Awesome Stuff: A Mesh Network For Your Things

from the never-forget dept

Plenty of people have tried to market various devices for keeping track of your keys or never losing your wallet, but they've tended towards the cumbersome and gimmicky, and have always been pretty limited in their function. This week, we're taking a look at a much cooler approach to the same problem: little computers called Trakkies that attach to your things and link them all up in a mesh network.

The Good

Trakkies are a great example of innovation at work. The problem — people losing their keys, forgetting their bags, etc. — has an obvious solution in a world of wireless technology, but implementing that solution in a functional and stylish way that makes people say "wow, I want that" is another challenge altogether. Trakkies go beyond a simple proximity or location system, and instead make all your stuff smart. The little node tags come in two sizes, each with a bunch of sensors and a big configurable button; they locate each other and form a mesh network with Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, and begin learning what you bring with you and when. Your wallet can warn you if you're leaving the house without your keys, and vice versa — or you can tap the button on any one tag to find out if all the others are with you. The associated mobile app is optional (a beautiful thing) and brings your phone into the mesh network without the need for an an attached node tag, plus provides additional tools like looking up the last known location of all your tags on a map.

The network can communicate with lots of other smart devices and can be hooked into IFTTT for programmable behaviours based on a wide variety of factors. And the buttons on each node can be set up with context-sensitive functions — so the button on your coat could be set to tell you if your phone isn't with you, but serve as a music skip control if it is; it could check for your wallet and keys when you're getting off the bus, but turn on and off your smart lightbulbs when you're at home. Trakkies take a big leap beyond solving a simple problem, and actually spark excitement about the new things they could enable.

The Bad

Truthfully, at this stage, I don't have much bad to say about this project. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. The price isn't cheap, but it isn't prohibitive either, and the designers have made what I'd consider all the right choices. The "internet of things" has been looming on the horizon for some time now, and a device like this could represent a meaningful step in that direction.

The Background

There's an interesting bit of backstory to the Trakkies on the Kickstarter page: the whole thing actually started as a software pursuit. The original team was a research company at European Space Agency BIC, and was focused entirely on the data science and machine learning aspects of the project. The switch to a focus on hardware only came when the team realized that nobody was making hardware capable of doing what they wanted their software to do. That's the path innovation often takes, and beautifully illustrative of the fact that the simplest problems — people sometimes forget their keys — can yield the most interesting and groundbreaking solutions.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2015 @ 10:54am

    Things can talk to each other?

    My keyboard and mouse don't talk to each other for some reason. I think they're mad at each other. Perhaps jealous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      McCrea, 12 Jul 2015 @ 6:29am

      Re: Things can talk to each other?

      It would be useful to know if my mouse and keyboard were near my monitor before I sat down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2015 @ 11:20am

    Who else sees people putting these on their dogs or even their kids? Another great way to make sure your Tupperware lids don't get lost!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2015 @ 11:39am

      Re:

      Something like this maybe useful for a car or a dog I suppose (assuming the dog doesn't destroy it or figure a way to remove it). There was another similar interesting tracking device that was mentioned on Techdirt at one time, I can't remember. However, IIRC, the other one didn't allow you to change or charge the battery and so you had to replace the device every so often (I believe it was every two years or so). It synched to an app on your phone and it synced to anyone else who has the app on their phone so that if your car gets stolen, for instance, and it gets in close proximity to someone else who has the app the app will notify the network, which will notify you, of your car's location.

      So does this one allow you to charge it? How often must you charge it. Or does it allow you to replace the batteries? If so what kind of batteries does it take and what is the battery life? Or do I have to get a new device every once in a while, how much will they go for and how often must they be replaced?

      Also it would be interesting if someone could create an app that could turn an old unused cell phone into something like this. Something that can synch to other cell phones via an app notifying them of its presence. So, for instance, if your car gets stolen if the cell phone encounters another phone with the app the app will then notify the network, which will notify you, of the phone. Perhaps if there was a way to hide it in the car somewhere so that it can draw power from the car.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Leigh Beadon (profile), 11 Jul 2015 @ 4:35pm

        Re: Re:

        The key difference between this and other such devices is that these tags for a mesh network. As far as I know, nobody else has offered that. Systems such as the one you describe use the phone as a hub -- it locates all the various devices that are tagged. That is not the case with Trakkies: each device is independent and they all form a network, and each one is capable of locating and interacting with all the others. There's no hub, no centralization. That's what makes this stand out to me.

