Bringing the IoT to life and life to the IoT

Frank Herlinger
Berlin 52° 30' 57.852" N, 13° 22' 37.128" E

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino is an interaction designer, product designer, entrepreneur and founder of London-based consultancy designswarm. She is a renowned expert on the Internet of Things and also founded Tinker.it, the first distributors and popularizers of the Arduino platform in the UK.

She visited HERE Berlin and we took the opportunity to find out more.

Alexandra was told as a design student that, when it came to technical matters, she, “had to draw a box and write ‘technology’ in it, and someone else would take care of the problem. I never accepted that.”

In terms of developing an interest in the nascent Internet of Things (IoT), she was in the right place at the right time for her master’s degree in interaction design: “One of my professors was Massimo Banzi, who was designing the Arduino board. I was always very curious about what product design could become with technology. Then I discovered the Web and learned how to code.”

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She became interested in documenting what was going on in IoT, “Because I could see that people had very short memories and made the same mistakes over and over. IoTwatch on Twitter has become in a way a public research tool.”

“So I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, which I think is extremely useful in IoT.”

What can people do to foster IoT in their organizations?

Alexandra advises people wanting IoT to form a part of their own organisations to, “Take leadership around the topic, whether by speaking at conferences or hosting meetups inside your business. There are 10 IoT meetups in London, each concentrating on a particular aspect of IoT. So either take advantage of the organizational structure offered to you, or piggyback on it and do your own thing, taking the organization with you.”

She believes that part of the value of what is already being created with the Internet of Things is the ability to see things you couldn’t see before.

“A friend of mine got involved with a project called the Japan Geiger Maps. Fukushima produced a large amount of radiation that the population was uncertain about. Someone took an Arduino and made a kit for wearable Geiger counters, and the data was shared in real-time. They produced a map of the radiation that was more accurate than anything the government had been willing to share. So eventually the government had to publish the data. Information may not want to be free, but it can be forced to be free.”

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We’ve been talking about connected objects and the Internet of Things for some time, and sometimes it seems as though enormous progress has been made. But not always, says Alexandra. “If I’m having a great day, I think we might be starting to learn to walk. On more down days, I think we’re still mud because there are so many bubbles, so many of the same ideas, weirdly disconnected.”

But the eventual prize is an interesting one: “The end game, if anything, is that we’ll eventually figure out that we’re not that interesting.”

As a cultural and political movement, Makers and IoT devices have the potential to change the world. “People will grow more of their own food, become independent of and sell electricity back to the national grids – and move away from, ‘Aren’t I interesting?’ to ‘What’s happening in my community and area, and how can I trade with others using my skills?’ Those areas are pre-mud right now but super exciting.”

But as they continue to evolve, connected devices, and rapid, personal powers to create items through technologies like 3D printing might have a profound effect, Alexandra concludes: “I think it’s certainly going to mean the end of industrialization as an influence on the workplace. Economist and philosopher E. L. Schumacher talks about the use of non-violent, small technologies that can act as local empowerment.

“IoT will provide the options, and society and collaborative communities will have to say, ‘This is the kind of future we want to build.’”

Topics: Design, Features, Internet of Things, Editor's picks

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