Next month i will have been co-organising Cosm’s Internet of Things London Meetup for a year. When Usman and Ed approached me, the attendance was around 20 and the group had around 140 members.
After a year, the meetup has attracted 906 members , between 40 and 70 actually attend every month, the meetup sells out within a few days of a Twitter announcement and there is always a waiting list. This is a good sign.
My job with this meetup is to make sure that as many varied people come together and think about how they might collaborate, interact with Cosm as a company and generally get a sense of what the internet of things means. What motivated me to get involved includes:
1. My fascination with worlds loosely joined and a lack of definition for the internet of things.
2. The importance of meeting face to face.
Coming from the world of design (I studied product & interaction design) I’m used to a world that has a very organic and fluctuating view of itself. If you look at the history of product design for instance, you’ll find that it started with applying engineering skills in a creative way to car designs, new home products that emerged after the second world war, etc. There was a lot of space to innovate with materials that didn’t exist like the Eames did with moulded plywood. It was a time of discoveries and elation. Then the technologies and materials became well known, it became affordable to make one-offs and the designer’s role started to be considered by collaborators as one of aesthetics, bordering on art. Thus a debate that the world of design has been having for the past 20 years about what is design and what is art, because the perception of the word design has changed.
The Internet of Things is in a similar situation. People from the Machine-to-Machine world who have been providing smart infrastructures for buildings, the military and others have embraced the term. RFID & barcode providers have used it to put a new spin on a technology that is more than 30 years old. Product designers use it to talk about connected product ideas. Electronics manufacturer are excited about the idea of selling low-powered chipsets to manufacturers who will introduce them on the market.
All these players all use the “internet of things” to define what they offer, some even build marketing campaigns that extend the term like Cisco’s Internet of Everything, or the Web of Things and others add on obscure academic expressions like Collaborative Objects (which I heard the head of Marketing for ARM use in an internet of things presentation at the Houses of Parliament last week). This is a bit like talking about experience design vs service design, it’s a marketing strategy to associate a business to an industry/trend while still retaining some uniqueness.
With these fluctuations in definitions and visions from larger players, the role of the meetup becomes one of making sense of the noise and highlight how much is happening in the UK, on the ground in people’s homes, SMEs and R&D departments away from marketing departments.
Presentations so far have included:
- how to connect a mobile project with Cosm
- how Kickstarter works for internet of things projects & art installations using the latest open hardware platforms
- sensor platforms for environmental monitoring
- mobile apps for the internet of things using sound
- companies working on White Space
- internet-connected robots, geiger sensors and bubble machines.
All these various companies, startups, people and research labs are happy to come and talk at an event that is on a topic that lacks definition. This means that right now, the term is loose, open and people feel they can use it without asking for permission and that’s brilliant.
You don’t build an industry on bickering about semantics. You build it by encouraging cross-collaboration and cross-fertilisation of ideas and having a beer while doing it.
It’s my privilege to help make that happen every month and I look forward to the next years of presentations to see how things shape up. Hope you’ll join us.