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IoTA: Internet-of-Things Academy, Phase 1

IoTA is Superflux's proposal for a product ecosystem to support creative and collaborative applications of the internet-of-things.

IoTA's development was part of Sony's FutureScapes project, a foresight initative organised and produced in collaboration with London-based sustainable development group Forum for the Future.

Superflux began contributing to the project in September 2011, with Anab attending a series of workshops which the FutureScapes team had organised to bring together a group of contributors from business, environmental advocacy, strategy and design. Building on conversations and groupwork from these initial sessions, Sony and Forum for the Future worked to detail and populate a set of four scenarios for the world of 2025 – focusing on key issues around sustainability, technology, and innovation.

Collaborating closely with Forum for the Future's Hugh Knowles, alongside others, we were asked to turn our attentions to the 'Shared Ownership', one of the four scenarios that emerged from these workshops. 

708 Inspired by developments like Khan Academy and MITx, innovative new forms of hardware such as the LilyPad Ardunio and the low-cost Raspberry Pi, and some of our own prior work and research around the internet-of-things, our earliest concepts focused on some kind of social, collaborative platform that would support people in developing their own projects with modular electronics and open hardware.

From these intial workshop ideas, we were given ten days to develop a core proposal for a product, service, or business ecosystem, focusing most of our energies and attention on questions of design and possible implementation.

The ambition of our proposed IoTA platform was to support a thriving community involved in imagining, building, and testing projects at the intersection of the physical and the digital. It would provide a space for play and experimentation; a central platform where different 'flavours' of hardware, software and data sets could meet, making it simpler for people to combine a range of elements in ways that support their aims and needs.

IoTA addresses key issues around technological literacy, education and empowerment, and the interoperability of various competing standards. As it stands, the internet-of-things has a huge potential to empower users – but could easily end up reinforcing the divide between capable users and those intimidated or outpaced by new technology. We are looking to address this issue by building a real community with active moderators, project curation and rolling community challenges, 'augmenting' a relatively neutral core learning platform with human involvement.

Much as different plug sockets or memory cards can make life difficult, a wide range of proprietary 'makes' of hardware and software are often an obstacle to creativity. We envisaged IoTA as an updating of the 20th-century telephone switchboard, enabling end-users to link different products and components, creating systems that better suit their needs.

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We explored several scenarios for the ways users would initiate, participate and help build IOT projects. From the very beginning, both Sony and Forum were keen for us to differentiate between types of users and makers – from those who had no experience, right through to advanced 'hackers' – ensuring the IOTA could accomodate different levels of engagement and expertise.

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As a way of communicating some use-case scenarios for the platform, we sketched out examples of two possible journeys of community members.

1. The first one is that of Claudine, a technologic neophyte living in Montpellier, who is a newcomer to the platform. She uses a preloaded tutorial to create a system that monitors the energy consumption in her home, by hooking up a smart energy meter to her Twitter account.

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2. In the second journey, Graham, a farmer and permaculture enthusiast based in the Southeast of England, wants to create a device that helps him monitor the acidity and moisture levels of his soil, to help in his field trials of some new crop types. In building his device and writing the code, he’s been helped by Brad, a regular IoTA user. Brad then takes the data from Graham’s device, making it accessible to farmers in different parts of the world.

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703 678 This is our first iteration of design and concepting around IoTA, and moving forward, alongwith the client, we are looking for interested partners to make this into a reality - investigating the technical possibilities, issues and challenges around our proposal. 

Thanks to all at Sony Futurescapes and Forum for the Future for being such brilliant folks to work with, and also everyone we met and worked with at the workshops, we look forward to a continued partnership. 

Our Team: Jon Ardern, Anab Jain, Raphael Pluvinage, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, Justin Pickard.