Monday, September 22, 2008

Nobody Knows You're a Chair

Seems there is something called the IP for Smart Objects as reported here. The concept is to focus on the issues around getting objects onto the network. It sounds a little crazy, but I really think that more and more objects will be network enabled.

I recently ran across a little device called the Arduino. It's an open source microcontroller that can be had for around $40. Basically it's a little hardware device that you can easily program from any computer. It allows the hardware-naive folks like me to actually build little devices that can sense and actuate. For instance, you could create a device that senses temperature and then updates your twitter feed if the temperature in your office goes above or below some limit. Ok, tweeting your office temp every 5 minutes is probably not the best use, but you get the idea.

The Arduino itself doesn't have the power of IP. Meaning it can't connect to the internet directly. You can use the built in USB connector and your computer can be the conduit to the net, or you can get a variety of other connectors, called shields in Arduino speak, that will connect to the outside world in various ways. I've seen WiFi, Ethernet, and Zigbee shields so far.

Zigbee is an up and coming home automation networking standard. Zigbee is cool because it's low power, cheap, and can do things like multi-hop messages. Low power is good because we don't want all our smart objects sucking down a huge amount of power to stay connected. Multi-hop means that if devices can't reach each other, then intermediate devices can forward the messages. WiFi doesn't do this, that's why adding more laptops to your home WiFi network doesn't make it more robust. Adding more Zigbee devices to a network actually increases it's coverage. Essentially each device can act like a router.