Episode 45: A Playground for IoT and how to buy a data plan for your device

So you wanna build a connected device? If so, there’s apparently no better place for a startup to go than Andy Rubin’s new incubator/VC/design shop called Playground. With an in-depth profile in Wired, the former founder of Danger and the man behind Android has built a place for folks with a hardware idea. On this week’s show Kevin Tofel is out, so I called in my friend Carla Diana, a product designer of connected devices and robots to discuss Rubin’s new effort, connected coat racks, Max Braun’s Google Now mirror and fun projects in general. We have a good time, and you will too. Don’t get too attached to Carla (it’s hard, because she is awesome) as Kevin joins us again next week.

The electron module.  - Image courtesy of Particle
The electron module. – Image courtesy of Particle

Our guest this week is Zach Supalla who is the CEO of Particle, which makes a series of development boards for connected devices. It seems like there used to be a dozen startups doing this, but Spark has so far, stayed around and added more products. The latest board out this week is it the Electron, which costs $59 and offers cellular connectivity for 99 cents per MB on a 3G connection. That’s pricey, but it has been pretty hard to find a cellular carrier willing to work with a startup or sell data in small batches, so this is a big deal. We ask Zach how he convinced the carriers to play ball. We also talk about other wireless standards out there for the internet of things, so stay tuned if you’re excited about alternative networks. And really, who isn’t?

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Carla Diana
Guest: Zach Supalla, CEO of Particle

  • Playground. We want to go to there.
  • Mirror, mirror on the wall, what data should we install?
  • Pitfalls of building a connected coat rack.
  • How to make a telco salesman hang up on you.
  • LoRa, Sigfox and LTE? Which wireless do you want?
  • Published by

    Stacey Higginbotham

    I am a journalist who has covered technology for over a decade at publications such as Fortune, PCMag, Gigaom, The Deal and BusinessWeek.

    One thought on “Episode 45: A Playground for IoT and how to buy a data plan for your device”

    1. A great podcast as usual! Just a few thoughts on the weather/mirror/coatracks…

      I agree that the mirror/bathroom are a great place for health; lots of the connected scales, BP monitors, etc, could link to display via the mirror to see trends, rather than triggering through the smartphone app.

      I still think the weather would be useful, plus some calendar info, as it reminds people about clothes selection. This could be disabled if a similar smart mirror were in the bedroom. Avoiding information overload and maintaining “quiet places” is important, but there will inevitably be a need to allow consumer choice.

      The smart clothes rack is interesting but very challenging from a design perspective, I think. Other than training people to use it in the way the designer thinks is simplest/best (not guaranteed to work!), the system must be able to deal with multiple users, each with multiple jackets, that may not be consistently hung in the same place, plus potential guest users too. Another issue is that coats can often be placed in small and cluttered cupboards/closets, making feedback to identify specific items challenging. One possible technical solution to the first set of issues could be RFID tags in the clothes, that the user can add to the system; privacy issues would need to be thought through. Another idea would be some kind of AI that analyses the weight on different pegs; accuracy and uniquely identifying jackets could be challenging. A more general feedback, such as Stacey’s Hue lights, avoids selectivity problems whilst allowing the user some element of choice (e.g., formal vs. informal, warm vs. cold weather). Good luck with it!

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