protoTYPING: Exploring the bustling IoT scene

protoTYPING: Exploring the bustling IoT scene

The Internet of Things (IoT) movement shows no sign of slowing down.

Every time I go to the big box stores, more and more shelf space is being devoted to connected devices and they are becoming a big part of our daily lives. As interest in these devices is on the upswing, there is also a groundswell of local, regional and national meet-ups and conferences about IoT. Industry pros gather to learn about the latest tools and techniques, while novices and hackers are gathering to learn more about the capacity of connected technology and how to make their own prototypes. Fortunately, Charlotte and North Carolina has a bustling IoT scene and I was able to go to two events in the last month. I made some great connections and learned a lot from other industry pros in my area. The following is a wrap up of my experiences and how the IoT community can help you with your next connected device.

NASCAR control room at RIoT 17.

NASCAR control room at RIoT 17.

The first event I went to was RIoT 17. RIoT is a regional (the ‘R’ in RIoT) internet of things networking group based in Raleigh, NC (the original ‘R’ in RIoT) that hosts events to spread knowledge about all things IoT. It was held at NASCAR headquarters in downtown Charlotte, and I spent the day learning more about how IoT technology and big data is driving the 4th industrial revolution and some novel solutions to deploy it.

The RIoT group is a non-profit with over 5,000 members that was founded by Larry Steffann in 2014. A serial entrepreneur and General Manager of the NC Wireless Research Center, Steffann understands the power of IoT and the impact it is poised to have on our economy and our cities.

“The big economic driver in this world in the future…will be IoT. We wanted to reach that community…so, we started something called RIoT,” notes Steffann.

His partner and Executive Director, Tom Snyder, teaches a product innovation lab at NC State University and has 20 years experience in product development. The duo hosts events to bring IoT users, developers, executives and the community together and facilitate education, conversation and foster business and civic relationships to advance the IoT movement.

The first part of the RIoT event was an industry-focused conference with lectures in their meeting spaces adjacent to NASCAR TV studios and control rooms. Nick Franza, Manager of Technology, Innovation, and Development for NASCAR opened the event and talked about how valuable and challenging it is to get real time data off of the racecars during an event, but how engaging it can be for fans. He also talked about how IoT innovation will change the way the race series handles logistics and credentialing at the track.

The day was then split into business and technical breakout session tracks. I chose the technical track for the day and was treated to lectures by reps from chip suppliers Renasas, NXP, and Nordic, but my favorite was Dan Thyer, CTO of the Industrial IoT firm Logical Advantage. He was wearing his iconic connected T-shirt that blinked an LED sequence whenever someone mentioned him on Twitter, and he talked about some of his home automation exploits. The day session finished with a tour of the NXP experience truck that was parked outside and was filled with electronic gadgets and IoT eye candy that gave me plenty of ideas to bring back to the office.

Steve Segar from Renesas showing the data feed from his connected toaster.

Steve Segar from Renesas showing the data feed from his connected toaster.

The night session was held inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame and was free and open to the general public. Free beer helped to lubricate the networking possibilities and there were short lectures from Arrow electronics supply and other tech companies. The event finished with a short lecture from Betsy Grider, Managing Director of Technology for NASCAR about the future of tech and the NASCAR brand.

RIoT evening session with vendors spread out in the main hall of the NASCAR Hall of Fame

RIoT evening session with vendors spread out in the main hall of the NASCAR Hall of Fame

The second event I went to was the monthly meeting for the Charlotte IoT Meetup Group. The meeting was held at the Snap AV offices in south Charlotte and was a lecture and bootcamp about the Microsoft Azure IoT backend platform. Four of us from Enventys Partners brought our laptops and followed along as Microsoft rep, Kent Stroker, explained the power of the platform and how to setup data feeds.

Aproximately 50 people attended the Charlotte IoT meetup featuring Microsoft Azure. (Photo: Dan Thyer)

Aproximately 50 people attended the Charlotte IoT meetup featuring Microsoft Azure. (Photo: Dan Thyer)

The Charlotte IoT Meetup group was started by Dan Thyer from Logical Advantage (the same one who spoke at the RIoT event) in 2014 and has over 1,000 members. The group has monthly meet-ups around Charlotte and also hosts hack-a-thons and other educational events. Their meetings often focus on education and community and one of their recent hack-a-thons centered around building connected devices to help paraplegics.

Dan Thyer presenting Nick Browning with a connected fan to keep him more comfortable. (Photo: Ben Gatti)

Dan Thyer presenting Nick Browning with a connected fan to keep him more comfortable. (Photo: Ben Gatti)

The Azure bootcamp was my first time at the Charlotte IoT meet-up group.

The event was sponsored by Hackster.io and featured a short dinner and networking session followed by Kent’s lectures and labs. The lectures featured details about the IoT ecosystem and security, as well as some images of the monstrous Microsoft data centers deployed all over the world to support it. During the lab sessions, we setup our own Azure accounts and learned how to build data streams and displays. My electrical engineer intern, Elijah, was with me and I had to lean on him pretty heavily for some of the more technical parts of the setup. It was an intense 4 hour meet-up, but I learned a lot and got to take home a free Adafruit Huzzah Wi-fi board to boot.

There are many different parts and pieces that you need to understand to get an IoT device to work properly.

Fortunately, with the momentum of the IoT movement on the upswing, there are groups sprouting up all over the U.S. and the world that serve to teach how to deploy the technology. I learned a ton of great info from my two recent IoT events and encourage you find your local IoT group to learn more and meet some people that can help you with your next connected device.


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Also published on Medium.

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