Things Without Internet

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No InternetHave you heard of the internet of things? Thought so. 

Some day, all devices will be able to communicate securely and intelligently with each other. Throw in a dash of artificial intelligence and they will even learn our preferences over time. As promising as it sounds, there are quite a few things that need to play out before we get there. 

Until then, there are still plenty of useful things without a network connector. Communication with infrared, serial, contact closures and voltage sensors are found in plenty of consumer and professional products alike. So how do we get them on the network? 


The answer, of course, is to use a converter. A good LAN converter will have a well documented and easy to understand communications protocol, some helpful software tools to get you started, and be reasonably priced. 

The hardware enclosure should also be considered. Will it be installed in an equipment rack? Mounted directly on another device? Or simply sit on a shelf? 

Finally, the device will need to be powered. An external power supply, POE or USB from a neighboring device are some typical options. 

We have had great success in this area with products from Global Caché. A quick internet search will also give you plenty of alternatives. 

We Have Assumed Control

Once you get your network-less thing online, you’ll want to send some commands to it. For testing, you can fire up a terminal program like PuTTY. But for day to day control, you’ll want a friendlier interface. 

Programming modules for all of the well known control manufacturers can be found online. But if you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of coding, control on a budget is within reach. 

This guy wrote some web server code to open his garage door with his phone. Setting up a web server with Arduino or Raspberry Pi are low power, budget friendly options for always-on, local control. 

Goin’ Mobile

If you happen to know an app developer then you can skip the extra hardware and go mobile. Using an app to control devices directly over the network has a few interesting advantages:

  • It uses existing infrastructure (your phone or tablet and WiFi).
  • When using a docking station, you cannot tell the difference from a traditional control system.
  • End users can manage their own B2B app deployments.
  • Mobile devices can be ordered online, making replacements easy to get.

Integrating the Internet

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I used to roll my eyes whenever I read about IOT. Anyone who has been in AV long enough knows we’ve been networking Things for decades. Most of the time those things were never designed to work together. But we made it happen.

Then I watched a video about Node-RED and realized I got it all wrong. Whoever came up with the words Internet Of Things didn’t quite nail it either. It should be The Internet And Things. That is what this technology is really about. Bringing together internet services and real world devices.


This opens up a whole new way of thinking about systems. Let’s start with the user interface. Instead of pushing a button what if your system reacted to Facebook Likes or Twitter Hashtags? In a store-front Digital Signage installation this could be a nice way to add value. Whenever the Facebook page of the business gets liked, you could fire a “Thank You!” video clip to the storefront display, or flash the lights, or do some kind of show control, or – you get the idea.

What if your system communicated with the internet? Sure there are proprietary monitoring systems available today. But what if you could roll your own in the cloud and make it do exactly what you want. A projector or control system could open a tcp socket and send the lamp hours to your cloud service once a day. The cloud then sends an email to Bob the support tech when more than 2000 hours are reported.

When Bob goes on vacation, you can easily log in and have the email sent to Joe instead. Or send an SMS, or turn on a siren in your office, or automatically send a PO for a new lamp and schedule a maintence call.

The internet is now open for integration. And it is ridiculously cheap. You can run a service on IBM Bluemix with up to half a gig of memory for free. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are some other options. Or you could build a simple appliance and install it on site. But if you are interacting with web services anyway, why bother?

Could it really be that easy? Check back in a week or two for a full report.

If it is, all we need to do is get equipment manufacturers to start adopting standard connectivity protocols, like MQTT. The first projector manufacturer to do this gets my vote for innovator of the year.