Greetings! I have decided that I would like to keep up my reflective writing activities during IDM22. This is due to my recent experience on the web development module and also thinking back to when I took IDM21 (seems so long ago now!). In both cases it was an immensely valuable venture.
Purpose of this blog
I find that I needed a central place to gather my thoughts and references throughout this process, so a blog seems like the perfect solution to pull together snippets as I go along. This is not however, just any blog as I have decided to build it in Jekyll (2017) a very basic blogging platform, although deceptively technical, which is based on ruby. I feel that this will give me an opportunity to learn more about ruby and also after about 10 years of working with WordPress as a CMS I think that it is time to expand my repertoire a bit. Essentially, this site will be my online whiteboard as it is essential for me to have a space which I can access from anywhere and also I do not actually own a physical whiteboard! Using one at university would not suffice as I need to leave my scribblings and musings on it!
To recount a few initial ideas based on our first design session. We have been set the task of devising a logo for a company and I suspect that the company will be our fictional client in this scenario. I also know that we have to create a functioning prototype for this particular assignment, so with that in mind I considered profitable and interesting options for an app design.
As a basis for this I considered some potential problems that could be solved. At first I thought that it would be good to build a clinical examination app, as that would benefit aspects of my day job supporting nursing students. Students have to take practical examinations for their clinical skills and an app that helped make it easier to mark these tests would be immensely helpful (the tests are often very complex). However, after more consideration I felt that this would not offer sufficient design challenge to satisfy the module’s learning objectives. After all this type of app would essentially be an interactive form. There is a lot of value in a well-designed form, but not a lot of aesthetic value perhaps.
Like OnStar for your smart home
With aesthetics and functions in mind I decided to return to some of the ideas that I touched upon in my earlier research project for IDM13. During IDM13 I completed a short 10 credit research project looking at 5 consumer-level Internet of Things (IoT) systems, including two smart home systems; Nest and SmartThings (Google, 2017; Samsung, 2017). The research project had provided me with some domain knowledge and at the end of the project I had felt like I would like to do more. One of the ideas which I had come up with during the project and have since learned is not unique is thinking about a management or monitoring tool for all IoT devices in the home regardless of vendor. This would be incredibly difficult to accomplish. Think of it, a management tool which could be used with any IoT device so all of the separate apps would only be required for specific configuration needs. For this you would need a common platform/OS for it to be viable, otherwise you would spend all your time trying to keep up with the platform changes and APIs.
IFTTT.com have it right in this area as they put the onus on the developers and manufacturers to update their IoT related applets so that they “works with IFTTT” (IFTTT, 2017). They have a strong brand, but they were also first to the party. I found myself thinking about whether there could be an app and service which could be more of an aggregator, picking up a log of what each device was doing and when, alerting the user to issues, but having a read-only type relationship with the systems and devices. This service would have a security angle and I felt that it would be like OnStar enhanced breakdown recovery (Vauxhall, 2017) for cars, except it would be for Internet of Things devices. This product would occupy a security angle, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it is akin to anti-virus, it can not perceive or diagnose threats but it might be the canary in the coalmine in that it would provide an early warning through it’s holistic overview of all IoT sub-systems in the home, rather than having to monitor each device individually via it’s own app.
Another aspect is that there is currently a large influx of devices on the market and based on observation it seems unlikely that all of these manufacturers will survive. For instance Revolv which was bought by Google’s Nest and then shut down (Hern, 2016) - however if a connection could be made with OpenHAB (OpenHAB Foundation, 2017) a platform for allowing continued use of devices when company support has been withdrawn (e.g. the company has gone out of business) then that could be a compelling piece of functionality, allowing for continued oversight, within the app I plan to design. This is out of scope for this part of the project, but would be something to consider further down the line, if the user base grew to support that.
So essentially the app I would like to build, is for web and mobile, although mobile first and is a utility that allows users to map and monitor their in-home ecosystem. I also envision that the app will include a catalogue of devices currently on the market with their established design and configuration patterns so that each device’s components could be mapped and there could even be a try-before-you-buy dimension to that. Additional devices could be added to the catalogue based on user requests and also possible sponsorship tie-ins from an advertising perspective. The idea of try-before-you-buy also emerged from my earlier research, you can view the design specifications which I devised after that project at my main blog: http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/fjm15/2016/06/14/trust-in-iot-app-interfaces-redux/
I used this page of sketchbook to explore different ideas related to objects in the home, Internet of Things and word associations.
Google. (2017). Nest learning thermostat. Retrieved from the Nest website: https://nest.com/uk/
Hern, A. (2016, April 5). Revolv devices bricked as Google's Nest shuts down smart home company. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/05/revolv-devices-bricked-google-nest-smart-home
IFTTT. (2017). One connection countless possibilities. Retrieved from the IFTTT website: https://partners.ifttt.com
Jekyll. (2017). Blogging platform based on Ruby (Version 3.4.0) [Computer software]. Retrieved from https://jekyllrb.com
OpenHAB Foundation. (2017). Introduction. Retrieved from the OpenHAB website: http://www.openhab.org/introduction.html
Samsung. (2017). SmartThings - smart home system. Retrieved from the Samsung SmartThings website: https://www.smartthings.com/uk/
Vauxhall. (2017). Vauxhall Onstar. Retrieved from the Vauxhall Onstar website: http://www.vauxhall.co.uk/onstar/index.html