I had plans on writing a post about NFC & (home) automation a long while ago but the post “NFC stands for Nobody F*** Cares” definitely gave me the spark I needed to sit down and start writing.
Let me first start with a little trip back at the core of the Web of Things‘ idea: the Internet of Things stands for the network layer, where all smart things out there should be connected using IP protocols to facilitate interoperability. Similarly, the Web of Things advocates using Web blueprints such as REST and it’s implementation in HTTP, at the very least as a protocol for controlling devices (a typical stateless task).
So, let’s assume all devices in my home were offering a REST interface (which, isn’t far off reality in my case), either directly, or through a smart gateway. Then, to reach home automation I could probably setup a very smart middleware that “thinks for its users” and accommodate their environment to the current context. One of these systems that ends up turning off the light when you need it the most, ensuring that the heating suddenly turns on when you reach the “NaN” temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (it is Switzerland after all!) and that the window blinds go down at Sunset (because of course developers do work 9-5 all year long). The same type of system that plays the Beatles’ “Something” when coming home right after your girlfriend dumped you
Or you could go “the human in the center” way, where everything can be configured by using a central interface issuing REST requests all over the place. An interface that upgrades you as the commander of the Enterprise while, all you wanted was to come home, grab an iced-tea and read the latest Internet buzz!
Well, I think there is a world in-between and NFC, which apparently, no-one cares about might be the most straightforward answer, no programming involved!
Let’s go back to my home where the radio system (a Squeezebox), the alarm clock (a Chumby or an app on my phone), some of the lamps (plugged to a Plogg smart meter) and the TV (plugged to a Raspberry PI running Raspberrymc) feature a RESTful Web interface. My phone, a Galaxy Nexus, offers an NFC reader. Then, all I needed to do to setup my own home “automation” system was to download an Android “tasker” app, purchase some tags and off we go. The NFC Task Launcher app, like a number of others, let’s you program reactions when a tag is read, mainly phone-related reactions: turn off the the ring-tone, disconnect from WiFi, call a URL, launch a specific app, Wait, call a URL? But didn’t we say most of my home appliances have a REST interface? REST, URL? Got it?
Here is a typical day in the life of Dom: Dom wakes up takes his phone and throws it in the bucket below, Dom’s phone then connects to the WiFi, syncs the daily calendar of a busy CTO, turns on the Squeezebox to Frequence3 (a rather pop oriented Web radio, perfect for morning push-ups!).
Why does it do that? Well because in the bucket there is a NFC tag and he programmed the tag to run all these tasks with the Task Launcher app. Dom then leaves home and briefly touches the tag on the front door which: disconnects from the WiFi network, stops the sync, turns the music off, turns the light off, etc. all by running internal phone apps or calling URLs. In the car the NFC tag on the docking station tells the phone to turn the GPS on and start Sygic, my favourite GPS app.
Dom then arrives at work, where there is a tag on his desk, close to where he drops his phone. The phone connects to the EVRYTHNG network, start syncing the meeting again, turns the ringtone to the max (I have noisy but lovely colleagues ), etc.
And so on and so forth, the tag in the bucket is a switch so when I put it back when coming home again it does other things such as syncing my daily pictures with my REST-enabled NAS (Network Attached Storage), finally a tag next to my bed, turns everything off and prompts me for a time to which it should set the alarms clock.
I like this use case very much for three reasons:
- It makes a point of how the Web of Things concepts applied to home appliances can lead to a simple but yet truly spontaneous world of consumer electronics, where devices start being put together in ways that weren’t though of in the first place (probably also fostering a more sustainable consumption of CE, with longer life-cycles!)
- It put the users in the center, empowering them to reconfigure their world with simple tools but does not decide for them.
- It is a creative use of NFC, beyond mobile payment and mobile marketing.
So, is NFC really that useless? And that’s just one creative use of this technology. A technology, that, just as a reminder, was NFC has been identified by several studies (e.g., here!) as THE most acceptable/understandable/straightforward way for people to identify objects. Combine it with the WoT principles and you get a usable, affordable way of semi-automating your home.
Note to the RESTifarians out these: I see the purist coming with things like “well calling a URL (GET) doesn’t mean you can actuate the world, an actuation should rather take the form of a POST or better a PUT”. Well wise-purist: check Tasker, another Android app that integrates with NFC Task Launcher and allows you to use other HTTP methods with payloads and authentication.
