Harnessing the Power of IoT with The Pulse

Jarrod Luker


This blog was co-authored with Julian Dale, Kat Dumalo, Sanjay Kunta, and Abby Wooden.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly transforming the world around us: There is a new wave of technology bringing affordability and speed to getting “things” connected to the Internet. There is no shortage of IoT platforms offering quick and easy connection of devices to the cloud, and the ability to store massive amounts of data collected from these devices is cheaper and easier than ever. In today’s world, customer value propositions and use cases are being solved for as quickly as they’re being discovered.

In short, it’s an exciting time to work with connected technology. While the value in IoT is becoming clearer and clearer, increasingly more businesses are investing in this technology to enhance their customer’s experiences.

In order to prove out some of the possibilities that can be achieved with connected technology, our Solstice Labs R&D team set out to build a compelling IoT platform from the ground up and share what we learned in the process at our annual innovation summit, Solstice FWD.


How The Pulse Came to Life

A pulse is a single vibration or short burst of sound, electricity, light, or other wave. It’s often thought of as a measure of liveliness; a way to ascertain the amount of energy or activity in a person or place. For Solstice FWD, we set out to monitor the pulse of this event and bring an enhanced experience to the conference attendees via connected sensors.

We began by putting ourselves in the shoes of a facilities management company, asking ourselves what kind of data would we like to have if we needed to manage a warehouse, a distribution center, or an office building similar to where we work every day. Then, after gathering that data, we thought about how it could also be used to enhance our daily lives and bring additional meaning, context, and insight to a person interacting with that space.

After connecting a single temperature sensor to Amazon Web Services IoT (AWS IoT), this idea quickly blossomed into what is now known as The Pulse.


Crafting the IoT Experience

Every product has a journey, and with any young technology like IoT you never know what it’s going to eventually become. Over the course of 3 months we were able to fail fast, pivot, and quickly start implementing new ideas, aided by listening to user feedback and architecting hardware and software elements that made rapid experimentation a possibility. In this way, The Pulse radically shifted over its lifetime from a concept into a robust, useful and immersive experience for attendees at the FWD conference.

FWD_ThePulse3.pngSensor Clusters

Our journey to building a full-stack end-to-end solution for monitoring the environment around us started with connecting a digital temperature and humidity sensor to an Arduino Yun.

We chose the Arduino Yun because of its ability to easily connect to WiFi. Its Atheros processor supports a Linux distribution based on OpenWRT, allowing us to use shell and python for robust embedded interactions.

FWD_ThePulse4.pngSince there is a wide range of environment monitoring sensors available in the market, it took some experimentation before we settled on our final sensors, chosen due to their size, accuracy and compatibility with the Arduino Yun board:

  • Grove Temperature and Humidity Sensor
  • SparkFun Sound Detector
  • Parallax Passive Infra-Red (PIR) Motion Sensor

With these three sensors on board, sensing temperature, humidity, sound, and motion, we were confident that we could collect relevant data to help us achieve our full goal. But, how do we start collecting all this data?

Leveraging AWS IoT

With the help of our in-house AWS IoT experts, in a few short hours we were able to connect the Arduino device (Internet Connected Thing) to the AWS Cloud through device gateway which enables devices to securely and efficiently communicate with AWS IoT. Things report their state by publishing messages in JSON format on MQTT topics which is referred to as a “Thing Shadow”. It is used to store and retrieve current state information for a thing. With the use of AWS IoT Arduino Yun SDK, we can update the shadow of the “Thing” in real time.

We have created a Rule on AWS IoT service which gives us the ability to interact with AWS Services. And we can attach multiple actions to a rule which are used to specify what to do when a rule is triggered. For example we can write to a DynamoDB database or an Amazon Kinesis or to invoke a lambda function and more.  Here we have attached an “invoke a lambda function” action which invokes a specific lambda function which will process the data from sensor clusters and store it in a Dynamo DB table, another service provided by Amazon. It is a fast, flexible NoSQL database service for any scale, and you pay only for the throughput and storage you need. Its flexible and reliable performance make it a great fit for IoT.

But what would we do with all this data? How could we take the data and make it relevant to our daily lives? Our sensor clusters were sampling data every half-second and sending that data to the cloud at the same rate. Over the course of almost three months of deploying The Pulse, we have collected almost 95 million table entries of data. What are we going to do with this?

Visualizing Insights With A Dashboard

After analyzing the journey of our users and the type of experience we wanted them to have, creating ideas via ideation exercises, and then validating and invalidating via user research, we decided on three important focuses when displaying this data:

  1. A real-time complete overview of the environment was necessary to give a snapshot of the current pulse of the conference.
  2. A history of data, showing trends in temperature, humidity, sound, and motion over time and average data per location would help users give the current information context.
  3. And letting our Siena AI platform provide insights to our users about the environment would provide the smarts that users would want to take it to the next level.

FWD_ThePulse5.pngIn the front-end we have created a client which subscribes to the MQTT topic of all the things in AWS Cloud using wild card ‘+’. After subscribing we get the messages in the form of JSON and this data is then used to update the heat map, giving an instant association to temperature, while some simple animations provide insight to sound intensity and detection of motion.

With the help of Lambda functions and API Gateway, we can gather data from Dynamo DB to provide trends in the form of charts. Average temperature over time, average sound intensity over time, and others provide longer term insights into how the environment changes around us.

Finally, with the help of Lambda functions, Siena gave insight to the world around us in a natural language format.


Looking to the Future of IoT

In the process of building this platform to enhance the FWD conference attendees’ experience at the event, we were able to explore many other possible uses for the technology, identifying a plethora of other opportunities. The same technology and methodology that made The Pulse possible could bring innovative and incredible customer experiences in many different industries, companies, and use cases. While the possibilities are nearly endless, here are some examples of just a few of the possibilities with connected technology like The Pulse here:

  • Financial services companies can observe how customers interact with branches or ATMs, use rich payment data and integrate with smart products to enable smart transactions based on physical stimuli, and monitor data centers to increase resilience.
  • Manufacturers of consumer products can take advantage of IoT to connect current products to introduce new product lines, open high end categories to average customers, and shift from product to a service company.
  • Hospitality and retail companies can manage physical properties such as heating, lighting, and cooling remotely and use artificial intelligence to lower utility bills. They can learn more about customer’s preferences by analyzing their movement and improve the store layout, and observe customer’s interactions with spaces to identify customer needs and potential problems.

Learn more about building connected experiences in our IoT Playbook.

Ready to discuss how you could use connected products or experiences to enhance your business and customer experience? Contact Lewis Lancaster, Director of IoT: llancaster@solstice.com