Kathy Giori | IoT Evangelist

THE RACE

The “horse race” was unforgettable. The video linked below says it all. No chance for the audience of Makers and teachers to fall asleep that Saturday morning at the Robolot conference in Olot.

What technology is behind the horse race?

  1. ED1 development board made by Citilab’s Edutec program team.

  2. MicroBlocks running on the ED1 captured data from the accelerometer, and translated that movement to virtual “speed” (of the horse).

  3. MicroBlocks packaged the “speed” data (using Mozilla’s open WebThings library) into JSON format for http transport over the Wi-Fi network. This format is being used to promote IoT interoperability, one of the main goals of the W3C Web of Things standard.

  4. Snap! was running (locally, without Internet) in a web browser and projecting the status of the horses (shown on the “stage”) on the big screen. It listened to and parsed the simple JSON format WebThing data and used the values to “propel” the horses from left to right.

  5. The first horse to clear the screen was tagged as the winner, and sent a message to show a trophy on the ED1 screen. (The horses were numbered by the last octet of the IP address.)

  6. The participants pulled the ED1 boards out of their pockets, and the trophy screen exposed the winner!

The race was an exciting culmination of collaboration between several passionate nerds — those of us invited to partake in a week-long residency program at the FABER Residency program related to Robotics, in Olot, Spain.

FROM CALIFORNIA TO OLOT

How did I get so lucky? I had never participated in a residency program before. I came all the way from California because my friends at MicroBlocks and Snap! informed me that this program was truly magnificent. And it was. At FABER we came up with the idea of using Mozilla’s WebThings framework, an open software framework we have developed to improve the privacy, security, and interoperability of smart home products, to be the communications bridge between the MicroBlocks-based “horses” and the animated horse race visual running on Snap!.

The stitching together of complex pieces into an elegant whole is what the FABER Residency program in Olot allowed us “nerds” to do. Snap!, MicroBlocks, Mozilla WebThings, Citilab ED1 boards, plus wireless networking and the web enabled us to bring it all together.

Collaboration between people with skills in tech and skills in art, is what drives human-friendly innovations. When you dig deep, the combination of wireless technology, electronics, mechatronics, software, and the microcontrollers, microprocessors, and printed circuit boards that implement those technologies are amazingly complex. But when you abstract away such complexities and let humans be creative and simplify the technology into an analogy of a horse race that everyone can understand, technology becomes amazingly elegant.

Mont Puigsacalm

We didn’t just sit in front of computer screens with attached programmable boards and robots. Mont Puigsacalm beckoned to us one day, and we took on the challenge. The views from the top and the beautiful trail to get there was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Conveniences and People

All food and lodging were taken care of, and during hikes and meals we were still “working” our brains, coming up with more ideas, plans, and dreams. There’s no fixed “schedule” (except periods when they serve meals), so you can sleep in or get up early to go for a jog, retire early or hang out in the lobby and talk with colleagues about the mysteries of life on earth.

And when you leave, you dream of the opportunity to meet up with these amazing people again. You want them to visit you in your own home and work, you want to return and visit them again. Your brain, your spirit, and your being have been uplifted.