We’re happy to confirm that WoT 2013 is going to take place on September 9th in Zurich, collocated with the UbiComp 2013 conference! This time, it’s going to be jointly organized by ETH Zurich (Simon), EVRYTHNG Ltd. (Vlad & Dom), and the World Wide Web consortium (Dave) – and we’ll be supported by program committee members from all around the world.
As for the last three editions of the workshop, there will also be a WoT-Hackathon (on Sep. 8th) – and we’ll have an open demonstration session for all workshop participants, so get your projects, papers, prototypes, APIs and ideas ready – and submit to WoT 2013 (call for papers) before May 31, 2013!
We’re looking forward to seeing you all at WoT 2013 in Zurich!
As hinted by Vlad on his last post, mobile phones and more specifically Android phones, are great actors of the Web of Things. The openness of the Android platform and the possibility of extending it both in hardware and software terms make it an ideal candidate for a universal Web of Things gateway!
Let me share a hands-on illustration of this here. The video and slide-deck you’ll find below were taken at the last Google Dev Fest in Zurich. There, I was showing how Android phones can be very easily used to decode 1D barcodes, QR-codes (using zxing ) and NFC-tags (using the Android SDK native NFC support) from your custom apps. Illustrating these concepts with the FreezeMe app.
But that’s not it. Android also let’s you prototype the integration of all kinds of devices and accessories through the great and famous Arduino platform. The talk illustrates this using two techniques:
- The first being an “abuse” of the ADB (Android Debug Bridge) that some smart dudes used as a communication channel to the external world. This gives you a super simple and cheap way of communicating with many Arduinos (like the Uno) from any Android >1.5 mobile phone. The example is based on the ~25$ Circuits@home USB Host Shield (they do ship to Europe as well, I tested it!) as well as the Android Microbridge Project. Note: make sure you check: if you decide to use the Microbridge project.
- The second being Google’s reaction to the ADB “abuse”. It could have been to patch it to prevent people from using the ADB for extensions but it rather was a nice reaction where Google actually decided to standardize the process of creating (prototypes of) Android accessories in a system called the ADK (Accessory Development Kit), early basis of the Android @ Home project and supported by Arduino devices like the Mega ADK. Note: make sure you check: if you decide to use the ADK.
The tutorial also contains dozens of links, code samples, and troubleshooting notes. Enjoy the video and the slides below, comments are welcomed!
As make magazine reports, our friends from Tellart just released a fabulous tutorial for a toolkit and code samples to build prototypes that bind any android device with Arduinos. You’ll definitely find some great examples to get started within the 25 samples included, so we encourage you to give it a try!
This week we’re happy to update that list of toolkits with a suite of materials focused on connecting any Android device (mobile or tablet) with the Arduino ADK microcontroller, with the Processing language to tie them together. The materials – a combination of “how-to” installation guides, working Arduino and Processing sample code, and educational exercises – walk through the set-up process and provide some basic starters for making a functional application or game. The 25 samples include modules such as the code you need to create a “color picker” on the Android and have it drive the color of an LED attached to the Arduino, or to send an RFID number from a scanner to the phone, or to create a basic oscilloscope by graphing the output of a potentiometer on the Android screen. It’s tailored to get beginners going, or to give more experienced coders a quick leg up in using the three (Android, Processing, and Arduino) together.
A few days ago, we presented our newly launched developer portal for the EVRYTHNG Engine at the M2M Partner Event in Budapest organized by Deutsche Telekom. The event took place in the Hungarian Railway Museum, and I gave a talk in a lovely 19th century wagon, which was (retro-)fitted with a plasma screen (I’d have preferred air-conditioning considering 20 brains steaming in such a tiny “room”).
The event was a pretty interesting gathering of various partner companies in the machine to machine area, following by various talks and workshops. The food was almost as gorgeous as the venue, but the best part was a unique opportunity to take the pulse of what is happening in the M2M market and how this emerging market is shaping telco operators.
