IoTCon 2015 Berlin

From August 31st to September 2nd 2015 I attended the Internet of Things Conference at the nHow hotel in Berlin. Monday was a workshop day, while Tuesday and Wednesday were the actual conference days with talks and keynotes. There was a second workshop day on Thursday, in which I did not participate.
Below the fold you will find a (not that) short summary of the workshops and talks I attended.

Monday: Workshop Day

Game of Things

A workshop playing the Game of Things: A brainstorming game for coming up with new ideas for – well – things (to connect to the Internet). The players split into teams and the game is split into three phases:
Phase 1: Finding Ideas. There is business driver set by the game master or – usually – the employer. All teams work with the same business driver. Next, each team pulls one or more technology cards from the deck and an event card that serves as a further constraint. Now the team tries to combine the business driver with their technologies – within the constraint given by the event card, if possible – to come up with ideas.
Phase 2: Auctioning Ideas. Each team has 30 seconds to present each of their ideas, then the other teams can bid on the ideas. The team with the highest bid receives the idea, the team that came up with it receives the money. Money earned in an auction can be used in later rounds to buy ideas.
Phases 1 & 2 are repeated several times.
Phase 3: Finale. Each team ranks the ideas they bought and chooses the best one, possibly combining several ideas into one. They then present their idea and in the end all players – no longer in teams – vote on the ideas to find the best idea of the game. The team that came up with the idea and the team that bought it win the game.
The winning idea of our game was: Seamless navigation with virtual graffiti as direction markers (via smartglasses).
The game is free and open source and can be downloaded here (German only).

Hands on IoT

This was a workshop for using the Arduino Yún to connect simple electronics to the Internet. In this case, we used a pushbutton to send tweets.
The Arduino Yún is an Arduino micro-controller with an embedded Linux system on board, which can use Wifi or Ethernet to connect to the Internet. While we used a simple pushbutton, it would be easy to use various sensors to send data over the Internet.
Instead of talking to the twitter API directly we used Temboo, an IoT API service which makes it very easy to connect electronics to a diverse set of web services. It can even generate your Arduino code for you.
All in all, this was a basic introductory workshop to IoT with Arduino.
You can download the slides here.

Tuesday: Conference Day I

The Tangible Mind

A very interesting talk about how technology has to become more tangible, how the user experience is really the human experience and has to include all senses.
The talk is hard to summarize in a short blog post, but you can read a longer blog post on the speaker’s blog.
TL;DR: We are the Internet of Things.

How do I tell it to my smartglasses?

How do we communicate with our smartglasses? Speech recognition is flexible and hands-free, but unreliable. Gestures are flexible and natural but hard to learn and to implement. Using a phone raises the question: Why have smartglasses at all? Wearables are mostly still experimental and unreliable or clumsy.
The answer is to use several methods at once to increase reliability.
For example pointing with an arm that wears a smartwatch, looking in the same direction and speaking a command. Or detecting the proximity of another smart item and the user looking at it while making a simple gesture.
There is still a lot of research and development necessary and many technical hurdles to take in this area.

Keynote: Connected 2020: The Intersection of Technology + Fashion

A short, fluffy talk about how designers are extremely important for wearables. To create wearables that people will want to wear, technologists and designers need to cooperate and communicate with each other.
Current examples of such cooperation are Misfit & Swarovski or OMSingnal & Ralph Lauren.

Privacy on the Internet of Things

A short talk about the current state of EU privacy laws and how they apply to the IoT.
While the IoT lives from gathering and analyzing data, we have to take great care what data we collect and whom we share it with.
Anonymized data can be saved without problems, but personally identifying data requires opt-in by the user. A decision to opt-in must be made freely and be well informed before data collection starts. It shouldn’t be hidden in the terms of service or vague.
“Medical” data, which also includes religious or sexual preference, IQ etc. is especially protected.
Transferring the data outside the EU is very problematic and has strict requirements.
When more than 9 persons handle data, the company needs a dedicated data protection officer.

