Spotlight on: Somo, a world leader in mobile and new media marketing, recently located its new R&D lab in Bristol. Last month TechSPARK was invited to see (and help judge) one of its regular hack days, where the team use a range of hardware and software to explore new opportunities offered up by new advances in technology.

Exploring the connected home

The hack day we attended was to explore “Understanding the possibilities and potential of the connected home”. With only a blank piece of paper, some amazing new Internet of Things tech and their collective brain power, the teams had to come up with a new way of using this tech in brand new applications.

Some of the fun technology the four teams got to get their hands on included Mother smart sensors, the wireless thermostats Hive and Nest, personalised wireless lighting provider Philips Hue and wireless plant sensor Parrot Flower Power.

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Hack day tech: Somo developers were given everything from
Hive and Nest, to Philips Hue and Parrot Flower Power

Why hold a hack day?

We asked Somo’s Innovation Manager Ben Magnus why Somo were holding the hack: “We want to explore the possibilities and potential of the connected home. One of our brand values is ‘lead with knowledge,’ so learning is a key focus for us and hack days support that.”

The three aims of the hack day were:

  • Understanding how connected home technology works.
  • Understanding what Somo’s role is within the connected home space.
  • Creating demos to showcase connected home technology.

As Ben explains: “The Internet of Things has been a buzzword within the industry for a while, but events like CES have confirmed how importantly it’s viewed by technology companies across the world. At Somo, it’s vital that we stay ahead of the curve when these technologies are released, and so the connected home was a natural topic to focus on.

 “Hack days provide an opportunity for us to innovate quickly in new, exciting, and relevant areas”

 

“We’re only going to see the amount of connected home technology rise, so by choosing to run a hack day on this topic, it puts us in a great position when new technology is announced.”

The hack day projects

Clear Color (AKA George2) – Thermostat lighting warnings

clear-colour-somo-hackdayThe Clear Color hack-day project used Nest and Philips Hue to make it easier for visually impaired individuals to change their heating using just their phones. It did this via three simple options, High, Medium, and Low, which can be customised, to deliver audio and visual triggers so that the user easily knows what changes have been made.

George Bafaloukas, an iOS Developer who worked on the Clear colour project said: “We got the opportunity to work with Nest and Hue SDKs to combine those two technologies within a single app to create a ‘richer’ connected home experience.”

Ball, Ball, Ball – sports score notifications

ball-ball-ball---somoThis project used Philips Hue lights to deliver subtle notifications about sports scores. If you are unable to watch a game live, but you want to be able to see when a goal has been scored for example, Ball, Ball, Ball enables the lights to flash with relevant messaging.

Ian Lockett, iOS Developer, found creating Ball, Ball, Ball a useful exercise: “During the hack I learnt how to integrate the Philips Hue SDK, and the challenges of handling its responsiveness. In general it was interesting, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the technology, and learning how to work with some of the connected home kit.”

ScreenPlay – a fully immersive home cinema experience

screenplay-somo-hackdayScreenPlay aimed to extend the home cinema experience, by providing more sensory feedback such as immersive lighting and even a fan blowing in your face in scenes involving high-speed travel! ScreenPlay incorporated Hue lights and a fan automated by a WeMo switch, in order to improve the way we engage with movies in the home environment.

Jake Chandrasakera, one of Somo’s Android Developer, said of the ScreenPlay project: “We were able to experiment with Hue and WeMo in a connected home environment. We used a combination of Philips Hue lighting and Belkin WeMo switches that were linked to the new Star Wars trailer. We made the Hue lights change to match the mood of what was on the screen, and then used the WeMo switches to turn on a fan for loud/windy scenes. It was interesting to see what is currently possible, but even more so to discover what will be possible in the near future.”

Instagran – a way to monitor at risk people at their home

instagran-somo-hackdayInstagran was created to help you care for those that have cared for you, if they are now vulnerable and alone. Instagran is a smart activity monitoring and alert system that hooks into your mobile and other smart devices. The system intelligently gathers and filters information received from the smart “Mother”sen.se and motion cookies, alerting you and other chosen carers when a vulnerable or elderly person you know may be in trouble.

Android Developer Jose Lechon said of the Instagran hack: “I had the chance to work with Mother, an interesting device which is really easy to turn on and sync with its cookies. The most interesting bit was to find out how easy it was to put the sensors wherever we wanted. That flexibility and accuracy was impressive.”

Should you hold a hack day?

There is no doubt it was a fun day, but why do Somo run hack days? Ben Magnus explains “”Internal hack days are just a small part of what makes Somo great. Hack days provide an opportunity for us to innovate quickly in new, exciting, and relevant areas. The concepts we develop can then be showcased to our clients to help them understand how technology is transforming their sector, or even rolled out as products from our incubator.

 “Hack days are a great way of giving people an opportunity to work on projects and concepts that are outside of their usual day-to-day responsibilities”

 

“Hack days are also a great way of bringing together people from across the business, and giving them an opportunity to work on projects and concepts that are outside of their usual day-to-day responsibilities.”

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Serious fun: Hack days can make exploring new tech challenging but also very enjoyable!

So are hack days a valuable use of a company’s developer’s time? Developer Jake Chandrasakera certainly thinks so: “Hack days allow us to keep on top of the very rapid evolution of technology. We experiment with new technologies (whether that be a new device or API) to test their uses and limitations. I would say it is a very good use of our time.”

But hack days are also about fun, and the atmosphere in the office during the hack was best described as studied concentration punctuated by laughter. We wondered what Jake’s favourite moment from the day was: “When we were testing our hack and accidentally changed all the Hue lights in the room instead of just ours, leading to mass confusion from all teams as to why their lights were constantly changing!”

You can see some highlights from the day in the video below:

For more information on Somo and insights into the changing world of mobile marketing, head to their blog. You can also follow them on Twitter: @SomoGlobal

Jamie Middleton