Building the internet of things near you.

I’ve been asked to give a talk at BES Forum in Kuala Lumpur and  in addition to my slides I thought I’d try to blog about this one too. It’s an educational supplier conference, one where the British Council and UKTI boost the UK’s presence in education in Asia. It’s hard to think of these types of events as anything more than post-post-colonial and as a Canadian, I wanted to try to address some of the localised potential that the internet of things can have for Malaysia and also more broadly for any big city or country with industrial heritage. I’m also currently working with the Connected Economy Catapult to write up a feasibility report on a possible Connected Studio space for the development of successful connected products so my head is very much in the organisational requirements of iot. Useful in this and many other respects is the 1958 India Report where Ray and Charles Eames were asked to visit India and write about its economic future.

My travels in the past 2 months have lead me to Australia where I was able to convince (or bully) Justin into starting the #iotsydney meetup and Andrew to start the Melbourne edition and I hope to do the same in Kuala Lumpur (maybe the nice people at SensMaster will). There are lots of reasons why those 2 countries should be able to become hubs for internet of things products and companies but they aren’t the only ones. Generally I think any good iot community needs:

1. A space where capital, creativity and IT meet constantly.

Beyond the buzz, Shoreditch and East London are excellent places for innovation in the internet of things space simply because investors, designers and programmers are working within the same square mile (the missing link of course is a Cambridge connection which is why I think a free bus line between the 2 areas would be handy).This is extremely important to a multidisciplinary approach that is essential for the development of internet of things products and companies. In Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjava is 50 km away from the city. Government officials work in Putrajaya a planned city 25km away from town and other planned cities could mean that the serendipity that fosters collaborations is somewhat slowed down and dependant on events like BES which only happen yearly.

Meetups are a great way to create create this “third space” as the topic is so broad it tends to attract all sorts of people. The London iot meetup I run attracts investors, software and hardware developers, artists, architects and many more. Because it’s monthly it means there are people who are used to seeing with each other and engaging and possibly working together.

2. A close relationship between academia & industry

Dedicated Internet of things courses don’t quite exist yet (if you know of any ping me on @iotwatch on twitter) which means that universities that have technical courses have a lot to offer a marketplace full of ideas and crowdfunded projects . High value manufacturing, electronics design capabilities and supply chain design are skillsets that are lacking in the early stages of most iot startups. Instead of looking to large corporates to hire interns, a space for startups to have access to young technical talent in a way that goes beyond a voucher system and more IP neutral incubators would be great.

3. Access to early-stage consumer product friendly capital

This is the hardest nut to crack in the UK at the moment. I overheard an investor say that investing in consumer products was tricky because “they could be gone in 6 months”. Considering the rate of failure of online businesses I find that short-sighted. Most of the most successful product companies took many years to really embed themselves in people’s lives or become a preferred Christmas gift. The US’s sudden increase in incubators for connected products shows that they get it. Hopefully everyone else will follow. Angel investment in the connected product space is still a little sparse as you need a lot more than £10-£50K to get a product pre-industrialise. Perhaps the equity gap could be shortened with funds that specialise in these types of investments. After all all you need is a few key industrial partners to accelerate this. This is another chance for Asia to shine here as they have facilitated the production of consumer goods for many decades.

4. Coding & making for kids

You can’t train an entire industry up from the university upwards, you have to start much younger, which is why codeclub and other programs are key. It’s also a question of diversity. If 16 year olds can create products the rest of us want to use online, there’s no reason why hardware and consumer products should be any different.

I hope this is a little useful to anyone looking to build an internet of things ecology in their own country or city. There will be great changes in the industrial landscape because of it, and we really ought to have this come from the ground up.

The Internet of Things in Parliament

Before I dashed off to Sydney I was invited by John Riley to organise an internet of things showcase as part of the Parliament and the Internet day, a yearly conference. We ended up showcasing a small selection of my pop-up shop the Good Night Lamp, the AirQualityEgg Makie dolls, a RepRap and John invited Lauren Bowker to show her responsive fabrics along. I’m told it went well. More of these things should be happening if not actually displayed permanently as advocacy around these topics is never job done.