Hello iBeacon

A short introduction to iBecaons. iBeacons are small transmitters that use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to broadcast a specific ID. These can be identified by apps installed on a smartphone. This is useful for e.g. tracking users or providing indoor navigation.
iBeacon uses no authentication and is easy to emulate with Android devices.
Google has launched a competing technology named Eddystone.

Connecting Things via your Smartphone

This talk was about how we can connect things to the internet without a dedicated connection. To do this, the things connect via BLE to passing smartphones that run a specific app, which forwards the thing’s data to the Internet. This is particularly useful for retail spaces or similar, where employees (with smartphones in their pockets) roam.

Smart Home: But where is the intelligence?

Most smart homes these days only act on direct user input. That’s not very “smart”. Home life, especially for families, is too complex to model with simple rules or patterns. Automatically detecting the inhabitants’ situations is unreliable and difficult to implement.
A solution would be situation-based rulesets – “recipes” – which the user activates either manually or automatically through proximity (via beacons or GPS), and which can be shared with other smart home inhabitants. Instead of using switches to activate recipes, a personality á la Siri or Jarvis could be implemented.

Wednesday: Conference Day II

Keynote: Design from Manufacturing

Mengmeng Chen of Seeed Studio talked about how her company helps designers and makers go from a garage prototype to manufacturing tens of thousands units in China. Seeed Studio is based in Shenzhen in China but also has a branch in California, where they can get prototypes and small series done in a matter of days. They also provide experience and contacts in the world of Chinese manufacturing, which is complicated and hard to break into.
Seeed Studio also provides a development platform, including a Hardware Development Kit, an Open Parts Library and Shared Supply Chain and short turnaround time Prototype Production.

IoT Cloud Solutions: The why and how

The Internet of Things lives on data, and data needs to be stored and analyzed. Building a data-platform from scratch means facing a lot of problems that other people have already solved. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, just focus on what you do best and choose partners for everything else. That is where cloud platforms come into play.
This talk compared several different such platforms, such as xively, Evrythng, PubNub and in the categories: Understanding Business, Connect the Thing, Learn from Customers, Back-End, Apps, Tools, Interoperability and Support.

Electronics for Software developers

A very basic crash course that contrasted software development concepts with hardware development concepts. Basically a slightly modified “Arduino for beginners” talk.

Keynote: MX3D Bridge project

MX3D is a company that researches 3D printing technologies. They design and sell organically designed furniture and as their new prestige project decided to print a bridge across a canal in Amsterdam with their new Multi-Axis Metal 3D Printer.

Augmented Reality – State of the Union

An overview over the current state of AR. The technology has found wide acceptance in sales and advertisement with static installations and the occasional smartphone or tablet app. Smartglasses are only in use for professional applications like maintenance work.
Apple has bought and closed down Metaio, the provider of the most advanced AR SDK, leaving Wikitude as the new leader in SDKs. Other platforms are either way behind or still in development.
The future of AR is looking very good with improved smartglasses coming to market soon and new technologies like RGB+Depth information (RGB+D), light estimation, thermal touch and face recognition.

Mobile Payment: The future of payment

While mobile payment is yet in it’s infancy in Germany, other countries are making great leaps. The major players are Apple, Google and Samsung, and this competition creates a lot of innovation. Unlike earlier attempts, Google’s new offering is independent of manufacturers and network operators.
Mobile Payment has become much more secure with smartcard functionality being emulated on modern smartphones.

Final thoughts

The location was well chosen for the few hundred attendees and the food was really good for the most part. I wish I could have eaten more than one of those amazing brownies 😉.
The keynotes were all surprisingly light on substance, but most of the other talks were quite interesting, sometimes even enlightening. The “Expo” on the other hand was tiny and completely focused on mobile development, catering only to the simultaneous MobileTech Conference.
All in all a decent conference, but considering the price I’m not likely to attend next year. I could probably have attended two equally well-hosted conferences for not much more – if any – money.