Using Arduinos to make conferences better

While walking around the Santa Clara Convention Center on Tuesday, I nearly stepped on an Arduino.

A small and simple open-source computer board that can connect to sensors, the Arduino was one of 50 such gadgets that O’Reilly Media, host of the Strata Conference, planted around the facility. Sensors attached to the Arduinos pick up humidity, motion, sound and temperature data which they collect and wirelessly send to a ZigBee device that uploads it all to an Amazon (s amzn) Web Services cloud for real-time visualization and analysis and future processing, said tech-book author Alasdair Allan, one of the people behind the project.

Arduino-connected "Awesome" boxes for capturing audience feedback

Arduino-connected “Awesome” boxes for capturing audience feedback

It’s the second time O’Reilly has deployed the devices at an event under its Data Sensing Lab project. The devices made their debut at the Strata conference in New York in October. What’s new this time was the appearance of 11 big red “awesome” buttons, each connected to an Arduino, that attendees can push on their way out of a talk to show that they liked it. If a particular speaker “kills” her talk, that’ll show and maybe she’ll get a bigger room next time. Or, if there’s a notable lack of enthusiasm, maybe she’ll get the boot.

Sure, Allan, O’Reilly Founder and CEO Tim O’Reilly and Strata Chairman Edd Dumbill had fun talking about the project, throwing together the Arduinos, Allan said. But the ¬†technology could prompt O’Reilly to improve certain parts of the conference, such as counting people or getting lots of feedback. Plus, the project could end up being spun off to another company. So far, it’s already inspired “Distributed Network Data,” an O’Reilly how-to book from Allan and co-author Kipp Bradford. And Allan has posted the code for the O’Reilly Arduinos, which the company calls sensor motes, on GitHub.

The open nature of the project makes sense, as it can tie in with other systems of connected devices. If it stays like that, it could fit in well with an Android-like open ecosystem for the internet of things that my colleague Stacey Higginbotham envisions.