Three of our themes for this year: Opening up the Smart City, Beyond Hacktivism and Next-Gen Mobile Web

I get asked a lot “what is the theme for this year’s Over the Air?” In fact, we never have a single theme, per se. From he beginning, we’ve been a bit of a grab bag, by design.  Over the Air was conceived as a “mobile-focused” hack day, but now “mobile” is not really a thing anymore (everything is mobile) so even that focus has become less important. Over the years we’ve been running the event, we’ve had an increasing emphasis, both in our talks and in the projects people work on at the event, on data (open data, data from space probes…), connected devices (smart cars, smart sensor networks, smart doorknobs…), robotics (Lego Mindstorms, telepresence, drones…) and the like. Often (but not always) these have included a mobile connected device such as a phone or tablet as a control panel or user experience linking these together.

Flash forward to the present and these technologies are playing an ever-increasing role in our everyday lives. In the private space of the home, Internet connected thermostats, smoke alarms, lightbulbs and toothbrushes are proliferating. In the public space, connected devices and sensors are also becoming ubiquitous for functions such as city management, and environmental monitoring and disaster relief. Among other topics, we’re planning to focus on both of these topics for our next event: the so-called “smart city” and the increasing role of data and, sensors and connectivity in solving issues in disaster relief, conflict zones or environmental monitoring.

We’ve been hearing about the smart city for years now. The vision of connected sensor networks and adding smarts of mundane objects of city life such as parking meters, rubbish bins and traffic lights is starting to take shape. The benefits to city planners and technology infrastructure providers are evident, but what about the direct benefit to the end user? And how can developers interact with these technologies? How can the smart city be opened up to small-scale innovation or to the prototyping of new ideas? And how can the smart city vision incorporate and preserve personal privacy in a world in which we are constantly under surveillance by public and private sensor networks?

So-called hactivism has become a common pattern now: when a disaster occurs (whether it’s flooding, storms, earthquakes or nuclear meltdown), hackers come together to see how they can help, even if remotely. These people sometimes work to augment open streetmap data, sometimes work on services that help provide early detection of environmental concerns, sometimes make use of open data to help give responders on the ground additional necessary info. Great stuff, but what happens after the hack? How can we turn the energy that go into these projects into a more sustainable force?

A third theme we’ll be focusing on this year is the next generation of web technologies, particularly on mobile devices. The term mobile web is slowly losing its meaning as the mobile is more and more becoming the center of users’ web experience. There are a raft of new features that are landing in the web platform this year – from the Service Worker next-generation off-line capability to http/2 to webRTC to advanced device APIs. These are changing the face of how people build web applications across devices – increasingly using responsive techniques and design patterns.

These are just a few of the concepts we hope to tackle in September. If you’re interested in giving a talk in one of these areas or you have technology to demonstrate or that you want developers to know about, please fill out our talk proposal form. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them here or tweet me at @torgo. Thanks and see you in September!