 

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Growing the energy side of the internet of things

Last July, I met Sam Lowe at the Internet of Things meetup I organise for Xively. He was working at British Gas at the time and we got talking. British Gas has a product development group called Connected Homes (they just launched their own #iot product called Hive) who were interested in organising a hackday but I really wanted them to do something else entirely: give money away to startups in the home energy sector. I figured if I was having trouble finding funding for Good Night Lamp, I was probably not the only one. But unlike a consumer product that’s a little blurry in its market space (part tele health, part social) an energy startup is a pretty clear offering.

I didn’t exactly know how many people had startups in that space, so I started working with Mark Lowther  and we started planning a series of events called Connecting Homes which started with a startup competition for home energy startups where a cash prize was given out to the 3 most innovative startups. We were also fortunate enough to have Martha Lane Fox deliver an amazing keynote and stay for the day to join the panel of judges who went around the room. I roped the wonderful Ana Bradley into helping organise the day as well as SuperNova studio who share my office with me.

We had over 50 startups apply from around the world who were all squarely in #iot territory but for home energy which was great. 25 of them showcased on September 28th and 3 of them ended up with a cash prize. We’re not stopping there though as we move towards an online community for the startups where they can share knowledge and opportunities as well as Office Hours where startups in the home energy space who want to talk to British Gas about a technical problem, testing opportunities or funding can sign up.

I’ve been working with energy companies since the Tinker days, and it’s a real pleasure to help startups get the best of large corporates in this space. The glue between the 2 is really essential and that’s how greener homes will happen.

The Inventor, the Designer and the Maker: 3 different ways of getting things done.

I’m giving a talk at the Centre of Fine Arts in Sydney today and last night worked on 3 ways of visualising the evolution of making in the past 10 years with the emmergence of Arduino and crowd funding particularly. I’m trying to work this into a small publication on the subject so really work in progress but thought I’d share it.

The Inventor Model

The Designer Model

The Maker Model

Web Directions 2013

I’m sat in the darkest room since the LIFT conference days and I think the first time I’ve spoken at a proper web conference in some years. It’s kind of weird. Lots of talks about front end development techniques I have never heard of which I guess is a sign I’m hanging out with back end developers mostly. I’m about to give my talk which I think will be a good primer for Golden Krishna who is right after me. Here are the slides.

Pour boxer, il faut avoir faim: my thoughts on design for design students

Written for an exhibition put on by Middlesex University as part of London Design Festival.

I graduated from a McSc in Industrial Design 2004 and here’s what I wish they’d told me.

You won’t design this way ever again.
If you work for someone else, you will spend 100% of your time designing 10% of a product. In famous design studios, you will only get involved in a fraction of the whole process, either the artistic direction, or the CAD drawings, or the user interface or tiny snippets of each. You’ll spend half your days in meetings and wonder “wow, I used to be so productive before”.

But working for yourself doesn’t make it easier.
If you work for yourself you’ll spend 10% of your time designing 100% of the product and 90% of your time selling it, begging for money or filling in paperwork. You’re probably never going to pay off your student loans this way, but you might be happier. I am.

Keep Learning.
In the digital age, to be a product designer is something you have to justify to yourself and others. It’s not a popular field of practice anymore as we live in more and more digital worlds and we’re moving towards a society of access & rental models rather than ownership. I learnt how to code in my MA because I hung out with programmers and I can safely say it saved me. It gave me an edge and an understanding of a field I would always have to interact with. I work in the fuzzy world between products & the internet (called the internet of things) and I can safely say what I learnt between 2000-2004 is obsolete, but that’s ok because I continued to learn and develop my skills.

Fame is never fortune.
The greatest disappointment of your early years in design is to realise that when you make the pages of a magazine, blog, newspaper, or show your work in a museum your life doesn’t change. You are fodder for some poor journalist/curator who has a 4 o’clock deadline. That’s it. Never pays the bills, never increases sales. Never.

