London-based SAM Labs is billing its first product, the SAM development kit, as “The Ultimate Internet-Connected Electronics Kit.” Hyperbole? Maybe. But the kit has a few features that set it apart from similar products.
SAM modules come in two flavors: sensors, which take in data about the world around them; and actors, which get things done. The lineup is similar to other Internet of Things development kits aimed at less technically inclined users like littlebits, and includes buttons, sliders, and switches; pressure, light, motion, and temperature sensors; and lights, motors, and servos.
Ease of use is the defining factor. SAM modules are totally wireless, so connecting them isn’t an issue — they talk over Bluetooth. Programming is done through a visual drag-and-drop interface on a computer or mobile device, which means no coding is required to get the modules swapping data and working together. But the app reveals all the code it generates, so users can see the relationship between code and behavior and eventually learn to make their own customizations.
With an additional “cloud” module, a collection of SAMs can reach beyond Bluetooth range and connect to the Internet. That enables mobile and web services as well as the ability to connect SAMs remotely in more than one location.
As a wireless module, each SAM includes its own micro-USB-rechargeable battery. It’s a liberating feature that makes it easier to create prototypes of any form factor, but it’s also a limitation: battery life varies widely between modules. A button that’s only active when being pressed might last two to three weeks on a charge, while a motor that runs frequently will only last half an hour.
The team behind SAM, a collection of designers and engineers fresh out of the esteemed Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, have committed to open-sourcing all of their hardware designs, and may open-source their software down the road. Right now they’re raising funds on Kickstarter for a full production run, which they plan to deliver in spring 2015.
Have a look at the video below to learn more.