Over the past few years, you have probably heard the phrase the Internet of Things (IoT) with increasing frequency. The simple phrase contains some pretty big and complex ideas ranging from smart homes, to the industrial internet, to big data and predictive analytics.
And everyone from data scientists to fortune 500 CEOs keep hyping the Internet of Things as a revolution on the immediate horizon which will transform everything. In its simplest terms, the promise of IoT is once you connect all the things we use to each other they simply become smarter and more useful through the cloud. Everything from household appliances to factory machines can work in concert to anticipate a user’s needs, be more productive, and cost less to operate.
But the verdict is still out. For one, the IoT revolution is by its very nature an invisible revolution. It happens with sensors hidden away in everyday devices connected to far-off data centers. So the average person is not going to see the Internet of Things being built until you really try to look for it. But a new London-based startup, backed by Microsoft, is looking to change that.
Joachim Horn and his startup SAM Labs wants to democratize the IoT revolution and consequently our futures. To do this he wants to put the Internet of Things in the people’s hands. And he means this quite literally.
SAM Labs is building kits with IoT building blocks for any and everyone to tinker with. They hope these kids will “empower budding inventors, from seven-year-olds to seniors, to create just about anything they can imagine.”
Horn asserts the reason for this project is “that it will take creators with a greater range of diverse perspectives to realize the full potential of the Internet of Things.” So by creating these kits, Horn is hoping to maximize the diversity of ideas to help realize the Internet of Things.
The kits come with no wires or circuit boards, and no coding is required. Anyone could pick up these building blocks and start experimenting with anything they can imagine. Simply put, Horn’s startup has the noble ambition “to make electronics simple enough for anyone to be creative with them or use in an educational way. We wanted to remove all entry barriers.”
So how do the kits work? Well, they contain a variety of blocks like “buttons, lights, sliders, servos, motors, and title and temperature sensors.” All of the IoT building blocks communicate with each other through Bluetooth Low Energy. Once you’ve arranged the blocks physically with whatever you're are experimenting with, you head into the SAM Lab software.
The software is an intuitive app that shows a visual representation of all of the IoT blocks, and all the user has to do is drop and drag lines between blocks to connect them with commands, no coding required. There are also more advanced capabilities like adding third-party apps, connecting devices to the internet, and adding JavaSript code to the commands.
Once Horn and his team had a prototype of the kits they started shopping around for support to scale up their project. And one of their applications was to the Microsoft Accelerator London, which accepted SAM Labs in 2014.
Horn speaks highly of Microsoft’s help in building his startup. Horn goes on to say:
They got what we were trying to do, where we were coming from and where we wanted to go. They were able to really help us to tailor our message and position ourselves for an external audience.
And it makes sense why Microsoft would want to support SAM Lab, both from a philanthropic and business standpoint. On the one hand, education is very important to Microsoft’s mission of empowerment. To that end, they have sponsored things like the BBC Micro:bit computer and computer science education in classrooms around the world. Microsoft needs to ensure there is a new generation of future computer scientists to create the future of the company and the technology industry.
From a business standpoint, of course, Microsoft is invested heavily in the cloud. And the cloud only stands to grow exponentially as literally billions of new IoT devices connect to the internet in the near future. If SAM Labs’ mission to democratize the Internet of Things contributes to a more robust, practical, and popular IoT revolution, then Microsoft’s products and services (like Azure and Windows 10 IoT Core) stand to be that much more successful and gain a larger slice of a growing IoT pie, so to speak.
Beyond the ambitions and natural synergies, Horn’s work at SAM Labs is creating something special because it makes something so important - yet by default so invisible - accessible and enriching to anyone.