Down in the Financial District on Monday, at the first-ever NYC Internet of Things Fair, a score of companies demoed ideas to bridge data, the cloud, and real-world devices.
The technology on display ranged from a monitor that keeps tabs on the microbes that clean wastewater to a type of tiny LED that could be used to make energy-efficient electronic displays. The fair was hosted by IoT Central, which runs the NYC Internet of Things Meetup group.
This type of gathering tends to crop up when a new tech du jour surfaces. The Internet of Things, the concept of gathering data from and controlling devices that are linked to the Web, has seen its share of buzz. However, widespread consumer demand to “connect all things” has not happened—yet.
For example, at last month’s Quirky press conference, General Electric’s chief marketing officer Beth Comstock said, “Most Americans don’t think smart home technology is affordable.” So companies such as Quirky, which was among last night’s exhibitors, have been trying to prove that linking devices to the Web, for consumer and other needs, can find an audience.
Some of the technologies on display were precursors to devices yet to come. For example, Bug Labs in New York showed how microchips on a circuit board with a temperature sensor, an accelerometer, and other components can “Dweet” information to a linked dashboard.
Dweet is software from Bug Labs that lets devices share data on the Web. Vishal Kumar, director of solutions engineering with Bug Labs, said the chip was aggregating sensor information along with an image feed from a Dropcam, even though they use dissimilar infrastructure. “It’s mashing up two completely different data sources into one dashboard,” he said.
Other exhibitors included Ottomate from Washington, DC, which is developing hardware and an app to make more devices in the home “smart.” Ottomate (see slideshow above) is kind of a bypass plug-in that goes into a wall socket. The device to be controlled is then plugged into Ottomate, letting the user control certain functions through a smartphone.
CEO Shazia Sami said Ottomate works with televisions, coffeemakers, curling irons, and DVRs, automatically turning such devices on and off based on the habits learned from users. There is also an energy savings feature to the technology. “We have an algorithm that detects and stops the phantom electricity, which is always pulling,” Sami said, referring to the standby power that some devices draw from the grid even when switched off.
Some of the technology on display had industrial usage in mind. BluCarbon Analytics, a New York startup, presented its microbe detection and diagnostic software for wastewater treatment. Microbes take in the pollution of wastewater, use it as a food stock to convert into their own energy, said CEO Shane Eten. His company’s software helps water utilities understand how well the microbes are performing in treatment plants, which can help make their operations more efficient.
BluCarbon’s collector automatically takes samples from the reactors. A Web app helps water utilities understand where the microbes are growing and how active and productive they are. The results can tell water utilities if they need to aerate the treatment plants more or take other measures. “They are trying to create an environment to flourish,” Eten said. “We are helping them understand if it is working it or not.”
Meanwhile, with an idea born a couple of years ago from the Columbia Technology Ventures tech transfer program, Lumiode is developing electronic displays akin to the digital signs in Times Square—but on a small scale.
Lumiode uses tiny, pixelated LEDs to be both the light source and the image shown in electronic displays. In many consumer electronics, a single LED is used to backlight the screens of smartphones and laptops. Brian Tull, vice president of research and development with Lumiode, said the technology could be useful for creating tiny digital projectors, displays inside helmets, and displays inside cars.
Once it has the resources, Lumiode wants to put together a prototype development kit, Tull said. That could help product makers better understand how the technology could be used—and help Lumiode get its product out into the world.