things” camera. It’s a simple remote monitoring using the Eye-Fi wireless SD card and Adafruit Data Logging Shield for Arduino. The Eye-Fi card is a tiny wireless memory card. It stores photos and fits inside a camera just like a regular SD card, but also has built-in WiFi transceiver that can upload images to your computer, smartphone or to various photo-sharing sites. We use one here when taking pictures for our tutorials — it’s a great timesaver, eliminating the extra USB transfer step that’s otherwise necessary. Can the Eye-Fi card work in an Arduino SD card adapter? You bet! Adding a TTL Serial JPEG camera, together with some minimal prep work, we can then create a self-contained wireless monitoring camera with motion-sensing capabilities. Hide it inside a hollowed-out book or a plush dinosaur toy and discover who’s been eating all your Thin Mints cookies!

What makes this combination way cooler than just a normal SD card or a USB cable to a computer is all the infrastructure provided by the Eye-Fi service — not just transferring images to your computer, but pushing them to your smartphone, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, issuing email or Twitter notifications, etc. This is all configured through the Eye-Fi application — there’s no additional coding required.

An “Internet of Things” Camera

Autonomous truss-climbing robot reconfigures buildings on the fly

Cornell's Franz Nigl and Jeremy Blum demonstrate their truss-climbing robot in this video, which accompanies a paper accepted into IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine. The robot can climb and reconfigure the trusses in a 3D structure, redesigning a building on the fly, autonomously. It would be pretty cool to see a swarm of these running a genetic algorithm, dynamically redesigning a skyscraper.

This video presents a robot capable of autonomously traversing and manipulating a 3D truss structure. The robot is able to approach and traverse multiple structural joints using a combination of translational and rotational motions. A key factor in allowing reliable motion and engagements is the use of specially designed structural building blocks comprised of bidirectional geared rods. A set of traversal plans, each comprised of basic motion primitives, were analyzed for speed, robustness, and repeatability. Paths covering eight joints are demonstrated, as well as automatic element assembly and disassembly. We suggest that the robot architecture and truss module design, such as the one presented here, could open the door to robotically assembled, maintained, and reconfigured structures that would ordinarily be difficult, risky, or time consuming for humans to construct.

Autonomous Robotic Truss Reconfiguration and Manipulation (via Beyond the Beyond)

DIY "Internet of Things" printer


AdaFruit has released a set of plans for building your own Internet of Things Printer. It's a weekend project that ends up with a homebrew analog of BERG's Little Printer. They also have a kit for sale.

Build an "Internet of Things" connected mini printer that will do your bidding! This is a fun weekend project that comes with a beautiful laser cut case. Once assembled, the little printer connects to Ethernet to get Internet data for printing onto 2 1/4" wide receipt paper. The example sketch we've written will connect to Twitter's search API and retrieve and print tweets according to your requests: you can have it print out tweets from a person, a hashtag, mentioning a word, etc! Once you've gotten that working, you can of course easily adapt our sketch to customize the printer.

Podcast: my story "The Brave Little Toaster"

I've just returned to podcasting after a summer holiday, kicking it off with my story "The Brave Little Toaster" (part of a series of stories that share titles with famous stories, in this case, the Disch story of the same name), just published in MIT Tech Review's TRSF. It's a story about when the "Internet of Things" goes wrong.

One day, Mister Toussaint came home to find an extra 300 euros' worth of groceries on his doorstep. So he called up Miz Rousseau, the grocer, and said, "Why have you sent me all this food? My fridge is already full of delicious things. I don't need this stuff and besides, I can't pay for it."

But Miz Rousseau told him that he had ordered the food. His refrigerator had sent in the list, and she had the signed order to prove it.

Furious, Mister Toussaint confronted his refrigerator. It was mysteriously empty, even though it had been full that morning. Or rather, it was *almost* empty: there was a single pouch of energy drink sitting on a shelf in the back. He'd gotten it from an enthusiastically smiling young woman on the metro platform the day before. She'd been giving them to everyone.

"Why did you throw away all my food?" he demanded. The refrigerator hummed smugly at him.

"It was spoiled," it said.

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