Internet of Things: Big Data Outbreak – Whiteboard Walkthrough

Editor's Note: In this week's Whiteboard Walkthrough, Jay Margalus, Demo Specialist at MapR, shows you an awesome project he developed last year called "Big Data Outbreak". Following the video below is a blog post by Jay. 

Wearable technology and IOT are all the rage in Big Data now, and rightfully so. Every device we wear, or sensor we deploy, contributes to an ever-growing pool of information that we can use to (hopefully) better understand the world around us.

At the Chicago Big Data Everywhere conference last year, we decided to put that idea to the test by turning the conference badges into wearable technology. For the project, Workshop 88 (my old hackerspace) was commissioned to develop badges that could interact with each other and showcase the potential of big data coupled with IOT. The results were interesting.

The badges were first prototyped on an Arduino, an inexpensive microcontroller used in many “maker” projects. Microcontrollers are sometimes also known as embedded systems—basically, computers that interface with the real world through sensors and various outputs. The Arduino uses a C-like language for programming, and generally has upwards of 15 I/O ports to interface with.

Once prototyped, a final badge schematic was designed by members at Workshop 88 and sent out for production. Designs like this can usually be produced using free or inexpensive software like Fritzing or EAGLE. Final parts assembly and soldering was done at the space after receiving the devices.

So what did the badges do?

Coming from a game design background, I approached the badges as an opportunity to develop an alternative reality game. Taking a cue from games like Werewolf and Pandemic, the decision was made to make the conference badges into an uncertainty game. That is to say, we would reveal certain pieces of data to attendees, but leave other information purposefully out.

Using a combination of transceivers on the badges, as well as kiosk-based servers set up to receive data, the badges spent the day spreading an “epidemic.” To that end, we “infected” one badge with a disease before the conference. Then, as attendees walked around the conference, the badges communicated with each other and spread the disease, talked back to the server, and then outputted a data visualization (using D3) of the epidemic’s progression.

The result was quite interesting, if not fully realized due to some badge glitches. With devices like the Apple Watch poised to release, and sensors being deployed around many of our major cities, people are still wrapping their heads around what the Internet of Things will bring. For some attendees at Big Data Everywhere, we hopefully brought that idea closer to home and made it more approachable through our game. The true interaction between technology and the real world opens up many possibilities, whether it be through a game, a fitness and health app, or a city-wide network of sensors.


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