No idea is dumb. People who say that ideas are dumb are dumb. And anyone who says that ideas don’t matter, execution does is only partially dumb. IoT Projects follow the same rule.
A few days ago, on my way back home from the office a junior texted me about how she wanted to do a certain project and had ideas that IoT could help her out in it. Being in this tech space it wasn’t the first time I was getting a message like this. Nor was it the first time someone had asked me how they should choose the right IoT project. But it was the first time I felt like I should write a whole thing about it and leave no questions unanswered. So let me put my tech influencer mask on and get this story started. I am just going to put all my experiences in words to help you understand how you can choose the right IoT project.
See I am a complete winter fanboi. Ice cold winds and frosty evenings work like magic. But despite all that, when one comes back to a not-so-cozy home and does not get that warm air blanketing you sort of feel, it does put you off. This gave birth to a very complicated relationship with my thermostat. Everyday while going out, I’d look at it longingly, thinking of how I could control it from afar. Only if one click from my cell phone would set the right temperature at my place. And then I thought, why can I not gain that control? It’s time to conquer that machine. That gave birth to my teeny project using IoT at its core.
Coming from a EE background, I had an idea about how GSM modules could fit into the picture. So I tried my luck with those. GSM was super in at that time but it came in with a lot of its problems. GSM is one directional which means that you cannot perform monitoring in the literal sense. Sending a one way message means that you gain only partial control for, e.g., the ability to make certain temperature changes per day, and that too at an undue cost. And undue costs never sit well with me. I like freeloading. Additionally, GSM modules bring a lot of regularity problems. And at one point or the other, they cause problems for the less tech savvy class.
So I decided to move on from GSM to local wifi control considering that it was easier and simpler. And then obviously, wifi controlled thermostats led me to NEST. What a world I must say. NEST thermostats led me to the complete understanding of wifi controlled devices and I essentially replicated one. Easiest solution if you want to a warm and cozy home to welcome you.
After solving this personal problem and gaining some insight into this world, I moved on to exploring new areas. Listen to me when I say that the best project ideas for IoT stem from a problem solving perspective. Keep an eye on everything going around and see how many fringe spaces you will discover where you can bring in innovation. So I knew I had to do that too. I put my “Sherlock” glasses on in the lookout for a problem in the industry sector and the opportunity came in the form of my senior year project.
Months of industry research as a part of our coursework had highlighted the fact that Pakistan Railway needed a proper railway track monitoring system. Thus we pitched this idea to our project supervisor. The odds were ever in our favor and thus the project of “Railway Track Monitoring with Multi Modal Sensing” fell into our lap. Crux of this project, we had to detect rail track anomalies through accelero-gyro and acoustic sensors. But the problem arose when we had to save the data in an on-board SD card. This meant that we could not process the data in real time and had to wait until we unmounted our sensing device and then processed the data offline. This annoyed us to the core and once again we knew IoT was the answer to our project's limitations. We worked around a solution that dumped data over the cloud and this OTA transfer eased our life.
This was my journey of doing my first two IoT projects and the way of choosing both was the same: find a problem and try to work around a solution. Just like I put my “Sherlock” glasses on, you also have to. There are tons of problems people are facing in unnoticed fringe spaces and you can be the person who solves them. Let's look at one integral problem - climate change. With the world focusing on going green, you can use your ideas to deal with water shortage, air quality monitoring, or even energy consumption. Work on irrigation management with water level sensors. Build an air pollution monitoring system. Or help increase efficiency with a smart energy meter. There is so much you can do.
At the end of my supposed self-proclaimed TEDx talk, I'd like to state a few ideas I’d like you to stick to.
First you need to understand that no idea is dumb. People who say that ideas are dumb are dumb. And anyone who says that ideas don’t matter, execution does is only partially dumb. You cannot execute until you have an idea to build upon. So folks, get inspired and get the wheels rolling. You do not find IoT project ideas hanging down from trees. Read. I repeat, read. Learn what's happening around. Ooh by the way here’s my suggestion: BUILD: An unorthodox guide to making things worth making by Tony Fadell. It’ll help you make things worth making for sure.
What next? Join the right communities and become a part of the right conversations. Surround yourself with the right set of people. There’s platforms like Hackster, Product Hunt, Instructables, and IoT for All which can prove to be step by step guide for everything you need to get started.
Just remember one thing when you choose your first IoT project. Use the core technology as an imperative functionality, not a sidekick. Don’t understand what I mean? Read this and you will.
Lastly, if you need any help with anything, join our Discord community or check out our Hackster and hit us up with all the ideas you have, we’ll hit you up with ours.