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Road to IoT

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My laptop is not working.

“Your laptop is not working?” my manager echoed back. His voice plastered with concern. I was sitting in my apartment in the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, and we were about to kick-off the biggest hackathon we had ever embarked on.

iModel.js meets Microsoft

Our goal was to create a web-app using Microsoft’s Azure Digital Twins (ADT) technology. If that’s new to you, allow me to explain…do you remember how everything started being hooked up to the internet of things (IoT)?

In this case, our task was to hook-up an entire roadway to IoT!

This would involve taking data from multiple sensors — such as traffic and
air-quality — and monitor the overall health of roads, tunnels and bridges. ADT is Microsoft’s offering for taking live data from such sensors and computing valuable information about the assets— such as tunnels— they belong to.

Reader beware:

This was a hackathon like no other.

For the first time ever, the team members were scattered; each in their unique quarantine situation. As we navigated the reality of working from home — which involved constant distractions and easy access to detrimental amounts of comfort food…life turned into a frenzy. The only thing holding us together was our headsets; that and the hope that we could still pull off a successful demo.

Two weeks later, this is what we ended up with:

So how did we make it happen?

The road to IoT was a rocky one. It was paved with both exhilarating victories and discouraging setbacks. For instance, my first morning in the hackathon can be summed up in the picture below:

This sucker refused to boot up! I called up our IT support for emergency assistance hoping for a quick resolution. However, after several rounds of testing over the phone…my laptop was declared as “fried.” The only solution was to ship in a new one which would take a couple of days.

Murphy’s law was in full effect.

While I was left powerlessly googling buzzwords on my phone, my colleague, Wil was lost in a sea of sensor simulations. He was struggling to find the right set of configurations for our use-case. Another colleague, Josh was working on a desktop computer which was stationed in his family kitchen. His kids would constantly walk in to fight over snacks and his limited attention.

We all felt overwhelmed and somewhat discouraged. This carried on for a couple of days until we realized it was time to change course.

The team got together for a virtual huddle. Each member presented what they had done so far — the sensor simulations, the ADT instance and the iModel.js app. As we started bringing these individual pieces together, we noticed we were much further along than we thought. The isolation from the quarantine had had us fooled! Soon enough, we pulled together our first little demo. Next thing, we were popping the champagne emojis.

This celebration inspired us to take on the next set of tasks. Each victory kept adding to a positive feedback loop. Bit by bit, the entire demo started coming together. By the end of it, quarantine didn’t bother us anymore. Nothing did.

The end result?

The project was a success! It got a shout-out at Microsoft’s annual Build conference when ADT was announced. Along the way, we learned how to use the sensor simulations, Azure Digital Twins and Time Series Insights. Now we have a better way to hook things up to IoT!

Maybe we should use our newfound knowledge to deal with all the comfort food we devoured along the way :)

Roop, reporting live from t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶a̶s̶e̶m̶e̶n̶t̶ my apartment.

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