Tag Archives: Klint Finley

Open source IoT with Contiki

Contiki – an open source OS for the IoT – is developed by a world-wide team of devs with contributions from a number of prominent companies such as Atmel, Cisco, ETH, Redwire LLC, SAP and Thingsquare.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Essentially, Contiki provides powerful low-power Internet communication, supporting fully standard IPv6 and IPv4, along with recent low-power wireless standards: 6lowpan, RPL and CoAP.

With Contiki’s ContikiMAC and sleepy routers, even wireless routers can be battery-operated. 

Contiki facilities intuitive, rapid development, as apps are written in standard C. Using the Cooja simulator, Contiki networks can be emulated before being burned into hardware, while Instant Contiki provides an entire development environment in a single download.

Recently, the open source Contiki was featured by Wired’s Klint Finley, who describes the versatile OS as the go-to operating system for hackers, academics and companies building network-connected devices like sensors, trackers and web-based automation systems.

“Developers love it because it’s lightweight it’s free, and it’s mature. It provides a foundation for developers and entrepreneurs eager to bring us all the internet-connected gadgets the internet of things promises, without having to develop the underlying operating system those gadgets will need,” he writes.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

“Perhaps the biggest thing Contiki has going for it is that it’s small. Really small. While Linux requires one megabyte of RAM, Contiki needs just a few kilobytes to run. Its inventor, Adam Dunkels, has managed to fit an entire operating system, including a graphical user interface, networking software, and a web browser into less than 30 kilobytes of space.”

Unsurprisingly, consumer technology companies are beginning to embrace Contiki as well. To help support the burgeoning commercial usage of Contiki, OS founder Adam Dunkels ultimately left his job at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science and founded Thingsquare, a startup focused on providing a cloud-based back-end for Contiki devices.

“The idea is to make it easy for developers to connect their hardware devices with smartphones and the web,” added Finley.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

“Thingsquare manages the servers, and provides all the software necessary to manage a device over the web.”

It should be noted that Thingsquare recently showcased various Internet of Things (IoT) applications at Embedded World 2014 in Nuremberg, Germany.

Indeed, a number of Thingsquare’s demonstrations were powered by Atmel’s recently launched SAM R21 Xplained PRO evaluation board – illustrating the seamless integration of Thingsquare’s software stack with Atmel’s new SAM R21 ultra-low power wireless microcontroller (MCU).

Interested in learning more? You can check out Contiki’s official page here and read about Thingsquare’s use of Atmel tech here.

Neuroscience goes open source at MIT & Brown

Josh Siegle, a doctoral student at MIT’s Wilson Lab, recently told Wired that today’s neuroscientists are expected to be accomplished hardware engineers, fully capable of designing new tools for analyzing the brain and collecting relevant data.

“There are many off-the-shelf commercial instruments that help you do such things, but they’re usually expensive and hard to customize,” Siegle explained. 

”Neuroscience tends to have a pretty hacker-oriented culture. A lot of people have a very specific idea of how an experiment needs to be done, so they build their own tools.”

The problem? As Wired’s Klint Finley notes, few neuroscientists actually share the tools they create, which often lack design principles such as modularity. Meaning, project-specific devices and platforms can’t be reused for other experiments. 

That is precisely why MIT’s Siegle and Jakob Voigts of Moore Lab at Brown University founded Open Ephys, a project for sharing open source neuroscience hardware designs.

“We don’t necessarily want people to use our tools specifically,” Siegle clarified. “We just want to build awareness of how open source eliminates redundancy, reduces costs and increase productivity.”

Open Ephys officially kicked off three years ago as part of a research project tracking hippocampus and cortex activity in mice.

“We spent about half a year looking for the perfect commercial data acquisition tool to use for our experiment recording electrical signals from brains,” said Siegle. “We looked at all of the commercial systems and all of them were inadequate in some way.”

Rather than MacGuyver yet another platform, the duo decided to adopt a more modular approach by moving the creative process online. In addition, the two chose many of the same tools used by hackers and modders, including Arduino boards.

“We like Arduinos because lots of people know how to use them, and they’re easy to get your hands on,” Siegle added.

Interested in learning more? You can check out Wired’s full write up here and the Open Ephys gallery here.

Will cyborg plants monitor our world?

Writing for Wired, Klint Finley says the world could soon see cyborg plants that tell us when they need more water, what chemicals they’ve been exposed to and what parasites are chomping away at their roots.

“These half-organic, half-electronic creations may even tell us how much pollution is in the air,” writes Finley. “And yes, they’ll plug into the network. That’s right: We’re on our way to the Internet of Plants.”

Indeed, Andrea Vitaletti, who heads a research group on Italy, is working on a project known as PLEASED, an acronym for “Plants Employed as Sensing Devices.” Although the initiative is still in a nascent stage, Vitaletti believes plants could ultimately serve as sophisticated sensors tasked with monitoring our environment.

“Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive,” Vitaletti told Wired. “There’s evidence that plants react to damages, parasites, pollutants, chemicals, acids, and high temperature. But what’s not known is whether it’s possible to look into the signal and see what generated the event.”

To be sure, Vitaletti acknowledges that it may be somewhat difficult to definitively analyze and interpret the signals.

“In some ways, this is easier than doing research on humans, because the signals are simpler,” he concludes.

Nevertheless, Vitaletti and other scientists already are working to connect various species with Atmel-based Arduino boards capable of recording and transmitting information. Ultimately, cyborg plants could detect parasites and pollutants in crops, or play a critical role in precision agriculture by automatically requesting water and nutrients.

Interested in learning more? You can check out the full Wired article here and “The Internet of Things, Stalk by Stalk,” written by Atmel’s very own Paul Rako here.