project haiku

Haiku Reflections: Experiences in Reality

Over the several months we worked on Project Haiku, one of the questions we were repeatedly asked was “Why not just make a smartphone app to do this?” Answering that gets right to the heart of what we were trying to demonstrate with Project Haiku specifically, and wanted to see more of in general in IoT/Connected Devices.

This is part of a series of posts on a project I worked on for Mozilla’s Connected Devices group. For context and an overview of the project, please see my earlier post.

The problem with navigating virtual worlds

One of IoT’s great promises is to extend the internet and the web to devices and sensors in our physical world. The flip side of this is another equally powerful idea: to bring the digital into our environment; make it tangible and real and take up space. If you’ve lived through the emergence of the web over the last 20 years, web browsers, smart phones and tablets - that might seem like stepping backwards. Digital technology and the web specifically have broken down physical and geographical barriers to accessing information. We can communicate and share experiences across the globe with a few clicks or keystrokes. But, after 20 years, the web is still in “cyber-space”. We go to this parallel virtual universe and navigate with pointers and maps that have no reference to our analog lives and which confound our intuitive sense of place. This makes wayfinding and building mental models difficult. And without being grounded by inputs and context from our physical environment, the simultaneous existence of these two worlds remains unsettling and can cause a kind of subtle tension.

Imagined space, Hackers-style

As I write this, the display in front of me shows me content framed by a website, which is framed by my browser’s UI, which is framed by the operating system’s window manager and desktop. The display itself has it own frame - a bezel on an enclosure sitting on my desk. And these are just the literal boxes. Then there are the conceptual boxes - a page within a site, within a domain, presented by an application as one of many tabs. Sites, domains, applications, windows, homescreens, desktops, workspaces…

Haiku Reflections: Web Clients and Web Resources

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing to put down my thoughts on the recently retired Mozilla Connected Devices Haiku project. For an overview, see my earlier post.

My understanding of the overarching goal for the Connected Devices group within Mozilla is to have a tangible impact on the evolution of the Internet of Things to maintain the primacy of the user; their right to own their own data and experience, to chose between products and organizations. We want Mozilla to be a guiding light, an example others can follow when developing technology in this new space that respects user privacy, implements good security and promotes open, common standards. In that context, the plan is to develop an IoT platform alongside a few carefully selected consumer products that will exercise and validate that platform and start building the exposure and experience for Mozilla in this space. Over the last few months, the vision for this platform has aligned with the emerging Web of Things which builds on patterns for attaching “Things” to the web.

From one perspective, the web is a just a network of interconnected content nodes. It follows that the scope for standardizing the evolution of the Internet of Things is to define a sensible architecture and build frameworks for incorporating these new devices and their capabilities to maintain interoperability, promote discoverability etc. This maps well onto connected sensors, smart appliances and other physical objects whose attributes we want to query and set over the network. Give these things URLs and a RESTful interface and you get all the rich semantics of the web, addressability, tools, developer talent pool - the list goes on and on and its all for “free”. In one stroke you remove the need for a lot of wheel re-inventions and proprietary-ness and nudge this whole movement in the direction of the interoperable, standardized web. Its a no-brainer.

In this context however, the communication device envisaged by Project Haiku is orthogonal. While you can model it to give URLs to the people/devices and the private communication channel they share, the surface area of the resulting “API” is tiny and has limited value. It is conceptually powerful as it brings along all the normal web best practices for RESTful API design, access control, caching and offline strategies and so-on. Still, the Haiku device would be more web client than web resource and doesn’t fit neatly into this story.

Reflections on Project Haiku: Accounts and Ownership

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing to put down my thoughts on the recently retired Mozilla Connected Devices Haiku project. By focusing on the user problem and not the business model, we quickly determined that we wanted as little data from our users as we could get away with. For context and an overview of the project, please see my earlier post.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I had wired walkie-talkies. Intercoms really. Each unit was attached with about 100’ of copper wire. One could be downstairs and with the wire trailed dangerously under doors and up stairs we could communicate between kitchen and bedroom. Later, in order to talk with a friend in the appartment block opposite us, we got a string pulled taut between our two balconies. With tin cans on each end of the string, you could just about hear what the other was saying.

Direct, one-to-one communication

RF-based wireless communication had existed for a long time already, but I bring these specific communication examples up because the connection we made was exclusive and private.

We didn’t need to agree on a frequency and hope no-one else was listening in. The devices didn’t just enable the connection, they were the connection. We didn’t sign up for a service, didn’t pay any subscription, and when we tired of it and it was given away, no contracts needed to be amended; the new owners simply picked up each end and started their own direct and private conversation. In Project Haiki, when we thought about IoT and connecting people, this was the analogy we adopted.

Reflections on Project Haiku: WebRTC

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing to put down my thoughts on the recently retired Mozilla Connected Devices Haiku project. We landed on a WebRTC-based implementation of a 1:1 communication device. For an overview of the project as a whole, see my earlier post.

WebRTC triangle diagram

This was one of those insights that seems obvious with hindsight. If you want to allow two people communicate privately and securely, using non-proprietary protocols, and have no need or interest in storing or mediating this communication - you want WebRTC.

Reflections on Project Haiku

I’ve written before on this blog about my current project with Mozilla’s Connected Devices group: Project Haiku. Last week, after close to 9 months of exploration, prototyping and refinement this project was put on hold indefinitely.

So I wanted to take this opportunity - a brief lull before I get caught up in my next project - to reflect on the work and many ideas that Project Haiku produced. There are several angles to look at it from, so I’ll break it down into separate blog posts. In this post I’ll provide a background of the what, when and why as a simple chronological story of the project from start to finish.

Other posts in this series:

Phase 0: Are we solving the right problem?

Back in March 2016, with Firefox OS winding down and most of that team off exploring the field of IoT and the smart home, Liz proposed a vision for a project that would tackle smart home problems in a way that was more grounded in human experience and recognized the diversity of our requirements from technology and our need to have it reflect our values - both aesthetically and practically. I had been experimenting with ideas like the smart mirror and this human-centric direction resonated with me. A team gathered around her proposal and we started digging.