Last week, word dropped of how the folks at Spark, creators of an Arduino-compatible board for creating homebrew Internet-connected hardware (the Spark Core), had hacked together an open source digital thermostat.
Nobody, Spark included, expects this device to knock Nest, recently acquired by Google, out of the box. But the project hints at how the technology needed to create Internet of things-style devices is well within the reach of most any hardware hacker with only a few dollars to spend.
The maker ethic -- the digital do-it-yourself movement -- has been establishing a name for itself in the last few years with everything from relatively high-profile devices like the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino to open source hardware laptops. Sensors, processors, and networking hardware, the three main ingredients for Internet of things-style devices, are not only now cheap, but can be easily gathered together, programmed, and deployed with commodity hardware and software.
The fourth ingredient for a homebrew Internet of things is the cloud -- specifically, its data storage and processing power. Again, cloud computing is only growing more affordable with time. Plus, the openness of the process makes it easier to guarantee transparency for any particular ingredient or finished product. On those notes, Spark not only has full hardware documentation for its devices, but offers a REST API-powered cloud service for them.
Still, caveats do come to mind. For one, the overall openness wouldn't automatically mean the resulting device or the original components are themselves immune from being hijacked, per the recent spate of nightmare scenarios involving home appliances that spy on their users.
What's even tougher to imagine is whether the products of a grassroots IoT movement will make much of an impact outside of maker circles. The Raspberry Pi itself, for example, remains a relatively niche item, not the kind of game-changer that the smartphone or the tablet was. Also, a homebrew Internet of things solution of any stripe isn't likely to eclipse a polished product with no assembly required. Honeywell, the one household name most people still associate with thermostats, has had its own smart thermostat in competition with the Nest without making the same kind of dent in its market share. A do-it-yourself solution isn't likely to fare better.
Perhaps that's beside the point. With the flood of corporate players now getting into the consumer Internet of things game via all manner of devices with the word "smart" somewhere in the name, maybe some experimentation is needed to see where the real value lies in equipping everything with a sensor and a radio.
This story, "DIY Internet of things: The ultimate maker project" was originally published by InfoWorld.