The everyday objects in our lives are being connected together in an Internet of Things – and it's growing at an unprecedented rate.
10 billion devices are connected to the internet today, and it's set to grow to 50 billion by 2020. But with the number of connected devices in our lives skyrocketing, there's a risk that we may lose control of how our technology interacts with the Internet of Things – and how the data generated is used.
Start-up SAM Labs wants to make the Internet of Things accessible again. "I want to give the power more to the people than to the companies," says founder Joachim Horn. "We think that if you give the right tools to the people, they'll create their own products, and understand how they work. All they need is the right understanding and the right tools."
Those tools are SAM Labs' SAMs – or Sensor Actor Modules. As the name suggests, they're a system of modules that wirelessly connect to each other and the internet; Sensors gather data from the world around them, and Actors act on that data. "You can stick them anywhere and can control them from a distance with your phone – from another country, if you're connected to the internet," explains Horn.
Keeping things simple is the name of the game; so the SAMs are programmed through a drag-and-drop interface. "It's something that's called flow-based programming," says Horn. "Basically you drag icons next to each other, and the code flows from one to the other logically – it automatically generates, and shows you what you're building by dragging and dropping. So the coder slowly understands what action is controlling which icon, and how the code fits together."
The coding interface includes simple icons for Facebook, Twitter and e-mail – so you could, for example, use the SAM units to create a smart fridge that tweets every time you open it. "Imagine a cycle jacket that signals to the driver behind you where you're turning traffic," says Horn. "Or a box in your shoe that tells you where to walk if you need directions. You can build systems to give you a push indication on your phone when someone enters your house; what lights are on, what the temperature is, what your energy consumption is. It can be done very easily by anyone; there's no need to be an engineer or a software developer; all that's needed is to have an idea, and you can configure the Sam really easily."
SAM Labs is part of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program, designed to give start-ups a helping hand with mentoring and networking. "You're around a lot of other start-ups," says Horn. "You share the same issues, you share the same fears and you communicate about all kinds of things that you wish you'd known. You get to meet mentors, take an argument apart, see what the base assumptions are."
Sam Labs has launched on crowdfunding site Kickstarter; prices for a fully-functional kit start at £45 for an Early Bird pledge. That nets you the basic SAM Explore kit, with three modules and the app, while real enthusiasts can pledge £230 for the SAM Pro kit, with 12 modules.