Lego-like modular kit lets you create Internet of Things devices

An engineering kit called SAM, recently funded at Kickstarter, is bringing building block, drag-and-drop Internet of Things development to the masses.

sam lead image
Credit: SAM Labs

With the Internet of Things poised for takeoff, and with coffee makers, lamps, and possibly us, about to be forever switched on-and-off via an embedded connection, you may be wondering how best to explore this arena as a beginner.

Well, I intend to pick up a soon-to-be launched, Raspberry Pi-esque SAM kit. It’s a Lego-like IoT engineering kit for novices that was recently funded at Kickstarter.

Sensor Actor Module

SAM is a Sensor Actor Module electronics inventor kit consisting of software and IoT hardware building block elements, like switches and lights. They use Bluetooth to communicate and can interface externally via the Internet.

The idea is that, with the kit, you create IoT-like applications without having to know code or build prototypes.

The UK-based project, led by 23-year-old Belgian mechanical engineer Joachim Horn, was successfully funded at Kickstarter at the end of October. Horn is now taking pre-orders for various levels of the kit.

What is it?

The building blocks are smaller than a matchbox and will consist of a button, light, servo, slider, tilt sensor, DC motor, light sensor, thermometer, and a cloud module. The advance-order kits have varying permutations of those building blocks.

Building block modules communicate wirelessly via a Bluetooth dongle-connected computer loaded with SAM software called an “app.” Connecting the modules is accomplished via drag-and-drop in the app.

Communication between blocks is up to 20 meters locally, and infinitely with SAM Cloud, according to the developer. However, only the most expensive SAM kit has the cloud module.

Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are integrated for external communications.

Kits range from GBP 60, or about $93, to GBP 240, or about $375, and will be delivered in March 2015.

Applications

The developer reckons that SAM can be used to create remote-control toy cars, phone-connected doorbells, and intruder alarms.

Pressure, proximity, and light-sensor building blocks can be used to create Tweeting smart fridges, responsive shoes, or Internet-connected toys.

Home automation can be created with movement response, reactive lighting, sliding doors and servo-assist rotating windows, the developer says.

Learning code

One area where SAM really comes into its own is in its pop-up coding, via drag-and-drop software.

While I haven’t actually seen it function, apparently, as you move screen icons around to act with each other, the app generates the appropriate code. It appears on-screen adjacent to the visual representation of the building blocks' relationships.

The code isn’t hidden in any way. So, conceivably, this makes a powerful code-learning tool.

Learning

It’s in this learning element where the developers are really pitching the product.

In the same way that Raspberry Pi hardware and software is predominantly a hobbyist experimentation tool, SAM is also suited to developing concepts and learning.

The developer has been running workshops with kids and students who have built working projects.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Horn says people, including children who have never worked with electronics before, have made things within two hours.

He says an eight-year old built a toy car with proximity sensors for avoiding objects in a room, as an example.

And if an eight-year old can do it…hmm, anyone know any Walmart buyers? I’ll need one in March.

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