Devs on tour: Raspberry Pi flavoured IoT in Brighton

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Dave Lochhead

Dave Lochhead
Senior Creative Technologist

Date:
25 March 2016

Office:
Glasgow

When one of the world’s leading tech forecasters, Daniel Burrus, describes the IoT (Internet of Things) as the technology, “that’s going to give us the most disruption as well as the most opportunity over the next five years,” well you’ve got to pay attention.

That’s why last week two of us Dogs - me, Senior Creative Technologist, and Andy, Senior Developer, headed to sunny Brighton to take part in an IoT workshop, ST4i + JS + Raspberry Pi. The workshop was a two day event where we’d learn to build internet connected devices using a Raspberry Pi Zero and JavaScript. The workshop had previously run last year, using Arduino based micro-controllers, and was hugely popular selling out all events. But this year, things had moved on… 

The workshop was hosted by BAFTA award winning and “Developer of the Year (Microsoft Critters Awards, 2013)” Seb Lee-Delisle (He’s also a very nice guy). Seb has a massive amount of experience in this field. Check out some of his amazing projects:   

For the workshop we’d be using the recently released Raspberry Pi Zero (PiZero). A £4 computer! So cheap, in fact, that last year it was given away on the front of a magazine. Unlike its competitor, Arduino, the Raspberry Pi is a full computer and not just a micro-controller, thus more flexible. Once you add a cheap WiFi adapter it has everything needed to be an IoT device including GPIO, the magic interface that lets us connect devices and electronics directly. 

After assembling the project boards, attaching the PiZero, WiFi adapter and breadboard, and a brief intro to electronics, it was time for us to get stuck into the code. 

Seb had pre-configured the PiZeros to run Node.js. Officially, Node.js is an “open-source, cross-platform runtime environment for developing server-side Web applications” but what it gives us is a great platform for writing applications in JavaScript. JavaScript being the primary language of the internet age, and now the most popular language of all time. It’s also a language both of us were very comfortable with, which meant we could easily transfer our skills to this new platform. 

The workshop progressed from the basics, getting an LED to blink, through to a geo-located weather forecast being displayed on a tiny OLED screen. Along the way, we built a two-way internet connected button, a display for a web-socket enabled chat room, and even an ISS tracker with countdown timer! Phew. 

The last couple of hours of the workshop were left for personal experiments. Using newly acquired knowledge, and previous experience, we were able to build a Twitter keyword tracker that displays Tweets on the tiny on-board screen with, per tweet, colour changing LEDs. 

The Internet of Things is exciting. And, however much fun it is making connected devices (and believe us, it is fun!) the opportunity and real value lies in the marriage of connected devices, sensors and applications that interpret the data in real time. That’s where we can make a difference to people’s lives, and help brands create better experiences for their customers. 

Overall the experience was hugely educational and has left us inspired and buzzing with ideas for DogLabs. Thanks to Seb for a great workshop, and to Dog for sending Andy and me on an, albeit educational, jolly to Brighton!