Although the event was very M2M-ey, a few interesting trends clearly emerged:
1. Telcos partnering with device makers for end-to-end solutions
Quite a few large players in the M2M market were present (especially hardware manufacturers chip and antenna makers), and were displaying their solutions. I also had a chance to talk with people from Axeda (a leading provider of cloud solutions for M2M, I recommend having a look at their extensive resources portfolio), digi (who are super active these days by partnering with ThingWorx and Deutsche Telekom, and who just got elected as the “best overall M2M platform“), Living PlanIT (main sponsor), Cinterion. In the end, it seems that telco clearly see opportunities by leveraging their infrastructure and partnering with hardware providers to sell end-to-end solution including 3G data plans for devices. They are working actively to make it easier for companies to buy ready-made chips to integrate in their products that come directly with Internet connectivity included.
2. Vending machines are the next big thing
For some reason, most of the people I talked to seemed to be working in some form with future smart vending machine. Without mentioning any particular company, it seemed that the market is quite large for Internet-connected vending machines and lots of hardware providers are trying to get their chips into those machines. The core purpose is to analyze in real-time the content of each machine and plan optimally the refill of items depending on various conditions (from sales, to events nearby, to weather). I didn’t see sadly any prototype, and didn’t hear much about the consumer-facing experience of those machines. I’d have loved to see a Web-enabled coke machine that would allow the world to buy me a free coke (very cool project by the way). But I guess we’re not quite there yet and people think more logistics and back-end.
Image source: Zytronic (excellent project, worth a read!)
3. No trace of track and trace
For me, track and trace is the lowest hanging fruit in the WoT world, as many solutions exist out there to track things – from individual products to boxes/pallets/containers to trucks – and the market is not only existing but large. As we have written a while ago on the Web of Things blog, web-enabled track and trace solutions would be a large game changer in the market, but I was disappointed not to see anything novel at the event (and wondering why can’t I have an API to track everything I buy). As an example, I found Wialon as an interesting concept (GPS data storage and monitoring solution) but I guess it’s one among many others and nothing out of the ordinary on this field. Would love to hear more about logistics solutions that really leverage an open Web of Things, with open APIs to build smarter solutions, so if you hear about any of those, I’d love to share them on this blog.
4. Smart houses – still around, and still not smarter
There were quite a few prototypes there showing smart houses, heating systems, smart doors, smart electricity plugs, but seriously, same stuff I’ve seen for the last years. Different companies, same solutions and value proposal. The only notable exception was Discovergy, a very neat German startup that sells a smart energy counters that can select in real-time the cheapest provider – so you always get the best price.
5. Still no WoT in M2M
That’s still the case. After 5+ years of research in this area, I didn’t see much Web-centric in M2M world. I’d love to see more *truly* RESTful, Web-friendly, open APIs – just like those commonly found on most Web 2.0 services out there. I would have love to see large companies that willingly adopt open standards – this would drive innovation so much. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re there yet, and no signs that industries are getting anywhere near.
All in all it was a great event, with a nice mix of very interesting people, and especially a strong sense of “real-world” which has been strongly missing in academia. the reality is that M2M solutions are still really expensive and bespoke, as many system integrators were present, the bulk of industrial activity is still very custom, expensive, inflexible, proprietary solutions that big companies buy from other big companies. This, to me, is a big brake for a much larger adoption of those systems. Leveraging Web technologies would allow to quickly build robust, interactive solutions for a fraction of the cost and desires of magnitude more integrable. This is what the Web of Things is all about – making it easier to leverage those technologies for more efficient business process.
Finally, we would like to thank our hosts Deutsche Telekom for inviting us to a wonderful event in a great location. In particular, I recommend having a look at their M2M competence center – it’s a great platform to connect with other similar companies. Also, this initiative clearly puts them ahead of the game in the industrial M2M market.
One thing I love when taking the pulse of the blogosphere, is the four short links series posted by Nat Torkington on O’Reilly’s Radar. Every day, four interesting links/resources carefully handpicked are presented, along with a short description. That’s the perfect daily fix to see what’s happening around and make sure not to miss the headlines of the day or simply some cool/nerdy/geeky links. Unfortunately, there is nothing like that for the Web of Thing world, so I thought it would be great to start it today on the WoT blog.
Ok. Maybe not every day though…
What? Digi International, a worldwide leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions, has selected ThingWorx as its technology provider for dashboarding within their iDivi product.
So? We know the folks at ThingWorx and they do great work. It’s a big step that their products have been chosen by Digi, which will make it much easier to develop industrial-scale applications. They have been great supporters of the Web of Things from our early days and they were among the first to implement the Web of Things in real products. Oh, and they just closed their Series C financing round yesterday.
