Made Near You: making local food businesses shareable & transparent

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So to conclude (rather dramatically) last week, here are some notes on what I ended up showcasing at the end of the Mozilla Open IOT Design Sprint in Anstruther, Scotland.

Made Near You (MaNY) is a service which allows food producers who want to encourage local communities and tourists to eat and buy local.

A form allows a food producer (farmer, chocolatier, condiment producer, they all count) would put in their details and link to their e-commerce shop if they have one.

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This would allow hotels to print out a map of local food businesses for visitors or local people to look up a post code and see what is around them.

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This may lead down the line (this is a bit more of a stretch) to more visual and transparent conversations about the origins of food. Many packages already include where meat is being slaughtered but they are not obliged to share the city, so it ends up saying ‘UK’ which is hardly useful. A more visual map-based way of labelling makes people think about building facilities near them and create business opportunities everywhere.

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Finally this is obviously a service that is easy to internationalise and offer local versions for while keeping translation front of mind. It’s usually when we travel abroad and use our money to help other people’s economies that we are most keen to buy locally. We are, regardless of the brexit vote, one world.

Hopefully an idea is interesting enough to move forward, and if you’re interested in a conversation, do get in touch at alex at designswarm dot com

 

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Ten years of the internet of things through the eyes of Gartner

The end of the summer marks the return to school and a time to digest our favorite summer publication: the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Chart. Every year I feel a bit confused about this graph. Folks in B2B sectors swear by it and have pointed out that in the last two years the internet of things reached the dangerous ‘peak of inflated expectations’.

Keen to dispel this largely constructed myth, I wanted to map out the last 10 years of this chart, analyse how the internet of things discourse is ongoing and show that this yearly report is nothing more than a snapshot of anxieties and aspirations in the technology sector as well as a reflection of what technologists really wish would pick up regardless of reality.

If you decide not to read on and just click on the pretty picture:

  • In yellow: topics which I connect to the internet of things 
  • In orange: topics related to 3D printing
  • In blue: random topics which Gartner don’t seem to want to kill off when many other come and go.

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In the beginning there was nothing

So let’s go back to 2005. I was still in Ivrea and the Arduino had just made its first batch.  What does anyone know about the internet of things? Well judging by that year’s chart nothing. Nevermind that Kevin Ashton had coined the term back in 2001 and that Nabaztag and Ambient Devices were going strong. There is nothing but RFID and mesh network love for the 2005-2009 charts. And because we’re in the throngs of Second Life love-in, augmented reality and virtual worlds start to make an appearance and basically never leave the chart. The only virtual reality headset I’ve seen in the wild is in the BBC R&D’s North Lab over a year ago. Just saying.

Smart health

The 2009 chart sees the first appearance of Home Health Monitoring. It reappears again in 2012 but doesn’t come back again. Why? Well noone likes to think about death, not designers, not technologists, even if there’s a huge amount of money there. It’s also an area massively regulated making it difficult for startups to get involved in but certainly not possible (just ask GlowcapsKemuri or Lively). You don’t need to look very deeply to see that the health sector and families dealing with chronic illness and palliative care could do with innovative services but somehow these existing companies don’t help this term make a reappearance in its own right. Robots (first described as mobile then smart) on the other hand have been moving up and down the beginning of the chart since 2007. Having worked on a social robots project in the past I think the chart also reflects the amount of press particular areas receive.

Late on the 3D printing game?

The path of 3D printing is the proof of this. I studied industrial design from 200-2004 and 3D printing was an integral part of our education with resources available and cost for prototyping rather low for one offs but it doesn’t make it onto the chart until 2007, the year a commercial printer is available below $10K. The Makerbot, which offered open-source 3D printing for a lot less, launched in 2009  but it isn’t till 2013 that the chart separates ‘Consumer’ from ‘Entreprise’ 3D printing. They were also mapped  at very different levels, but considering Makerbot’s acquisition and recent layoffs in 2014, I’m not sure how long ‘Consumer’ 3D printing will stay on this list at all.

Aspirational thinking

Topics and technologies tend to either linger on or come and go on the chart. Lots of blogging then micro-blogging between 2005-2011 until they simply dissappear. Tele conferencing and Virtual assistants come and go to disappear in 2010. Virtual worlds and augmented reality never leave the chart and one has to wonder why the insistence. Knowing a little about how Gartner does their research, this could be down to simply lobbying. This isn’t a scientific view after all even if industry treats it as so.

Multiplying endlessly.

So back to the internet of things, well as a separate item, it only appears in 2011, almost as NFC takes over from RFID (basically the same technology) meaning that the term is important enough to be considered on its own even of it’s not a technology at all. It’s an aggregate of technologies. So weak is the definition of the internet of things in the context of this chart that the subsequent years see the random appearance of topics which I’d have included under it: wearables, smart workplaces, smart homes, connected homes, human augmentation, biochips. etc. It feels like this year, the map was really just playing internet of things vocabulary bingo. The disappearance of ‘M2M technologies’ and the oddly named ‘consumer telematics’ is odd as well as the consumer and industry sides of the internet of things are often wrongly confused.

The even weirder ‘People-Literate technology’ points to a general trend in recognising the role of user-centered design, but that’s not a technology and I’m sure all technology providers have realised this at some point in their development.

But you know, still robots and virtual reality.

So why should anyone care about this chart? Well I think when presented in aggregate it speaks volumes about what we aspire to develop over time regardless of industry reality and what we too easily dismiss.

For internet of things developers, we should take comfort in seeing that #iot has been growing and that even if the terminology is getting muddled, it’s been here to stay for some time wherever it sits on the chart, because its position doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that it’s there at all, in multiple guises, its success and growth hiding in plain sight.

A map of UK maker spaces

As part of my work with the Connected Digital Economy Catapult, I’ve been putting together a map of hacker / maker spaces in the UK. These spaces are really important in linking a person with a project idea to a community with resources. Maker spaces are also more than physical resources, they can be a platform for someone to meet like minded people in their area, find co-founders, find the impetus to work on a project that’s been sitting on the side of the kitchen table, or even find the necessary resources to start a business. I’ve only mapped out the physical spaces for now (mostly for the purposes of the report I’m writing) but if you want the complete list of people who also just meet and hang out have a look at the Hacker Space list.

The past 10 years of the internet of things

Strange how the brain works. It’s 1am and I’m in a hotel on Edinburgh University campus, giving a talk in the morning to the Chiasma workshop tomorrow morning and I spent most of my almost 5h train journey making a timeline of the internet of things I’ve had the pleasure of keeping an eye on. Probably missing loads, but you know. Gotta start somewhere. I’ll write about this more soon.

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