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An Easy Interface for the Internet of Things

Amid a wide range of new platforms to manage streams of data from the Internet of things, a simple version emerges that anyone can use.
April 21, 2014

With the advent of the Internet of things, potentially billions of devices will report data about themselves, making it possible to create new applications in areas as diverse as factory optimization, car maintenance, or simply keeping track of your stuff online. But doing this today requires at least some degree of programming knowledge. Now Bug Labs, a New York City company, is trying to make it as easy to create an Internet of things application as it is to put a file into Dropbox.

With a new service called Freeboard, Bug Labs is giving people a simple one-click way to publish data from a “thing” to its own Web page (Bug Labs calls this “dweeting”). To get a sense of this, visit with your computer or mobile phone, click “try it now,” and you’ll see raw data from your device itself: its GPS coordinates and even the position of your computer mouse. The data is now on a public Web page and available for analysis and aggregation; another click stops this sharing.

Freeboard, expected to be launched Tuesday, makes sense of such streams of data. A few more clicks create quick graphical displays of the shared information, such as location, temperature, motor speed, or simply whether a device is on or off. “We are trying to make the Internet of things far simpler, and far more accessible, to anybody,” says Peter Semmelhack, CEO of Bug Labs, a business that initially focused on the development of open-source modular hardware (see “Bug Labs Adds New Modules”), but which now develops software platforms.

Freeboard is not the most technically sophisticated Internet of things application platform. Many others are emerging, including Axeda, Etherios, and OpenRemote (see “Free Software Ties the Internet of Things Together”), with different business models and levels of complexity. Big companies like General Electric are developing factory-monitoring software platforms.

Yet Freeboard stands out among the various platforms because “it’s the easiest to use,” says Venkatesh Prasad, group and technical leader for vehicle design and infotronics at Ford Motor.

Prasad showed how Freeboard could quickly unlock the value of vehicle-generated data. He’s been experimenting with Freeboard using a car data interface called Open XC. Prasad took data on the on-off state of windshield wipers to come up with a prototype of a warning alert that could someday be dispatched to a car a few kilometers back to warn the driver of wet roads. “I set it up and did it in a matter of a few minutes—and I don’t code for a living,” he says.

In theory, anything could be connected: a bicycle or other object could get wired with the help of an emerging class of cheap gadgets that report GPS coӧrdinates to cellular networks (see “The Internet of Things, Unplugged and Untethered”) and easily be turned into a “dweet stream” of location or other data. Semmelhack showed off one application – a Freeboard dashboard of a whiskey still in Washington built by of one of his developers’ fathers. It showed real-time temperature and humidity and a video stream of the apparatus.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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