Summary:

Getting devices online and sharing their data is the raison d’etre of a variety of new startups. Now Bug Labs is offering its own modular tool set for the internet of things.

Bug Labs, a software firm behind a of a variety of connected devices and services, is sick of the fragmented nature of the internet of things. So it has created a technology toolset to help tie different devices together and make playing with connected hardware a little easier. The first tool, Dweet was launched in February and lets you insert a bit of code onto a device to start tracking it.

The second tool, launched Tuesday, is called Freeboard, and it takes the data streams of Dweet and lets you assemble them in a visual way on a dashboard. According to Peter Semmelhack (pictured on the far left, above), the CEO and co-founder of Bug Labs, the idea is to help push the internet of things to its “Dropbox moment,” when it becomes so easy for people to use a new technology it becomes mainstream.

“Dropbox didn’t invest online storage, it just made it easy for people to do it,” Semmelhack says in a podcast I recorded with him. That’s the goal with the Bug Labs approach here.

A freeboard screenshot.

A freeboard screenshot.

If we want the internet of things to move beyond disparate connected devices into some type of gestalt ideal — where devices from different industries or ecosystems can connect and share information — we need some powerful software to link it together. This is not a new idea.

Efforts like Skynet are trying to make it easy for devices to talk to each other, while projects like Node.red from IBM are offering visual ways of interacting with thing data. Outside of these more modular approaches, there are a network of cloud providers from Axeda to Xively trying to provide all of these services in one cloud-hosted platform.

But Semmelhack thinks modularity is the way to go here, given how fragmented the market already is. Some cloud platforms sync to specific hardware, while the data you want might be spread across a variety of clouds with different licensing terms. So you can use one element of the Bug Labs toolset and ignore the others. And there will be others: Next month or so he hopes to launch another tool focused on setting alerts and actions based on what the data resulting from Freeboard shows.

Another important element for Bug Labs was that the platform be free to use. So much like the GitHub model, Bug lets people use the services for free and charges when companies want to make the data private. Semmelhack believes that while companies are experimenting with connected device projects, this model will help reduce friction in getting people to try things out, but it will also let people learn from the mistakes of others.

My laptop sharing my location and where the mouse is.

My laptop sharing my location and where the mouse is.

As an IoT project becomes more strategic or worth something, then businesses can pay to keep the data private. For now, you can check out some of the projects available on the Dweet or Freeboard sites, such as a connected whiskey still that’s running 24/7 thanks to the ability to monitor the temperature and other parameters needed. Semmelhack also used an example of a landlord using the service to bring connected gadgets inside of rental properties online so she could monitor important aspects of her properties — from electricity use to leaks.

As products go this is surprisingly easy to play with — even for me, a non-coder. I simply opened up Dweet.io in my phone’s browser and started broadcasting. My handset showed up as a device available for mapping on Freeboard and I could see where I was on a map and track the phone’s accelerometer so you could see if I was moving around. IT was a bit creepy. But for monitoring a sensor or something, all I have to do is grab the code from Dweet and plug it into an Arduino or onto the application I might use with a sensor and those devices can start reporting.

Granted, Semmelhack’s target audience isn’t necessarily the DIY crowd playing with connected gadgets in their homes, but for R&D groups and makers who are trying to build out cool stuff without having to invest in a lot of technical know how or in a systems integrator to make an IoT pilot project. He’s not alone in this mission, but I like what he has to offer and am curious how the business model behind it evolves.

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