MAYA Design is working to give every man, woman, and child on the planet a superpower. Just as the X-Men’s Magneto can detect the metal within and control it with his mutant powers of magnetism, MAYA wants to give you X-Ray vision to peer into the gadgets around you and bend them to your will. But this superpower doesn’t require a magic ring, a blast of gamma rays, or the bite of a radioactive toaster: it’s as simple as downloading an app.
Meet MakerSwarm. Now on Kickstarter, MakerSwarm is in the words of MAYA Design almost like “a roll of duct tape for the Internet of Things.” The idea is simple: We’re surrounded by electronics with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and computer chips inside them: gadgets like smartphones, e-readers, TVs, toys, appliances, and more. What if hacking them to work together was easy enough for even a 10-year old to comprehend?
“I remember when I was a 10-year-old, my parents got me an electronics kit from Radio Shack, and I spent months glued to that thing, learning how to wire a circuit board,” says MakerSwarm lead engineer Matthew Casebeer. “If I went on to be an engineer thanks to a Radio Shack kit, imagine what a 10-year-old kid today can go on to do if he could hack together 10,000 devices all over the world at the same time?”
Here’s how MakerSwarm works. By downloading the official app to your Android device, MakerSwarm allows you to peer into the Wi-Fi-connected gadgets around you for functionality that you can hijack for your own uses. It will then allow you to create a simple app that you can use to trigger that function remotely.
For example, if you have a Wi-Fi-connected coffee maker, you could create your own “Morning Joe” app that would set your java brewing when you woke up in the morning, just by tapping a button. But that’s just the beginning. Using MakerSwarm, you could also link together multiple gadgets, each with different abilities, and trigger them simultaneously. In the case of the Morning Joe app, that might mean your single morning tap not only starts brewing your coffee, but it also tunes the kitchen radio to NPR, turns the heat-up of a Nest thermostat and adjusts the lighting of your Philips Hue lightbulbs.
But MAYA’s project is called a swarm for a reason: there’s a social component to MakerSwarm. Not only does the app allow you to hack together all the gadgets around you, but you can connect to friends over the Internet to gain remote control over their gadgets as well. At a concert, a swarm of connected users could record the entire show in 3D surround sound from a hundred different smartphone mics; the LED flashes of a thousand-person MakerSwarm game could be linked together at a football game to go off every time the home team scored a goal. And MakerSwarm even connects with apps, meaning that each of those LED flashes could each simultaneously fire off an accompanying tweet: “Sox Rule, Cardinals drool! #soxrule”
In other words, if a gadget or a service has an API that allows users to control it remotely, MakerSwarm can hack into it and tell it how to communicate with any other gadgets or services that it can see, either locally or within its own peer-to-peer gadget network. MakerSwarm’s real magic, though, comes imbued in its accessibility. “Coders, engineers, and geeks end up being in charge of every great idea that comes out,” says McManus. “We wanted MakerSwarm to be for everyone, not just the 1%.”
To that end, the MakerSwarm app has been built from the ground up to be touch-friendly and intuitive, making connecting gadgets and services together as simple as literally drawing connectors between them. (Geeks: Think IFTTT for hardware as well as services, and you’ve got the right idea.) If you try to connect a gadget to a service that can’t communicate natively, MakerSwarm will check its marketplace to see if someone in the community has coded up a solution to get the two talking. If not, MakerSwarm will still allow you to connect them anyway and see what happens, because trying weird, dumb things is how MAYA believes people learn the limits of what is possible in the first place.
It’s cool stuff, specifically designed to inspire and empower a whole new generation of engineers. But MakerSwarm is also something of a secret weapon against companies that are trying to lock down the Internet of things with closed standards and proprietary API.
“If you’re Samsung, Apple, or Google, you want the Internet of things to be the Internet of your things,” says McManus. “You want to control it. MakerSwarm aims to be the Napster of the Internet of Things: a peer-to-peer swarm that connects everywhere and is a wedge belonging to everyone that can be used when a company who says they aren’t evil suddenly decides to be evil.”
MakerSwarm is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, and MAYA Designs is looking to ship the finished MakerSwarm app by June 2014. You can read more about MakerSwarm here.