What? Dominic Wilcox has created a fully functional prototype pair of shoes that will guide you home no matter where you are in the world!
So? Very cool to see such “subtle” integration of digital technologies into everyday things. Not necessarily useful per se (other than after a long night out at the bar), but a neat design/UX, and a subtle integration of WoT into everyday objects I’d like to see more often.
What? The Lockitron is a digital deadbolt that plugs on existing deadbolts to make sure your door is a safe – and convenient – as possible. Plus, it’s packed full of features including remote management, proximity entry through Bluetooth, and, even more fun, a vibration sensor that will notify the owner when someone is knocking on the door.t
So? Great idea! No more need to give/rent/share your key with friends – simply share your door with them on Facebook and they can get in your home. It would just be quite uncool to forget your phone (or to charge it…) in winter, when it’s cold outside. And you’re alone. Interesting to see how these things will evolve once deployed in the wild, and especially the problems that can arise with Web-enabled security systems (would love to see a hall of fame of the funniest/stupidest situations this will generate).
What? The creators of T-shirt OS and the first animated tattoo have created an RFID-enabled cap that sparks fun times when it’s popped.
So? RFID-controlled alcohol bottles is certainly a cool marketing/PR gimmick, and a super playground to create novel interactive applications around the Web of Things, how much are you willing to pay for a can of beer. It seems to me just a fun thing to use for a party, but definitely not the way technology will get embedded into the real world.
NOTE: This is a guest post by Hillary Jones. You can read more about this topic here and contact her per email. The reason I found this topic relevant for our readers is because I recently heard about the Barclaycard PayTag, which fascinates me as idea because it allows to turn every day objects into a mobile, contactless payment method. This is highly relevant for the Web of Things as detachable tags (and by extension thin electric circuits) offer a “digital skin” to common objects which makes them easily part of the Web.
E-wallet technologies may unburden wallets everywhere and eliminate the need for credit cards by placing purchasing power in digital transactions. Whether through NFC, GPS, or barcode images, smartphones are capable of cutting out credit cards for half the U.S. population. But this requires merchants and technology companies to collaborate.
Several companies are working on it. For example, Google Wallet transmits a user’s major credit and debit card information from a Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled phone to merchants with NFC readers. Apple’s new iPhone 5 comes with the Passbook app, which allows participating vendors to scan the iPhone screen for stored membership cards, tickets, and coupons. Square‘s app connects through GPS to participating vendors once you’re within 100 feet of the vendor’s location. After you’ve selected your purchases, you simply tell the vendor your name and they charge the Square account associated with your card.
Each method of digital purchase has its pros and cons. While Square boasts no-wallet, no-phone purchasing, people may not be comfortable saying their name and walking out without seeing physical proof that a transaction occurred. Conversely, while NFC apps like Google Wallet require merely tapping your phone to a vendor’s NFC device, All Things D reports that mobile payments are mostly executed through Secure Element NFC, which stores your financial information in a secure location on your phone, and companies access that secure location when you make a purchase. However, NFC technology is not universal through phone manufacturers, retailers, and technology companies, and that’s impeding its mobile purchasing progress. Also, the iPhone 5 is not NFC-enabled, which may be a major loss for NFC technology and a gain for Square (which is iPhone-compatible).
At this point, all mobile purchasing options have a limited number of participating vendors. The ability of one digital wallet technology to endure over others may depend on the strength of their associated merchants. For example, Starbucks currently uses an app similar to Apple’s Passbook. Starbucks locations scan barcodes associated with the consumer’s account from their smartphone screens. But, according to the New York Times, soon Square and Starbucks will collaborate and offer Square’s GPS technology in all Starbucks locations. Starbucks has also invested $25 million in Square, and Howard D. Schultz, Starbuck’s chief executive, has joined Square’s board.
While digital purchases are growing in popularity, the U.S. is still hesitant. The New York Times reports that a Forrester survey estimates that only 30% of mobile phone owners in the U.S. are willing to use mobile payments, but that’s growing. The digital wallet’s success will depend on consumer comfort before any digital wallet technology becomes a primary means of purchasing.
What are your thoughts about the future of mobile payment technologies? Any company or product in this area that is ahead of the game? We’d love to purse this debate in the comments below.
