Facebook invested more cash this week when they acquired one of my favourite Kickstarter projects Oculus VR for a seemingly ridiculous $2b. The VR (virtual reality) headset was the best in class technology (in its price range) and had just added a head-tracking software solution to reduce motion sickness. Of course it wasn't just the VR headset that Facebook acquired, but the CTO of Oculus VR, who is no other than the legendary game creator John Carmack.
There is every indication that Facebook will let Oculus VR do their own thing but I do worry about the lack of support from game developers, so John Carmack needs to rally the forces. We all agree there is money in wearable technologies in 2014, right? I actually classed virtual reality headsets as my favourite form of wearable technology, but I am a gamer at heart and spent a lot of time playing VR games in the local arcades as a teenager/adult. With the problems of motion sickness being alleviated and fast refresh rates then we can all look forward to recreating scenes from Disclosure very soon and it proves this is happening now.
I was recently looking into IFTTT (if this then that) which is a service that lets you create powerful connections of Internet services. Channels are the basic representation of online services (Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote, etc.). Triggers are actions that place on a channel, such as “I check in on Foursquare” or “I am tagged in a ridiculous picture of the office party on Facebook”. Actions are the tasks to perform such as ‘send me a text message to warm me of photos I am tagged in on Facebook”. Recipes are therefore the final ‘if this than that’ statement which combines triggers on channels with actions to perform. You can have personal recipes, one example of such being a text message warning system for photos that you are tagged in on Facebook within days of an office party.
I later discovered trailr which allows you to build and deploy Arduino ‘environment-aware’ sketches over WebSockets. This basically means that you can effectively reprogram the hardware by sending an environment configuration over the air. This led me onto Firmata, which is a generic protocol for communicating with microcontrollers from software on a host computer. It is intended to work with any host computer software package. Basically, this firmware establishes a protocol for talking to the Arduino from the host software. The aim is to allow people to completely control the Arduino from software on the host computer. Firmata is therefore a simple Arduino sketch that allows you to control all of the pins on the micro-controller dynamically without loading a new program on the board every time you want to do something.
SkyNet and Cloud Programmable Hardware
I have to mention SkyNet once again after they amazed me by lighting up their office with Phillips Hue light bulbs that change colour (red or green) as their stock price fluctuates (using the Yahoo Stock Market API). You can see the video here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNiHQXmawys. SkyNet have firmware that allows an Arduino to automatically connect to SkyNet and await Firmata instructions. SkyNet then becomes the compute cloud for controlling devices and collecting sensor data without CPUs or custom device apps.
As Chris from SkyNet says, “You could literally duct-tape an Arduino, MicroArduino (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/microduino/microduino-arduino-in-your-pocket-small-stackable), Spark device (https://www.spark.io/), or RFduino (http://www.rfduino.com/) to a light pole with a small rechargeable battery and solar cell. It connects to SkyNet allowing you to stream sensor data from connected sensors or you could turn on pins for lights, relays, motors, etc. via SkyNet messages. SkyNet messages could be sent from people all around the world.”
I must admit that I find the whole concept of Cloud controlled programmable hardware very exciting.
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I am a mobility and digital transformation analyst, consultant and writer. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.