Meet the ex-Nokians trying to make hardware the easy bit of the Internet of Things

A Finnish startup has taken to Kickstarter to fund an ambitious hardware platform for Internet of Things developers.

thingsee one device
The Thingsee One. Image: Haltian

Hardware is integral to the Internet of Things (IoT) but building it can be the costly and time-consuming. Fast growing Finnish startup Haltian, founded in 2012 by five ex-Nokia employees, has the ambitious goal of turning IoT hardware into the easy bit - and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to make it happen.

Haltia's answer to the IoT hardware problem is Thingsee One, an open source hardware platform for developers, businesses, and enthusiasts to build their own IoT devices on. Thingsee One looks like a small navigator or clumsy mobile phone, but it can be programmed to become just about any IoT device.

"It's the first device that allows people to both develop and use the solution with the same hardware," says Ville Ylläsjärvi, co-founder of Haltian. "Typically prototyping hardware requires assembly - you need to get all the sensors onto it and then a build a mechanical enclosure before you can even start using it as a prototype. We are cutting all these steps down. You get a Thingsee One, develop your application or service on top of it, and then you can start to test it with real customers in a real usage scenario."

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To accommodate so many potential use cases, the Thingsee One needs to be a master of all trades. To achieve that, it packs a mass of sensors including a 3D accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, and A-GPS and GNSS location-tracking tech. It can sense when it's moved or tilted, track its speed and acceleration, as well as gather information about environmental conditions including temperature and light levels.

Thingsee One has a 1.54-inch monochrome graphic OLED, is water and shock resistant, and comes equipped with a microSD slot for charging and a microUSB 2.0 port for data transfer. It doesn't stop there either with wi-fi, GPRS, and Bluetooth 4.1 LE (Low Energy) for connectivity, plus a sizeable 1900mAh battery which Haltian claims can last up to a year.

Unlimited use cases

Haltian originally built the multi-sensor device for Finnish marine company Wärtsilä to provide real-time asset tracking.

"After developing the device, our engineers were playing around with the hardware and everybody seemed to have a use case for it," said Ylläsjärvi. "It was kind of a 'Eureka moment' for us. If we can come up with so many use cases, why not make it open source and give it to companies and innovators to play with?" 

Thingsee One can be used out of the box in conjunction with a dedicated mobile app which enables even non-techies to configure it for any usage scenario. Haltian says this could be anything from putting the device in your child's backpack to monitor their whereabouts or attaching it to a mailbox lid to receive an alert when it's opened.

For more technically advanced user groups like software, corporate, and web developers, Thingsee One can go even further: the hardware is expandable and web services and mobile applications can be built on top of the open source NuttX real-time operating system (RTOS). NuttX has a small footprint and is focused on standards compliance. Haltian provides software development kits for it, though coders can also use their preferred programming languages and frameworks.

With several prototypes built, Haltian has now taken to Kickstarter to get the device through certification and start large-scale manufacturing. The response has been strong: three days into the 30-day long campaign Haltian has raised more than half its $99,000 goal.

"We have been very happy with the start," says Ylläsjärvi. "We chose to go on Kickstarter as this kind of working in a public manner helps the company. By putting ourselves out there we can get valuable real-life feedback. Crowdfunding platforms are also a great place to show the world that there is traction for this kind of new product."

Currently Haltian is working on finishing the Thingsee One software stack and mobile applications for Android and iOS. The second build prototype is scheduled to be ready in December followed by beta devices and the first developer programme. A commercial launch of the Thingsee One is planned for early April.

The market price of the final device has yet to be decided but Ylläsjärvi believes it will fall near the current Kickstarter price bracket of $200 to $300.

Competitors welcomed

While there are other companies focusing on IoT developer kits, Ylläsjärvi says Thingsee One currently doesn't have any direct competitors where products can be both developed and used with the same hardware.

"If a competitor came up with a similar solution for me that would be a proof of the concept, that there is demand for it," says Ylläsjärvi. "Competition is also very valuable in building better products. If you are the only player, you have a hard time succeeding but if there is competition you really have to up your game."

But challenges still remain. Haltian acknowledges that the software and application frontend won't be ready at launch and will be built over time. 

"[Thingsee One] is a good starting point for companies and people to begin innovating with," says Ylläsjärivi. "The finesse of the user experience and usage cases will come only through the developer community. You can of course use Thingsee to do lots of things and you can get lots of information out of the device but the 'Apple level' of consumer experience will only come after developers launch their own Thingsee One solutions." 

Haltian may be using KickStarter to assess the traction and market pull of Thingsee One, but the growth of the company suggests healthy demand exists. Ylläsjärvi explains the founders' first pivotal conversation two years ago. 

"We started talking over a beer about how we have this great team of people [at Nokia] and there must be somebody who would want our expertise... Two years later our team is 70 people strong and growing fast. Ninety percent of our revenue comes from abroad. It's a journey. It's just starting and we are learning every day."

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