Our last post introduced you to the art of NFC / QR tagging on Android phones. If, like us, since then you can’t stop tagging things then you might consider submitting you awesome prototypes to this workshop our colleagues from ETH are setting up:
5th International Workshop on Near Field Communication – NFC 2013
Call for Papers
NFC 2013 is the 5th International Research Workshop with focus on Near Field Communication (NFC). This workshop covers the entire technological area, beginning from RF and hardware, smartcards approach, security, applications and services, business processes, up to usability and user experience.
February 5th 2013
Rämistrasse 101, CH-8092 Zürich, Europe
Selective Topics of Interest
RF & Hardware Related Topics:
High-speed RF interfaces; Modulation techniques; Circuits and antenna design; Power aware design; Modeling and simulation; NFC tests & measurements; Protocol analyses and verification methods; Physical interfaces & architectures; Interoperability between NFC devices, tags and smartcards; RF system-on-chip designs, Wireless charching
Smartcards / SIM cards / Security:
Single wire protocol (SWP); Global platform; Multi-application platforms (SIM centric or not); Secure & multi-secure elements; Secure over the air (OTA) services; Security solutions for readers and terminals; System security solutions
Software Platforms for NFC Development:
Solutions with NFC add-ons and NFC stickers, Software architectures; Smartphones and NFC for location based information services; NFC and augmented reality platforms; NFC m-payment and m-transfer architecture; Interaction systems in ubiquitous information systems; Interoperability between NFC applications and services
New Applications & Services:
NFC and social media; NFC applications for consumers and citizens; Mobile value added services (VAS) using NFC; NFC ecosystems (e.g. tag management); NFC in business processes; Integration of NFC into “Internet Of Things” (IOT); Street and POS marketing with NFC; NFC services in education
Usability & User Experience:
NFC and digital cities, airports, homes; Wellness; Homecare; Business usage & leisure activities; User interaction models for NFC applications; Acceptance of NFC devices and services; Field trials and pilots; Secure NFC ecosystem; Virtual ticketing and couponing with NFC; Fidelization NFC cards; NFC experiences of NFC applications
All papers should contain original material and not be previously published, or currently submitted for consideration elsewhere. Manuscripts must be limited to 6 pages in IEEE double column format. All submissions will be handled electronically. Authors should prepare a PDF file and submit it through the reviewing system EasyChair.
All submissions will be reviewed and participants will be selected based on their contribution. Accepted papers will be published in the online proceedings of this workshop.
Submission: October 1st 2012
Notification: November 16th 2012
Final Version: December 14th 2012
For more information please follow this link to the workshop’s website: http://www.nfc2013.org/
General Chair: Florian Michahelles (ETH Zurich)
Technical Co-Chairs: Josef Langer (University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria) & Tuomo Tuikka (VTT)
Publicity Chair: Stefan Grünberger (University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria)
Local Arrangements: Irena Pletikosa (ETH Zurich)
Publication Chair: Stephan Karpischek (ETH Zurich)
A little while ago I had the chance to hold two presentations at Jazoon 2012 (probably one of my favorite tech conferences out there!).
The key idea of the first presentations was to emphasize on how techs were getting mature for tagging our world out there. Hence, I decided to look in particular at how a device as common as an Android phone could be turned into a tagging machine, sort of a Tricorder of modern IoT times!
The presentation focuses on how NFC and QR codes can be easily scanned from Android and in particular how, within a few lines of code, developers can add NFC and QR code support to their Android app (as well as EPC to some extends). It further illustrates how the EVRYTHNG API can be used to hold the data of IoT applications.
To support the presentation with a half-serious use-case, I used and adapted one of the great apps that came out of this year’s WoT hackaton in Newcastle UK: which motto was “connecting really dumb objects to the Web”. The app is basically a Frozen food manager (did anyone said f**yeah internet fridge?). You get some frozen food, read its QR/NFC tag with the Android app and off you go it is added to your Fridge implemented in the EVRYTHNG services which will send you Twitter/SMS alerts when the frozen food you forgot you had is about to get bad.
The most surprising about this app is how far we’ve come in terms of simplifying the creation of IoT apps. Enabling the scanners takes 10 lines of code, syncing the data with backend services (through REST) less than 10. So what are you waiting for? Get inspired and tag the world!
Need more info? Well check/clone/fork the app source code on the new GitHub Web of Things forge and look at the full presentation below: