Battling device mayhem with Mayhem

Interconnectivity project addresses the Internet of Things problem

There's been a lot of talk about “the Internet of things”--the hypothetical, interconnected Web of physical objects that will communicate with each other and function as a unified force for good in our lives.

There's just one teeny, tiny problem: how exactly will all of these objects talk to each other? Who gets to design a way for, say, any coffeemaker to talk to any light sensor on the market to make coffee when the sun comes up?

The Outercurve Foundation is announcing today the acceptance of a new project into its ranks that could be a significant step towards solving this not-so-tiny problem of device interconnectedness.

The project is called Mayhem, a scripting system that's spinning out of the Applied Sciences Group at Microsoft. project into the newly-formed Innovators Gallery. The idea behind Mayhem is to enable users to interconnect services and devices within the Windows ecosystem.

At this point, the open source faithful might be wondering why they should care about any of this. Windows? Devices? Hang on, we're getting there.

First off, Mayhem is open source, and has been from its inception. According to Paul Dietz, Mayhem Project Leader, as soon as the team at the Applied Science Group started putting Mayhem together, they realized that in order to meet the challenge of hardware communication on a near-universal scale, they were going to have to rely on open source development practices.

What's also interesting about Mayhem is the way it works. Instead of trying to figure out how a bazillion devices can actually communicate with each other, Deitz explained that no actual data gets exchanged when Mayhem devices talk to each other--just a signal. Because Mayhem just deals with signals, it simplifies the communication enormously. Mayhem enables users to build whatever reaction they want based on the signal, Deitz explained.

So, in the example I outlined earlier (which actually came from Deitz), the coffeemaker doesn't have to know what the light sensor is saying; it just knows that when it gets a signal from the light sensor, it just has to start the reaction to the signal: brewing the coffee.

Mayhem's donation to the Outercurve Foundation marks an important event for the Foundation itself: it's the inaugural project in a new gallery for Outercurve, known as the Innovator's Gallery.

Executive Director Paula Hunter outlined the issue neatly: the Innovator’s Gallery solves a significant issue for the Outercurve staff and board of directors: what to do about open source projects that would do well within the Outercurve umbrella, and yet didn't quite fit within the existing gallery structure in the Foundation.

“Innovation is happening out on the margins,” Sam Ramji, President of the Outercurve Board said, “and open source is very innovative.”

For Ramji and the Outercurve board, they needed a way to bring in these kinds of forward-thinking open source projects that were out on the margins and not quite fitting in Outercurve's model.

Now that Mayhem is within Outercurve, contributors will have an easier time contributing to the Mayhem project. Of course, that doesn't mean the Mayhem folks aren't willing to sweeten the pot a bit for the occasion of Mayhem's launch within Outercurve.

To foster the creation of additional add-ons in Mayhem, which are collections of signals and reactions for existing devices, Outercurve is hosting the “Make Your Own Mayhem” Contest 2012.

According to the press announcement, “[d]evelopers are invited to submit any number of creative add-ons to Mayhem by midnight (Pacific Time), April 30, 2012. Submissions will be evaluated by judges Johnny Chung Lee, Rapid Evaluator, Google; IBM Fellow John Cohn, and MK Haley, Associate Executive Producer – Faculty, Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center. Awards include Honorable Mention, Most Awesome Add-on, People’s Choice (most ‘Likes’ on entry video) and the Mayhem Master’s Award 2012, awarded to the developer of the best collection of Mayhem add-ons. Over US$5000 in prizes will be awarded.”

The project is licensed under the MS-PL, and currently has ties to the Windows environment to put reactions together. But if the Mayhem framework remains open, there’s no reason other operating systems, mobile or otherwise, wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Mayhem signals.

It’s an interesting approach, and one of the more elegant ways I've seen thus far to addressing the real mechanics of the “Internet of things.”

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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