Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chumby and the Internet of Things

While everyone is talking about cloud computing (including me, because mobile cloud services is going to be one of the main topic of 2010), another phenomenon is becoming more visible, every day. We are about to enter the Internet of Things era.

Every device out there will get an IP address. And it will be able to dialog with the rest of the world.

When I say device, I mean everything. From a refrigerator, to a camera, to an alarm clock, to a light bulb, to a car, to a garage door and so on.

I have heard about this concept from my friends at WideTag, a company I have been advising for a while (they have only one problem: they are too smart). They have built an open protocol (OpenSpime) to allow devices to communicate among themselves. You need something specialized to scale to trillions of devices...

It appears simple at the first look (why is it different from having a bunch of computer connected to the net?). However, it is going to change our life dramatically.

Having everything connected is a bliss. I bought a Chumby last week. It is an alarm clock. With a touchscreen and wi-fi connectivity. Built on open source (you can easily get root access in the Linux box), with a thriving community of developers building widgets for it. Therefore, it doubles as an Internet radio, an online picture frame, a weather station, it plays your Google Voice messages and a lot more.

I started developing a widget to show pictures from our Funambol server. So that you can take a picture on your phone and it shows up on your Chumby (or your mom's Chumby), without pressing a button. I wrote it in ActionScript 2, because the widget are based on Flash. With FlashDevelop and some example code, it took me no more than an hour...

Boom, I have pictures rolling on my Chumby. Data synchronized across the world. I take a picture on my phone in Europe, it gets automatically synced on the cloud, and it shows up on the other side of the world in my kitchen.

I brought the device home to do some more development (I want to put my Funambol calendar on it, so I can wake up and see what I have to do that day, just to ruin it right away ;-) and I left it on the counter in the kitchen.

In ten minutes, my daughter was playing with it. She found the widget for the Artillery game and she took over... Once she was done, my wife looked at it. She briefly mentioned it was an ugly device but she got over it quickly. The EDIS feed (Emergency Digital Information Services) shows alerts for bad weather in California. Since it is raining outside, she got hooked. Couple it with the weather forecast, her email, some classical music in the background and I got a "can you make it a gift for me for last Christmas?". Yep, she really liked her Christmas gift, so much that she wants to exchange it for a Chumby...

I was at CES in Vegas a few weeks back. They were showing microwaves with Android, refrigerators with Android, weight scale with Android. All devices interconnected, talking one to another. All syncing data among themselves (yep, I have a feeling Funambol will play a role in the Internet of Things era ;-)

It is going to be an amazing world. The only issue will be dodging so much information and unplug, just to read a book. Oopss, wait, we'll do it on an e-book reader... Get ready, if this was a world of billion of mobile phones, in ten years we will have a trillion. Now you just need a community of people to join together to make it actually work.