This is a question I get asked often, so it was actually great to be able to ask it to someone else for once! Suz points out that,
“I find that a lot of web developers want to get into robotics, but still feel intimidated by the old school platforms. Learning C++, and figuring out how to use all of the toolchains in conjunction with their IDE of choice can also be really cumbersome.”
She also put together an “anti-anxiety bracelet”. This bracelet senses heartbeat elevation to detect when you’re feeling anxious and texts your phone a picture of a kitten to help you feel better!
The list doesn’t end there, here are a few others she has put together:
Like every area in emerging tech, getting into the Internet of Things and robotics can be overwhelming for newcomers (exactly why I began Dev Diner!), so the most important thing I wanted to ask Suz is “where should people start who are new to it all?”. Here is her advice:
“I would recommend starting with the Nodebots community. We’re an incredibly friendly and knowledgeable bunch of folks who are excited to greet and help newcomers. Grabbing an Arduino Uno or a Tessel 2 would be an excellent first microcontroller, with some ‘starter kit’ sensors and outputs to really have fun with.”
As someone who has used a whole range of microcontrollers and hardware, what are Suz’ hardware preferences after all of her tinkering? The winner? Arduino!
“My favourite is still a regular ol‘ Arduino. I tend to produce devices which are not online (I feel they’re more intimate that way) so prototyping with an Arduino before moving to a custom PCB is a really nice workflow for me. It also allows me to publish the project instructions and have the widest reach as the traditional Arduino is still a very popular platform with a lot of reach.”
That’s not to say she uses that exclusively, Suz has love for a few other platforms too — two of my favourites:
“That being said, the developer experience of both the Particle and Tessel microcontrollers are unbeatable. I’ve been able to set up wireless IoT projects very quickly using these two platforms.”
When it comes to her favourite IoT device out there, it turns out… it’s now discontinued!
“My favourite IoT device has to be the now (sadly) defunct Berg Little Printer. It would print out a little morning summary of things for your day. I own one and at the time was subscribed to all sorts of cartoons and stories which I loved receiving on my bedside table every morning. It felt so much nicer and less anxiety ridden than reading through your email inbox before you’d even made it out of bed. I love new uses for old school technologies, like thermal printers which this device featured. It reminded me affectionately of passing notes around in high school, but better.”
Being so heavily into the Internet of Things, Suz has some tips for how to build IoT devices the right way:
“My first piece of advice is to design an amazing ‘out of the box’ experience.” – Suz Hinton
“No one likes opening a gift only to find it needs a run to the store to buy batteries. If your user can get up and running in 10 minutes or less, you’ll build a great first impression with them and they’ll be more likely to stick with it. Building a toolchain that abstracts away the finicky first setup tasks can do wonders for someone feeling that they were carefully thought about, and the confidence in their ability to use the device will be high.”
“When writing software for other developers, set that bar a bit lower when assuming the skillsets and experience of your peers. Don’t assume they know anything about the IoT platform.” – Suz Hinton
“They might be feeling intimidated, and you can do a lot to smooth that over for them. A few examples include writing extensive docs, automatically finding the correct port for the IoT device, and outputting helpful errors that explain exactly what went wrong.”
Suz is really concerned about consumer privacy and security and believes we need to do better in these areas. This is a serious concern in the industry!
“A lot of devices simply don’t have the processing power to handle proper encryption, and other more powerful chips have outdated, vulnerable operating systems running on them. IoT devices are heavily used these days to conduct distributed DDOS attacks which is not a happy thought at all. We need to do better!” – Suz Hinton
Finally, I just had to ask her — “How often your devices burnt you? Like literally.” I asked because the temperature sensor on my Arduino kits gets me every time. I think there are probably a few tiny points on my fingers that will never be the same thanks to those temperature sensors… Suz shares the pain!
“I have definitely created my fair share of burn inducing shorted circuits! When you plug in the power and think “what’s that smell?” then immediately start touching every component to see what’s running hot. NEVER a good idea and yet my inquisitive mind can’t resist. This has happened when I’ve clumsily breadboarded even a simple logic gate circuit. These days I at least know to keep my hand on the power switch just in case!”
So yeah… if something smells like it’s burning, disconnect it from power rather than exploring your components with your fingers.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Suz for taking the time to answer these questions and share her experiences with developers! If you’d like to follow along with what she’s up to, she’s on Twitter as @noopkat and has a blog over at Meow Machine. Check out her avrgirl tool too and get involved helping her test it out if you’ve got spare Arduinos around!
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