The Internet of Things Is So Easy, We Built Our Own

For less than $100, we built a Barack Obama Detector for your desk.

March 2, 2015, 6:03 a.m.

“The In­ter­net of Things.” I love this phrase; it seems sim­ul­tan­eously simple and im­possibly high tech. “Big Data,” an­oth­er hot top­ic of our day, sounds as un­ap­proach­able as it prob­ably is. But the In­ter­net of Things has a be­guil­ing DIY feel­ing about it.

In last week’s Na­tion­al Journ­al magazine, Brendan Sas­so wrote about the rise of In­ter­net-con­nec­ted ap­pli­ances and house­hold ob­jects, out­lining some of the se­cur­ity con­cerns com­ing to light as these devices be­come more pop­u­lar.

As an am­a­teur elec­tron­ics nerd, I wanted to show an­oth­er side of this tech­no­logy—that far from be­ing the sole province of Sil­ic­on Val­ley, In­ter­net Things are easy to build your­self, at your own kit­chen table.

Last year, I bought an Ar­du­ino, a small com­puter about the size of a deck of cards. First de­veloped in Italy in 2005, the Ar­du­ino (and suc­cessors such as the Rasp­berry Pi) have brought what I like to call “dis­pos­able com­put­ing” to the masses.

They’re so cheap—about $25 for the ba­sic mod­el— that you can af­ford to buy one, pro­gram it to do ex­actly one task, and set it loose without ty­ing up a more ex­pens­ive com­puter such as your laptop. People have used Ar­du­i­nos to put on Christ­mas light shows, make cute print­ers and build power out­lets that tweet en­ergy us­age.

To show how easy it is to make a new In­ter­net Thing, I set out to build something polit­ics-re­lated: A Pres­id­ent Obama De­tect­or that sits on your desk.

Es­sen­tially, this device had to A) di­vine the pres­id­ent’s loc­a­tion, prob­ably through his pub­lic sched­ule; and B) com­mu­nic­ate this visu­ally to the user.

All in all, as­sembly took about an hour, al­though I spent some time be­fore­hand set­ting up the re­mote serv­er. My ma­ter­i­als in­cluded an Ar­du­ino Uno, an Ar­du­ino Eth­er­net shield, a bunch of 10mm dif­fused white LEDs and a box kindly donated by Na­tion­al Journ­al graph­ic artist Libby Is­en­stein.

See—not so hard!

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