Side Project Spotlight: IoT with Al Iacovella

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It Started With Holiday Lights

Hello, my name’s Al Iacovella. I’ve been a consultant at Chariot Solutions for about 18 years now, and it’s been nothing short of great.

My interest in IoT or, actually, the thing in IoT first started about 15 years back when I was looking to synchronize music to lights for my home’s Christmas display.

My 8-channel Arduino-powered Christmas light display, timed to music. People would stop walking and driving to watch on our street.

An 8-channel system was extremely expensive at that time. This left me with two choices. I either had to shell out a fair amount of money for a pre-built system, or build it myself. I’ve always been a little adventurous, so I decided to build it myself! That became my first experience experimenting with small microcontrollers.

Shortly afterward, my team at Chariot was approached by a client interested in building an application to help their clients better comply with a local energy company’s PJM program. The PJM program is a voluntary program that compensates end-use (retail) customers for reducing their electricity usage during peak usage periods where prices become elevated, or to reduce the load when the reliability of the grid is threatened. In these situations, if they curtail their energy usage, they get a reduced rate for that period of time of curtailment.

However, if they go above that threshold – even for a split second – for the next half hour, they’ll be charged a higher rate. The primary purpose of this application we were building was to help them mitigate those spikes.

Part of the requirement was to gather minute-by-minute data from devices that monitor current usage. It was at this point that I started to realize I really enjoyed interacting with these devices, and making their data actionable.

Making Data Actionable

Gathering data is great, but what value does the data really have? And what can you do with it?

Recently, I built a simple demonstration of what can be done with data using IoT devices. It shows the interaction between two devices, gathering data from a device and acting upon that data. In this case, the action being applied is an automatic signal to a device to turn on a fan when the temperature exceeds a certain level. From yet another device, a person can send a signal to override the fan manually. This shows device-to-device communication.

In the demo I created, the fan kicks on when the temperature exceeds a certain level.

With AWS – and in this case, the Core IoT part of AWS – you can easily register devices to its core system, allowing those devices to communicate with each other and allowing functions to transform the data or signal actions based on that data. So as data is being piped in, you apply a function to it, and determine an action based on that data. In short: you make your data actionable.

The function in this scenario validates temperature readings against a configured threshold, and when that occurs, the action in response is to send a signal back out to the device controller to turn on the cooling fan.

Exploring Tech Interests at Chariot

Working here at Chariot has been different from other places I’ve worked at. For one thing, when you have an interest in doing something that’s outside your general work duties, they do their best to accommodate you. In the past, on several occasions between projects, they’ve let me explore the areas I’ve wanted to explore. I’ve been given the freedom to do this kind of stuff.

On top of that, the company also offers Chariot Day, an internal one-day conference each year. At Chariot Day, my colleagues share their hobbies and their knowledge about their interests with one another. Oftentimes, we inspire each other to explore new hobbies.

Come Work With Us

We’re hiring senior-level software, mobile, and data engineers. If you value continual learning, a culture of flexibility and trust, and being surrounded by colleagues who are curious and love to share what they’re learning, we encourage you to browse our open positions and apply today.