Dumb Inside

Open the book to turn on the light. 
Bring temporary connectivity to everyday objects using simple circuits. Apply to other objects as desired.

This project was borne from the question: can we bring simple internet connectivity to the “dumb” things we already have? And if we do that, can we ensure they are compatible with other Internet of Things products?

Currently, the Internet of Things has a lot of vendors competing to control the products and services in your home. These products don’t always interoperate with one another. This leads to consumers being locked into a vendor’s ecosystem (a so-called “walled garden”) or needing to buy complex solutions to get all of their connected things at last connected with one another. We also believe you shouldn’t have to buy a new object in order to get it talking with the web, and that being able to open and modify an object is an important part of owning it.

Our project proposes that the web is a tool that can provide interoperability. We suggest using web services such as IFTTT to get different products talking. As a secondary feature, we wanted the ability to easily apply and remove the connectivity an object.

To demonstrate this concept, we developed a simple interaction inspired by the reading lamps in Indian national trains. In our project, a user opens a book, which turns on a reading lamp. When they close the book, the light turns off.

To make this, we created the circuits using Arduino, Processing.js, a radio frequency transmitter and receiver, and some LEDs. Once the first version of our circuits were working, we made a more robust version by soldering them to a circuit board. In parallel, we made a lamp stand by cutting and joining up a large plastic pipe. We also folded paper around one part of the circuit to make a bookmark.

Here’s the code we used to make it.

dumb inside building

This project was showcased at the Museum of Conflict in Ahmedabad with an emphasis on electrical efficiency. We also highlighted the importance of reading and learning in the lives of children so as to bring light into the homes of people in the future. These insights helped local visitors relate to the technology and understand its implications on their lives in the near future.

dumb inside exhibit

To take this project further, we would try to make the circuits actually connect via IFTTT. We’d also want them smaller, perhaps one day down to the size of reusable stickers, and boost their connectivity so that they could be easily programmed with the web. We would also demonstrate how they’d work with consumer-grade connected products. Possible analogies would be Estimote beacons.

Dumb Inside is part of a larger concern about interoperability and walled gardens in IoT. Perhaps a version of F.A.T. Lab’s Free Universal Construction Kit for the top ten product ecosystems of the Internet of Things would be a fun related project we could do next.

—Michelle Thorne (@thornet), Shashank Sriram and Michael Henretty (@mikehenrty)

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