Getting started with the Internet of Things

By 2020 there will be twelvety gigajillion of Internet Things all shouting at each other and sulking – Alice Bevel

The Internet of Things had been around for a while (since 1982 apparently) but it’s still a bit of a mystery to many. The concept of hooking up physical devices and letting them talk to each other is great, but how do you get started? How do you get useful data from them?

A Thing

A Thing

I’ve been playing around with IoT this week and came across this great starter IoT project for the Pi, a people counting project by Agustin Pelaez. It’s an oldie but goodie and worth a mention because it’s as simple as it gets in terms of IoT—a sensor sends data to a server, which then presents the data in a nice, human-friendly form.

PIR connected to Pi

A £2 PIR connected directly to the Pi with just three wires ( Photo: Agustin Pelaez)

It’s also as cheap as chips—apart from a Pi you only need a passive infra-red sensor (PIR) as used in several of our resources. We love PIRs: they cost a couple of quid, connect directly to the Pi GPIO pins and they can be used for all sorts of useful and/or mad projects. The basic Ubidots account that stores and analyses the data is free. So this is an ideal IoT beginners’ project— cheap, straightforward and can be adapted to other projects. (Note that there is a bug in the code, peopleev = 0 should read peoplecount = 0.)

node-red and thingbox

Node-RED on Thingbox, controlling LEDs on the Pi via the web (Photo:

If you want to dig further without too much pain, the ThingBox has an SD card image for the Pi that allows you to “Install Internet of Things technologies on a Raspberry Pi without any technical knowledge” and has a number of basic projects to get you started. It works with Ubidots out of the box and has a number of tutorials that will help you learn common IoT tools like Node-RED on the Pi (including a PIR counter project which is a nice compare-and-contrast  to the Python based one above.)

I like the ThingBox a lot. It lowers the activation energy needed to get started with IoT on the Pi (actually, it makes it easy) and it allows all Pi owners access to what appears at first glance to be an arcane … Thing. The Internet of Things is fun, useful and empowering, and a natural extension to physical computing using the GPIO pins on the Pi. Hook up some Things today and have play.

Another Thing

Another Thing