The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the Digital Catapult's main focus areas as the centre looks to support startups developing technology in the growing market for internet-connected and networked devices.
Neil Crockett, chief executive at the Digital Catapult, said the centre is designed to offer a UK test bed for startups to develop IoT products, thereby discouraging them from moving to the US.
"We really believe in the IoT and that we can help the UK become a leader in the IoT and not just a consumer, which is really what has happened in so many other ways with technology in the past," he said.
V3 attended an IoT showcase at the Digital Catapult, at which startups specialising in the field with hardware and software products caught our eye.
Chirp explores connectivity through sound
Many startups work with the very latest digital technology, but Chirp uses old-fashioned analogue sounds to broadcast data sonically rather than over the internet.
It works by broadcasting sounds at carefully defined frequencies and timings which contain 50 bits of information that can be picked up by any device with a microphone and Chirp's software.
The software converts the sound into a digital format and decodes it to prompt a device to take an action, which could mean launching another application, identifying a user or simply sharing a picture.
Patrick Bergel Chirp's founder told V3 that the company's ambition is to create a "sonic internet".
"Instead of wireless, Bluetooth, near-field communication or any of those protocols, what we're going to do is broadcast some data with sound," he said, going on to demonstrate the system in action.
The startup plans to license its technology to all manner of companies.
For example, retailers could broadcast a sound that is picked up by mobile devices running a retail app with Chirp's technology embedded.
This then allows for discount codes or recommendations to be sent to potential customers in the broadcast range, bypassing the need for wireless beacons and sensors.
Chirp had an Ardunio-powered beacon (pictured) broadcasting sound at the Digital Catapult, but theoretically the technology allows information to be sent sonically from any device with a speaker, such as PAs, radios and mobile devices.
Chirp has created another take on the IoT which effectively bypasses the internet at its core while still connecting devices in a wireless fashion.
Real Life Analytics turns dumb displays into smart screens
Digital screen adverts in public spaces can be hit or miss for brands, as they are just as likely to be seen by people with no interest as desired consumers.
Real Life Analytics hopes to solve this through a combination of face recognition and analytics software and hardware.
‘Dumb' digital screens can be equipped with a small camera connected to a small box (pictured above) equipped with HDMI and Ethernet ports and powered by a small processor, turning them into smart screens.
These can then use Real Life Analytics' software in the box to analyse people in front of the screens and ascertain certain characteristics, such as age and gender, and then serve appropriate adverts.
Adam Carrigan, chief executive of Real Time Analytics explained to V3 that the system could also be used in anywhere that has a digital screen for advertising purposes, particularly in London's underground.
"With the digital screens that go up the escalators, it could detect you at the beginning and that same advert could follow you up all the way up the escalator," he said.
The idea is that brands get better targeted adverts, while data on the demographics of the people viewing the screens is captured and fed back to the retailer.
The data can then be compared against a retailer's sales for a defined period to correlate sales against the number of times a certain advert was displayed in order to measure its effectiveness.
Real Life Analytics hopes to further develop the systems so that the collected data can be integrated with a retailer's sales database, rather than analysing the datasets in segregated silos.
BlueMaestro connected dummy Pacif-i tracks infant temperature
BlueMaestro's Bluetooth Smart enabled pacifier might appear at first to be a rather basic concept until it's paired with an Android or iOS app that records time-stamped temperatures of a child using the dummy.
The parents can then use this data to track their child's temperature for later reference. This becomes particularly useful when administering medicine as its effects can be seen almost immediately.
For example, if a child has a high temperature from a fever, parents can see whether the medicine is reducing the temperature.
The collected temperature data adheres to medical standards and can be provided to healthcare professionals for reference and use, something that many connected health devices struggle to deliver.
Pacif-i can also be tracked through its app, meaning that parents can be alerted if their child crawls beyond a set distance, for example. The Pacif-i can also track the temperatures of multiple offspring.
Digi.me aims to defeat personal data privacy concerns
Growing privacy concerns are making people more aware of the access companies have to their personal data.
Digi.me is trying to solve this by becoming a 'librarian' for an individual's mass of personal data stored in multiple online locations, from social networks to fitness tracking services.
Many IoT services rely on access to people's data, and privacy concerns have seen individuals deny access to any of their data, running the risk of stifling innovation in the IoT arena, particularly when it comes to delivering tailored services to individuals.
To address this, Julian Ranger founder of Digi.me, has created an app that pulls together an individual's personal information from social networks, public services and other online data depositories, and downloads a copy of it onto a specified device or into a single personal cloud service, such as Dropbox or OneDrive.
"Now you've got a library of all of your data on your device [or personal cloud]. And today it's all your social data, and tomorrow we're adding bank data, health and all the rest of it," Ranger explained to V3.
Digi.me's app is used from a person's device of choice to collate the information in order to offset any privacy concerns during this aggregation process, rather than have the data initially collected on Digi.me's servers.
The result gives users a single place to view all their personal digital information that they hold and control.
Things get interesting when it comes to controlling the access by third-party apps to that data. Many services currently require data to be stored on external servers and adhere to the privacy permissions of the company, not those defined by the user.
Digi.me aims to hand back control to the users by allowing them to define exactly what personal data they wish to share with third-party apps and services.
This is done by prompting businesses to answer six questions about how they will handle an individual's data.
The questions are: What data do they wish to use? How they will use it? What will they do to provide value to the individual? Will any data be kept? Will data be shared with another company? Will the right to be forgotten be implemented?
Privacy is further bolstered in that a company's apps can interact only with the Digi.me collated data within the confines of the device on which it is stored.
The personal data is never given permission to move to external servers, meaning that data transfer and storage happens only locally between the apps on a device, rather than through cloud-hosted software, thus enhancing privacy and data security.
Businesses that meet an individual's privacy requirements will then be given access to all or part of a person's data, which is normalised in a standard format so that it can be used with customer-facing apps allowing more targeted services, products and adverts to be delivered.
This approach should also benefit individuals, as they will receive products and services that are relevant to them rather than being at the mercy of scattergun app advertising and promotions.
The startups showcased at the Digital Catapult were all at a fledgling stage, which is understandable given the lack of maturity in the IoT space.
But as more devices receive internet connectivity and more companies find ways to create services on top of these networks, it is likely that more IoT startups will find their way into Digital Catapult showcases.
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