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Need to get up to speed with IoT? Try SpinDance’s Bootcamp

April 4th, 2017 | Brian Tol | Uncategorized

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SpinDance loves building software for the Internet of Things. We believe the IoT, along with machine learning, represents the future of technology for the next 50 years. Everyday we see exciting new IoT products coming into the market.

But for each “awesome” product, we see more than a few clunkers. In this regard, IoT is very similar to other technologies, including the web… remember Pets.com?

We’re very early in the evolution of IoT, which has a number of ramifications on the market:

  • IoT technology, standards, and best practices are still coming together.
  • Firms are experimenting with IoT business models, and startups are taking big risks on unproven markets.
  • Users are navigating the plethora of IoT-enabled devices available to them, and trying to figure out what adds value at home and at the office.

We see these three themes woven into every SpinDance project. Organizations are challenged to not only ship great technology, but to do so in a way that delights customers and grows the bottom line. It’s hard to build a great IoT product.

Compounding the problem is a lack of practical real-world knowledge available to organizations. You can find 1,000 articles on IoT on the internet, but most are click-bait drivel. And have you seen any good books on IoT development?…

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Using Flexible Slots to Design Alexa Skills

March 28th, 2017 | Conor Livingston | Engineering,Uncategorized

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Voice Interfaces For IoT

The Amazon Echo is a breakthrough product. It is the first consumer product with a voice-centric interaction model, and it has really caught on. The number of skills (think apps… more on this below) available in the Alexa Skills store has increased 5X between Q2 and Q4 of 2016, and Amazon Echo sales have more than doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 2.4 million to 5.2 million.

SpinDance recently created an Alexa skill that enables consumers to control Whirlpool and Jenn-Air home appliances with their voices. Along the way we discovered a better way to design skills, resulting in less code and increased flexibility. Read on to learn how you can follow suit.

About Alexa Skills

Alexa Skills are still relatively new, so before we explain the improved design methodology, here’s some background information on Amazon Alxa skills, and the traditional way of designing them.

It might help to think of Alexa skills as mobile apps. Just like mobile apps add features to mobile phones, Alexa skills add features to Alexa-powered devices, like the Echo, Echo Dot, or even a Kindle tablet.

Users can browse for skills in Amazon’s skill store, enable them, and then interact with their device by talking to it. Here are some examples:

  • “Alexa,

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Spread the Love: Kickstarters We’re Backing

March 10th, 2017 | Brian Tol | Kickstarter

SpinDance has always been a firm believer in collaboration of technology, knowledge and resources. After all, what is IoT if not the manifestation of collaboration? (That’s a mouthful.) So it should come as no surprise to learn that SpinDance is an active participant in funding start-ups through collaborative platforms, including the mother of them all: Kickstarter.

Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter has attracted nearly $3 billion in funding from 12 million people, with nearly 120,000 projects successfully funded.

We’re on both the giving and receiving side of the start-up equation; several Kickstarter projects have engaged SpinDance to assist with IoT technology development. You might say that good karma comes when you practice what you preach.

It’s exciting and rewarding to be able to lend our skillset to these projects, and we intend to keep the pipeline flowing. Here are a few of the projects we’ve backed over the last few months.

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Get To Know SpinDance

March 6th, 2017 | Brian Tol | SpinDance

SpinDance was recently featured in a short video produced by Grand Rapids Tech List, an organization that highlights local technology businesses by sharing their stories through video. We’re in good company, and SpinDance CEO Mike Ellis tells the 10,000-foot story of what we’re all about.

Take a look:…

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Thoughts on CES 2017: Wireless Power, Real-time Vision, and More

February 10th, 2017 | Brian Tol | Opinion

Late in January, some SpinDance engineers sat down to discuss the products and technologies that were announced at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show, also known as CES. Every year, there are literally thousands of products demoed and/or announced at CES, many of which never make it to market.

We’ve found the best way to process CES is by first looking at the overall trends, and then discerning the real value of the newly-announced products. Below is an edited transcript of the first part of our conversation. We’ll post the second half later in March.

The engineers around the table included Sean Hamstra, Karl Jager, Chris Samuelson, Brian Tol, and Ty Zoerner.

Real-time Vision & Molecular Scanning

Brian: I was really intrigued by some of the vision products announced at CES. There are some companies doing some really cool things, like the Aipoly AI product, and Consumer Physics’ molecular scanner. It’s basically a tricorder that identifies the chemical composition of things.

Karl: I agree. I see the application for that technology a lot more than some of the other products I’ve looked at.

Ty: Yeah, The AI product was neat. Imagine being a blind person, and you’re at the store. You point your phone at the shelving, and it tells you “here’s Pepsi”, or “here’s Coke,” etc. Really helpful.

Sean: And I was surprised how quickly it could identify things….

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IoT Notes: Smart Bricks, Open Standards, and IoT for Cows

January 17th, 2017 | Brian Tol | IoT Notes

With the holidays firmly in the rearview mirror, SpinDance is looking forward to an exciting 2017. The IoT space continues to rapidly evolve, so we thought we’d try something new this year: in addition to long form blog posts, we’re going to start highlighting interesting news and technology in a series we’re calling IoT Notes.

