SitePoint/Flippa Hack Day: Hacking our First IoT Project

Recently at SitePoint, in conjuncture with Flippa.com, we held our first company-wide Hack Day.

Thursday morning began with an ‘open mike’ meeting where anyone could pitch any idea they liked. Everyone voted on their favorites and we had two days to plan, build and present our idea back to the group late Friday.

It was serious and there were prizes – we even had t-shirts made!

The Pitches

There were some great pitches made including:

InstaGran: Send a printed postcard with personal message to your grandmother – for free.
Bot-bot: An event/table tennis/fuusball organising Slackbot.
Minority Report: Using machine learning on historical records for better website valuations.
Creepr: Provide better choices to your customers by understanding them better.

However, this article is about an IoT idea pitched by SitePoint lead developer, Jude Aakjær.

Jude’s Idea: Sparklemotion

You may not know that the SitePoint HQ is actually an open-plan, three storey building currently housing four companies that share resources – Flippa.com, Influx.com, PromisePay.com and, of course, SitePoint. Throughout the building we have a scattering of variously-sizes boardrooms and meeting spaces.

The Problem? Getting a Room

Though we have a calendaring system for booking these rooms, it’s fair to say that it isn’t rigorously adhered to.

What’s more, it’s common for people to need to take Skype, Hangouts or phone calls with no advanced notice. You’ll see these poor wretches stumbling through the building carrying a laptop, peeking under blinds, searching for a place of refuge.

Jude’s idea was to build IoT hardware and software that would know which rooms were currently occupied and that made that information readily available – via both an indicator light in-situ and a web front-end. He dubbed it ‘Sparklemotion’ and wanted to build a proof of concept.

Although Sparklemotion didn’t technically win the vote, a handful of us were sufficiently inspired to want to work on it regardless. Who said this was a democracy, anyway?

The self-assembled team was our sysadmin, Adam Bolte, SitePoint managing editor, Adam Roberts, Video Content Manager, Angela Molina and SitePoint Design and UX editor, Alex Walker.

Had any of us built electronics before? No. But collectively we’d seen most of McGuyver, so we felt well-prepared.

The Scope

We estimated that in two days could likely build:

The internet-enabled Arduino unit with motion sensor unit
A simple server to monitor signalling
A web frontend
1. The Hardware Build

Before Hack Days started, we had spruiked the SparkleMotion concept around the office and found out the basics of how it would need to work. A few people around the office donated Arduino kits and a PIR motion sensor was sourced.

As none of the team had used an Arduino, and our C skills hovered somewhere between rusty and non-existent, we found the setup instructions in the Sparkfun kit to be super handy. It had some great beginners tutorials and we used it extensively to work out how the Arduino functioned.

Arduino’s function perfectly for this kind of hacking, you can quickly prototype out a working piece of electronics without having to solder, and with fairly limited programming skills. They consist of a microcontroller with several digital and analog I/O pins that can be plugged into lights, motors, sensors, LCD boards, really anything you can imagine!

We got our SparkFun board and started playing…

Our basic battle plan was

Turn a light on and off!
Get an RGB light working
Work out the motion sensor
Talk to the internet!

Turning a light on and off was pretty simple, so we quickly moved on to driving an RGB light. This showed that there were two ways of reading and writing data, analog, and digital. Digital writes involve turning switches either ON or OFF and in the example of our RGB LED, this means cycling through all the combinations afforded by the three switches.
Continue reading %SitePoint/Flippa Hack Day: Hacking our First IoT Project%

via Reme Le Hane

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