Lack of progress toward an "Internet of Things" has been attributed to a variety of factors. Indeed, enabling devices from different manufacturers to communicate in an effective and useful manner is no simple task. European start-up Relayr believes that its WunderBar, a hardware kit comprised of seven smart modules, could provide app developers with the toolbox to bring networks of interoperating gadgets closer to reality.
Designed to imitate a block of chocolate, the WunderBar is made up of wireless Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-enabled sensors which can be snapped off to serve different purposes.
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A main module uses an NXP ARM 1800-Series Coretwx-M3 Microcontroller and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n unit to connect the network of sensors to Wi-Fi. Sensor readings are sent from the six smaller modules using BLE, which also allows the monitoring of their battery levels.
Each of the six smaller modules are fitted with different types of sensors. One contains a sensor to monitor light, color and proximity, while another has a gyroscope and accelerometer for movement. A third sports a thermometer to measure temperature and humidity while a fourth contains an infrared transmitter intended for control of a home entertainment system. With the WunderBar currently the subject of a crowd-funding campaign, the company is leaving it up to its backers to vote on which sensors will be built into the remaining two modules.
The process of enabling device-to-device communication has typically required an understanding of both the software and hardware side to the technology, something Relayr co-founder Jackson Bond sees as an obstacle that can and should be avoided.
"We spoke with hundreds of software developers who all said the same thing," Bond tells Gizmag. "If hardware is the new software, why is it so hard to program and access? It should be as easy as programming an app for my smartphone. Just give me sensor data to program against, like the color of a lightbulb, or real live on-site weather data, or moisture, or gyration. I don't care who made the device using that sensor."
As such, the vision behind the WunderBar is centered on providing developers with a versatile out-of-the-box platform and empowering them to connect the technology with real-life applications.
Some examples provided by the company include using the temperature sensor to warn you before your beer gets too warm, programming an app to alert you when your plants need water or reminding you take a raincoat if inclement weather is forecast.
Using Software Development Kits (SDK) for iOS, Android and Node.js, Relayr says that developers can have their first Internet of Things App up and running in less than 10 minutes. The company offers a variety of resources to assist along the way, with libraries, tutorials and demo apps available to familiarize yourself with the WunderBar and Relayr platform.
The main module is powered by a NXP LPC1837 Cortex M3 processor, with 136 KB of RAM, a 3.3 V regulator including a lithium-ion/LiPo charger, and a USB OTG (On-The-Go) port. The smaller modules run on a Cortex M0 processor with 16 KB of RAM.
Relayr maintains that its software will remain open source, as will its hardware where possible, stating on its crowdfunding page, "The only secure Internet is one that is open for all to scrutinize and correct."
The company has turned to the crowdfunding platform Dragon Innovation, which specializes in hardware projects, to get the WunderBar into commercial production. Pledges of US$149 are still available, and shipping is estimated for June 2014 if all goes to plan.
Though a home filled with communicating gadgets might still be some way off, offering a platform whereby programmers can easily circumvent the complexities of hardware development could be integral to streamlining the process, and is something Bond believes could define the next era of app development.
"Five years ago hardly anyone had a smartphone or an app, and now its a multi-billion dollar industry," he says. "The next five years are going to be even bigger, but only if we remove the hurdles and give app developers an easy tool set."
You can hear from Bond in the video below.