Just do.
The Internet has created a society where we’re constantly fixating on what other people are doing. Back in the days, you might meet your peers once a week or a month, not every second of the day, which left plenty of time for the doing bit of design. It can be easy to stay stuck in a mode where you’re just spending your time in research and not actually designing. Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, the distractions are enormous, but nothing trumps just doing, designing, working.

Meet non-designers.
Spending time with people who aren’t designers is really important. There’s nothing worse for your career of developing a closed sense of what you’re interested in and what you’re not. You don’t know what you might be interested in…that’s the point of life in design. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so you literally have to go to random events, meet scientists, talk to politicians, because you might find you have something to contribute in their field too.

We have enough chairs, but not enough wheelchairs.
Design should be about empathising with a foreign problem and trying to solve it, not doing the same thing over and over again. I go around the Milan Furniture Fair and I despair at the number of pointless additions to the built environment young designers are producing when our grandmothers are being sold ugly products that are hard to use. Dare to work on un-popular topics because you’ll find you become an expert and you’ll make a great career out of it. It takes courage and if design isn’t about courage, then we should all have become accountants.

Against the culture of “meh” and the internet of things.

Two weeks ago I nearly lost my shit. Gartner, a trends research group (or science fiction that costs a lot more to subscribe to) published their yearly Hype Cycle Chart, describing the Internet of Things (which they’ve only started adding to their chart in 2010 after “mesh networks” was doing rather well) as being “more than 10 years away” for the third year in a row. Well I sincerely don’t know what they’re smoking in Connecticut but they should come to Europe more often. Trends researchers have a disproportionate influence on the tech sector and C-suite executives who don’t have time to keep up with what’s going on outside their organisations and rely on outside opinion. This is totally fine, unless that source is living under a rock.

I seriously doubt we’re 10 years ago when:
- There are monthly meetups with thousands of members across the world
- The EU has been discussing and integrating #iot in its discourse for about 5 years
- The UK technology funding has invested millions in demonstrator projects (one of which, EyeHub, I’m involved with)
- Large corporations like IBM, Cisco & GE have used the term to brand their activities
- Startups are mushrooming everywhere (see the map I’ve been building)
- Incubators are present worldwide (see my friend Peter‘s writeup)
- The UK Parliament hosts advisory sessions around the topic (which I attend and try to contribute to).
- I can fill my office with #iot products
- My friends are writing a book about #iot
- Products are getting funding on crowdfunding platforms because investors don’t get it.

We should remember that the people paid to write reports for the C-suite executives in technology will breed the type of opinion that Ken Olson had in 1977.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

August 28th, 1963.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Creativity & Collaboration in the 20th century.

I gave a talk a few weeks ago at Creat_ED and talked about entrepreneurism, fearlessness but really, I suppose I was talking about collaboration in hindsight. I’m reading Prague: Capital of 20th Century Surrealism and what’s immediately obvious is that artists were (maybe still are, I’d have to ask James about that) much better at collaboration than designers are. They put the effort in. They visited each other’s countries, would write surrealist pieces, poems, would create art that nodded towards those travels. Not un-related, a band from my youth, Les Rita Mitsouko had their first hit singing about the death of their mentor, a 32 year old un-googlable Argentinian dancer and choreographer called Marcia Moretto. I’d be impressed if Lady Gaga ever sung about Orlan. We should be good at this, but we really aren’t. I don’t think the internet has helped particularily, I think it’s just made it easier to be influenced by but not engage with others and their work. Steal an image here, pin it, put it in a deck and move on.

There’s been a return to good old fashioned salon-type dinners recently in London (I got invited to two in the past month) and maybe that’s a way to go back to a deeper form of engagement with others, but so far the dinners have had “themes”. Nothing worse than mixing food with homework as far as I’m concerned. At least drinks and nibbles never pretends to be anything else than a networking event, noone would want to network with a great meal. All I’d really want to see is a proper absinthe-fuelled fantastic dinner for less than £20 with people I don’t know but whose work I like or might have heard of. Anyone?