SpinDance operates at the intersection of technology, business, and user experience. Those are the lenses we’ll be using to comment on the state of IoT. We’d love to hear from you; and if you have an idea for a topic or a reaction, please drop us a note at hello@spindance.com or tweet us at @SpinDanceInc.

IoT Bricks… The Good Kind

Sometimes software can “brick” your devices, but this time around, that’s a good thing. SpinDance engineer Chris Samuelson, and Pete Hoffswell, Broadband manager at the Holland Board of Public Works, are working to develop LoRa-enabled brick pavers to help monitor Holland’s snow melt system, the largest in the country. They both recently presented at the annual StartUp Weekend sponsored by Start Garden in Grand Rapids, MI.

New to LoRa? Chris wrote up an excellent tutorial on Hackster.io describing how to make a low-cost, single channel LoRa gateway using a $10 module and a Raspberry Pi….

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Alexa Integration

Whirlpool Introduces Alexa Integration and More At CES 2017

January 10th, 2017 | Brian Tol | Engineering,News

The Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up, and, as usual, there is a massive amount of IoT news to sift through. There were thousands of products announced, and miles of press coverage to read. We’ve been closely watching CES back at SpinDance HQ, and in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing our thoughts on the winners and losers, and what CES says about where IoT is heading.

But today, we wanted to focus on one of our favorite clients, Whirlpool, and highlight some of the announcements they made last week. We’ve been working hard to support their IoT initiatives, and we wanted to discuss some of the technology behind the announcements.

Alexa Integration

Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa was huge presence at CES this year, and Whirlpool announced they are integrating 20 appliances with the service in 2017. It is a well-architected system: Amazon does the heavy lifting of voice UI and provides a clean API to developers. We’ll be blogging about Alexa later this month, and our approach to integrating major appliances, IoT platforms and voice services. We’ve been testing this in house for a while, and we think consumers are going to love it.

Dash Replenishment For the All-One Washer Dryer Combo

An all-in-one washer/dryer combo? Sign us up! Beyond the obvious labor saving benefits, this appliance includes integration with Amazon’s Dash Replenishment service….

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Patching the Internet of Things: IoT Software Update Workshop 2016

July 29th, 2016 | Bob Ensink | Development,Systems

“There’s a huge problem with the Internet of Things and we need to do something about it.” That was the invitation that brought participants to the Internet of Things Software Update Workshop (IoTSU) held at Trinity College, Dublin on June 13 and 14.

The Workshop was organized by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), a standing committee of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).  Based on our deep involvement in the IoT space spanning multiple industries, SpinDance was invited to submit a position paper to contribute to the workshop.  Our paper was one of several used to set the agenda for the workshop.  I was fortunate to attend as one of the SpinDance representatives along with Eric Smith, SpinDance’s VP of Engineering, and authored a blog post about the workshop for IETF.org.  You can read the full blog post here.

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Reactive REST Services with Akka-HTTP

July 25th, 2016 | Greg Straw | Development

Overview

If you’ve heard of Reactive Application Development, or Reactive Programming, then you’ve likely heard of Akka. As described in our post: Introduction to Akka, it’s one of the most comprehensive tool sets available for developing highly concurrent, reactive applications. Akka comes from the authors of the Reactive Manifesto itself, and comes complete with a wide variety of capabilities. Akka’s actor based concurrency model simplifies the development of highly concurrent and parallel applications, and is one of the foundations of Akka itself. The Akka-HTTP modules provide tools for both providing and consuming HTTP services. This article shows how Akka-HTTP may be used to expose REST services for your reactive application.

Define the Route

For this example, we start with a very simple REST API, initially consisting of a single resource “health” that responds with a 200 response when the service is alive. Akka-HTTP defines a Domain Specific Language (DSL) for describing a set of HTTP routes and the handler for each route. The DSL provides a set of directives that may be used to compose a route’s structure and specify the handling logic. The code below shows an example of an Akka-HTTP route definition in Scala. The route defines a single resource “health”, and a single GET operation on that resource that elicits a response….

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Connecting Electric Imp and SmartThings

June 8th, 2016 | SpinDance | Development

There are a myriad of Internet of Things (IoT) cloud and hardware providers out there, all competing to be the platform upon which you can build your next great gadget. Two of these providers are Electric Imp and SmartThings (now owned by Samsung). These IoT providers have two very different approaches to the world of IoT:

Electric Imp

  • Sells hardware targeted to developers($20)
  • Leverages the Squirrel programming language in an online development environment
  • Leverages Electric Imp hardware modules
  • Does not include tools to build a customer facing UI, but instead allows the developer to implement their own database and front end.
  • Has an offering to run an instance of their cloud on your equipment, protecting you in case they are bought out/go out of business etc.

SmartThings

  • Sells hardware targeted to consumers (the Arduino Shield retails for $35)
  • Leverages the Groovy programming language in an online development environment
  • Is set up to talk to any hardware, provided the customer has the SmartThings hub ($100)
  • Has a cloud solution that is largely geared towards developers, and has tools for designing a mobile UI that will be displayed in their mobile app
  • Privatized platform instances not available

Both systems have strengths and weaknesses,…

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