I've been engaging with engineers on social channels since I built my first technical community in 2006. Every once in awhile I come across someone so awesome, that I have to reach out and introduce myself. That's what happened when I saw Guido Burger's content online. He is an inventor and overall inspiration. Guido is the latest Silicon Labs IoT Hero and through this interview you'll understand why. He has connected everything from a coffee machine to an Easter Egg.
Please tell me a bit about yourself.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been building and inventing new things while trying to explore the world of electronics. One of my first projects was an analog to digital converter for my Sharp Pocket Computer running BASIC… with that I was able to explore the physical world. Later, I hacked my dad’s plotter to make it a scanner. I followed these projects by reverse engineering items, exploring sensor protocols, and designing an ISA adapter card for my PC/XT.
So, I’ve had Maker DNA from a very early age. I think it’s important for today’s kids to get the opportunity to explore the world as I did. And this is one of my motivations for being an active maker. I share ideas, concepts - even when they look crazy at first – in order to prove that even Makers can build and design their own fitness tracker or even smart watch.
Years ago, this was only possible with access to a high-tech lab and tons of money for engineering. Today, a “pizza-oven“ is great for soldering SMDs!
Just check out this “rocket“ style DIY-smart watch.
What inspired you to join the maker movement?
In my professional life, I’ve worked on many M2M solutions..from connected harvest combiners to coffee makers installed on a train … to connected cars. All of these projects are now seen as being part of the rich world of IoT.
IoT is more than just connecting a thing to a cloud – it can disrupt the way we do business or how consumers use a service. The world is changing fast, especially since Makers are now empowered to build even more complex things.
What are some of the cool IoT solutions you’ve been involved in creating?
One of my recent hacks was a connected coffee maker. I took a $50 Nespresso machine and made it completely controllable by a smartphone.
This leads to a new user experience. You can control a cheap machine by gesture (smartphone), while transmitting usage data to service providers (supplies, services). You can also use the smartphone app to change the coffee / water mix with a simple finger swipe.
We could even take it one step deeper and change the brewing process. Why not make other drinks with the same machine… software defined drink maker?!?
How are you using Silicon Labs products today?
When I needed a BLE module to connect my things to the cloud or a smartphone I did some research and found the BLE112, which was interesting for me out of two simple reasons:
1. it had great community webpage and project (open) to be a great starting point to build my own scripts for the BLE.Again, a fundamental competent to success is having things open and shared. This helps speed up innovation and adoption.
2. it was one of the few modules that had pre-certification.
Today, I am using BLE112 and more often the BLE113 because of its smaller footprint and already integrated memory for OTA updates, reducing the BOM and PCB size. To combine BLE and Arduino capabilities, I designed the blueIOT board, which is available on tindie.
This is now the foundation for most of my projects and also has gotten a great deal of traction in the market with many new projects developed by the community. For example, check out these 3D printed Easter eggs that hide themselves.
In you’re opinion, what is the biggest barrier to wide-spread IoT development?
IoT brings together mechanical, electronics and software engineering. I remember back in the early years of connected cars there was always a battle between car IT and business IT … who will be in charge of the SW in the car? Should it be rugged or can it be updated anytime?
The same is true for mechanical design. Even though there are 3D printers accessible to everybody, CAD is something you need to learn to make good mechanical designs. When I talk to students, they are always highly motivated to do projects, but the hurdle to understand all the various technologies is high and complex.
Arduino and Raspberry PI for sure did a great job on making SW/HW coming close together and being available at no price to everybody. BUT - IoT is only providing value if you attach sensors and you understand the context of data created. Having a notion of what you could do/change based on the data being sensed is important.
For example, as I stated, power consumption is very important for scale of IoT solutions. I spend a lot time in monitoring and optimization.
blueIOT with BLE112 - average power consumption during default BLE advertisement: 35,5 uAh with a 210mAh this will last close to 6000h on operation (or > 240 days) with little tuning (e.g. timing of advertisement). This can be much improved further!
That’s why we designed in our small fab-lab the pico-Platinchen, which is already designed to carry the BLE113. It’s an all-in one sensor, Arduino-compatible, connected things platform, perfect for wearables or any sort for IoT projects demanding sensors. Now you can focus on the value and distributive thinking … instead of worrying about the underlying technology.
I know it’s a big question, but what does the future of IoT look like?
Analysts are stating that every thing will be connected one day - will it make sense? Well, it has to provide some value to the users / consumers - or make a process smarter or more efficient. One thing people tend to forget is all these things will demand power to run and transmit data - energy efficient design and alternative technologies, like energy harvesting or solid-state batteries, will be important to drive the adoption further.
Have a question for Guido? Comment below or tweet him at @guido_burger.