Developer of the Month: Computing on the Edge with Solstice

Thursday 4/6/17 10:00am
Posted By Mike Roberts
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The beauty of developer boards like the DragonBoard™ 410c from Arrow Electronics is their adaptability, and we love hearing about all the different ways people are using them.

We selected Julian Dale and the team at Solstice as our Qualcomm® Developer Network Developer of the Month because of their use of the DragonBoard 410c as the hub for their edge facilities management solution in a proof of concept demo that was one of the first to showcase AWS Greengrass, which is only available in limited preview.

We talked to Julian to find out about the challenges of building real-world IoT solutions, and how using the Dragonboard 410c helped them prototype an edge gateway running AWS Greengrass, extending AWS IoT and Lambda functions to add intelligence to what gets sent to the cloud.

 Julian Dale, QDN Developer of the Month April 2017

Can you tell us about your company and what you develop?        
We’re strategists, researchers, designers and engineers hell-bent on changing the way the world does business. We’re headquartered in Chicago, IL and have delivery offices in New York, NY and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

How was your company started?
In 2001 J Schwan, Founder & CEO, established Solstice Consulting in Chicago as an IT services firm. In 2008, J pivoted the company from developing web-based experiences into mobile. Over these past seven years we’ve grown from a Chicago-based mobile boutique, to a technology firm of over 400 designers and engineers. To reflect this growth, this past fall we rebranded to simply: Solstice.

What is your company's mission?
Solstice is a global innovation and emerging technology firm that helps Fortune 500 companies seize new opportunities through world-changing digital solutions. We exist to prove what businesses are capable of.

Can you share with us your company’s project using DragonBoard 410c and AWS Greengrass? How did your company decide on these technology solutions?
We built a facilities management solution called The Pulse, designed as an elegant way to capture data in existing buildings and derive insights from the vast amount of information. It was first featured at Solstice's annual innovation conference, Solstice FWD, in September 2016, and has since been upgraded to leverage AWS Greengrass. This powerful edge computing case was showcased during AWS re:Invent in November 2016 .

We built a number of sensor packs that tracked temperature, humidity, sound intensity, and motion. We deployed them throughout the conference venue in order to show attendees a heat map of the busiest areas – where exciting things might be happening – or how to get away from everything for a bit. With The Pulse our aim is to help attendees feel more plugged into the conference experience, and help them make informed decisions about what to do next.

The Pulse uses a DragonBoard 410c, a development board based on the Snapdragon® 410 mobile platform, as a gateway device that aggregates and batches information from many different sensors. Snapdragon processors have the power and speed to support edge processing, allowing increased local analysis of data for a more secure and reliable IoT implementation. Combined with AWS Greengrass, this brings new possibilities to commercial, industrial, medical and smart city solutions that can’t rely exclusively on the cloud.

What does innovation mean to your company? 
Innovation is a core pillar of why Solstice exists as an organization. We are always looking at the now, near, and next technologies that will shape our future. In 2015, we launched Solstice Labs, our internal R&D extension, to ensure we’re constantly investigating, testing and dreaming up the innovative technologies of the near future. From emerging IoT technology to augmented reality and much more, we invest in learning what’s coming next so we can keep our clients always looking ahead.

Share with us a fun fact about your company.
Every week, Solstice nominate their peers for the “Awesomeness Award”, which is given out every Thursday at our all hands company meeting. The winner is chosen by the previous week’s winner. The winner then has the privilege of sitting in the “Awe-some” Office the following week, and often uses it as a fun space for daily team standups and meetings. The Awesomeness Award promotes our culture of servant leadership by recognizing people that are making their teammates and projects shine.

Man in glasses gestures to screen in front of white wall
Image: Julian Dale explains The Pulse, which uses the Qualcomm DragonBoard 410c, at Solstice FWD conference.

Where do you and your team get inspiration for your work?
Everything is based around what the customer needs and wants in a given situation. For ‘The Pulse’, we started out with the question of a person at a tech conference and how we could provide additional context or interesting information to them using IoT. We tried to get into the mindset of a conference attendee by interviewing people who had been to conferences, exploring our conference space to feel what it would be like, and researching the most common concerns of people at conferences. From there, we ideated ways we could use the hardware to help address those issues.

How does the team overcome obstacles?
We used agile scrum with this project, and our daily standups were the place where we were able to sync up and identify issues. Since our team members were all on multiple projects and had limited time, we extended our standups to include a triage and problem solving time. Often, we were even able to bring up an issue, quickly discuss it, and answer the question or create a solution all within this quick time where we were all present.

What can be challenging in IoT development?   
One of the most challenging parts of IoT development is ensuring devices have connectivity, and that they’re all able to access the Internet. Simulating the actual environment that devices are going to occupy is very difficult. You develop and test within your space, but once the devices get into the space where they will actually be used, it’s possible for all sorts of things to pop up that you can’t anticipate. That’s why understanding the space where the devices will be used, simulating it as closely as possible, and getting access to it as early as possible is so important!

When enduring a long day, how do you and your team stay energized? (e.g. energy drinks, chocolate chip cookies, power naps, etc.)      
Lots of coffee, access to our connected vending machine called Vender, and runs to buy chips and Mountain Dew!

A group of people stand by a banner, in front of a glowing projection
Image: Jarrod Luker, Velina Ilieva, Abby Wooden, Julian Dale and Sanjay Kunta..

What changes to the IoT industry would you like to see?
There are currently many IoT platforms and providers in the marketplace, which can be intimidating for our clients to know where to start. While each provider offers truly unique capabilities, we think there is a big opportunity to take a more user-centered approach to developing and deploying IoT Solutions. Providers that take a user-first approach, while leveraging technologies like edge computing and machine learning, will drive growth in the industry. We want to see technology usage that meets user needs, not technology usage just because it’s available.

Tell us which Qualcomm technologies and other development tools you use.    
We’re using the DragonBoard 410c running the Linaro Linux OS.

In thinking about the Qualcomm technologies that you or your team uses in the development of your project, how did the specific Qualcomm product assist in the final development?
The DragonBoard 410c is running AWS Greengrass, which is the centerpiece of our facilities management solution. All of our devices connect to the DragonBoard 410c, which processes data locally and then sends it up to the AWS IoT cloud. Using the DragonBoard 410c allowed us to focus on development of our sensor packs and AWS Lambda functions without having to procure a new Linux machine!

Keep up to date with Solstice on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and find out more about the most recent Dragonboard kits here.