        As for the charging, I'm not sure if they are chargeable or not, but they DO have replaceable standard flat batteries that you can pick up almost anywhere.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 12 Jul 2015 @ 6:50pm

        Re: Re:


        So does this one allow you to charge it? How often must you charge it. Or does it allow you to replace the batteries? If so what kind of batteries does it take and what is the battery life? Or do I have to get a new device every once in a while, how much will they go for and how often must they be replaced?


        From the actual page, they expect an 18-month battery life using CR2450 (630mAh) batteries in the .micro tag (⌀29x12mm), and an 8-month battery life using CR1632 (130mAh) batteries in the .tagg tag, user changeable. Those batteries seem to go for about a dollar each, from a quick search.

        I think it's awesome what they're squeezing out of the tech - the devices contain multiple LEDs and the page mentions triangulation, which may mean that they'll be awesome for locating your wallet when it's fallen behind the sofa. I think they have an uphill battle convincing people they need the devices though - As Leigh mentioned, people are used to being disappointed by these things.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2015 @ 10:51pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "triangulation"

          A nice, perhaps more practical, feature is if it has a small speaker that can make noise when attempting to locate it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            MrTroy (profile), 12 Jul 2015 @ 11:05pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I agree that having the missing device make a noise is likely to be more practical in most situations, but if I dropped my wallet while jogging in a park I might prefer it not to call out to other people. Also, if buried under sofa cushions sometimes it can be hard to hear small speakers.

            Also, there's nothing wrong with a signalling mechanism that's accessible to the deaf :-)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Leigh Beadon (profile), 12 Jul 2015 @ 11:37pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The larger tag has a speaker, and the smaller one a buzzer - though I'm not sure exactly what the available functions are for them

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2015 @ 2:39pm

      Re:

      Dogs bounce around and run into things. How long do you think this thing will last before it gets damaged. Also hope it's water proof because it might also get wet, sticky, dirty, subject to weather, the sun, dirt, dog drool, and the elements.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2015 @ 2:56pm

        Re: Re:

        Not to mention it might get rubbed against the ground, slammed against the ground, chewed on by other dogs, pawed on, etc... Better make sure it's bomb proof ;).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2015 @ 9:23am

    Hardware

    "the team realized that nobody was making hardware capable of doing what they wanted their software to do"

    That's the problem I'm having with my software project. I wrote a program to control warp drive engines on starships, but so far I haven't been able to find anyone making hardware that can run my software.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Haywood (profile), 12 Jul 2015 @ 10:04am

    I need more

    Alzheimer edition please; I need it to let me know when I've left the water running in the cows water dish or an important gate unlatched, maybe even the car idling in the driveway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2015 @ 1:49pm

    This should be built on an open standard like Thread:

    http://threadgroup.org/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MrTroy (profile), 12 Jul 2015 @ 6:36pm

      Re:

      Yeah, at this stage in development they should switch from 802.15.1 to 802.15.4 so they can't talk to your phone any more, they have to find a new SoC and probably redo a whole bunch of the design work that they've already completed.

      Not saying that this kind of device using Thread wouldn't be a good idea, but what would this particular group possibly gain that would be worth switching to Thread?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Willie, 13 Jul 2015 @ 7:01am

    Re:

    Trakkies' mesh topology is a step in the right direction, and the use of Bluetooth/NFC is good when you know you're only a short distance from your devices. What I wonder about, though, is the potential use of a system that can track an item -- let's say, a corporate ID card -- across a large area through a WAN. Maybe something like Symphony Link for corporations, or ZigBee?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mitchel Lockhead, 28 Jul 2015 @ 3:19am

    This is just the beginning for the Trekki team, it's good to have a strong solid foundation. The hardware is both useful and promising!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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