Weird IoT Candidates of Late: More Solutions Seeking a Problem?
Sometimes — heck, we’ll go as far as oftentimes — technology solves a problem and improves the quality of our lives, by, say, automating mundane tasks, or keeping our loved ones, and our stuff, safe. But just as often, inventing high-tech solutions to deal with everyday issues just makes life more complicated. For example:
Rubato: The clock that intentionally tells you the wrong time
If you’re having a hard time concentrating, perhaps distorting your sense of time will help! Rubato is a wall clock that is controlled using a smartphone app, which does something called “Smart Time Manipulation” – essentially speeding up time while you’re getting started on a task, and then slowing down once you’re in the zone, until it catches up with normal time again – giving you “more” time to be productive. To us, this represents another questionable application of the word “smart,” for starters. It’s sort of like a more complicated version of setting your watch 10 minutes fast so you have a shot at actually leaving on time, and is probably equally likely to attract just as much procrastination as before. The best thing about this clock is the name: Rubato, in musical terminology, is Italian for “stolen time.” It comes in two versions, Poco (small) and Molto (large).
Smart Duvet: A self-made bed (starting at $464)
This is an interesting one: Smart Duvet is basically a glorified air mattress that goes inside your duvet cover. A smartphone-connected pump fills it with air, magically spreading out your duvet and “making” the bed. This is done on a schedule that you set, or whenever you hit the “make bed” button on the mobile app. If this seems like a good idea to you, consider a few caveats: The Smart Duvet won’t fluff your pillows for you. It can’t grab a top sheet or blankets, so unless you sleep under just a duvet, you’ll be climbing into a short-sheeted bed every night. It also appears you’ll be sleeping under a duvet filled with air instead of down – so you should probably turn up the thermostat. And of course, you’ll want to center your duvet on the bed so it doesn’t end up askew (or on the floor) when the Smart Duvet inflates – while you’re at it, just give it an extra tug and save yourself the 500 bucks. Really. Also, you probably should not purchase the Smart Duvet if you own a cat, dog, or other pet prone to routinely disobeying the house rule that is “no cats/dogs on the bed!” On the other hand, if paired with a smart camera, the combo could make for some fresh YouTube material of startled, flying cats and dogs….
CHiP: The Keurig of cookies ($129 plus dough … pun intended…)
Every so often we see a product that makes us weep for the future of the human race. This one qualifies. CHiP is a “smart cookie oven” that bakes “cookie pods,” which are available via subscription. You can use the smartphone app to make your cookies chewy or crispy, and then you’ll be notified when they’re ready to eat. Each cookie costs between $0.88 and $2.25, depending on whether you choose “Classic,” “Select,” or “Premium” – the latter includes mouth-watering flavors like Red Velvet Beetroot White Chocolate. (Beetroot?)
In case you’re wondering, you can also use your own dough in CHiP, and even program the machine to remember the settings for your favorite family recipe. But the company recommends using cookie pods for the best cookie experience, including “virtually no clean-up.” Just put CHiP next to your recliner and you’ll never have to get up again!
Dog Parker: A climate-controlled, Internet-connected place to park your dog.
The Dog Parker is an interesting subscription service being tested in Brooklyn, where business owners can get a leg up (heh, heh) on the competition by going beyond the friendly water bowl on the ground by the door. The Dog Parker is a climate-controlled, Bluetooth-connected, members-only doghouse. Once you sign up for the $25/year membership, you can view available Dog Parkers in your vicinity using the smartphone app (and reserve one up to 15 minutes in advance). Once you slide your membership card and park your pooch, you can use the mobile app to monitor the cameras inside the Dog Parker to make sure your dog isn’t going berserk. On that note: Dog Parker recommends kennel training your dog for best results (no kidding).
Once you collect your dog, a UV light comes on to sanitize the Dog Parker for the next occupant. But we all know that some things can’t be fixed by UV light – so what happens if somebody soils the Dog Parker? According to the company, a cleaning crew makes the rounds every evening to scrub out all the Dog Parkers, and can also be summoned using the app if you find an odiferous surprise waiting when you open the door. (Or you could just suck it up and use the poop bags tied onto Rover’s leash.) Which brings us to some lingering questions: How long will you and Fido wait for the cleaning crew to show up? What if there’s a glitch and the Dog Parker runs a UV sanitize cycle on your dog? Does it have a Squirrel Filter? And whatever happened to putting him in your purse?
Stay tuned: Next time, an update on some of the technology that IS making our lives easier.
Crowdsourced Clunkers: Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time?
For every brilliant crowdfunded tech idea, there’s a multitude of odd, intrusive, and giggle-inducing ideas that make us scratch our heads, but still manage to get some crowdsourced traction. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that currently have us saying “Hmmm, that’s… interesting.”
Moti: Behavioral science robot that helps you change your habits
First up is Moti, a robot companion that is supposed to help you build better habits. Here’s how it works: You pick a habit you’d like to develop, for instance drinking 8 glasses of water a day. (Careful, though! Each $99 Moti unit only works with one habit at a time.) You put the Moti in a place where you’ll interact with it while you’re practicing your habit, i.e. near the water filter. Then, when you fill your glass, you give the Moti a “satisfying push” on its big, lighted button (or via the app, if you’re away from home), which is supposed to trigger some sort of reward.
Here’s the thing. “Reward” is not defined, other than to say that it can serve up different rewards for each person based on “deep analytics” that it does on their behavior. (Note to Moti: A stack of $50s would probably work really well!) Maybe the idea is that just pushing the button is reward enough? (Not for us.) Or perhaps a truckload of bottled water and a yoga mat will be delivered to your driveway? Only Moti knows.
The description also mentions that Moti might get “angry, sad, or encouraging if you’re slacking off!” We can only imagine what this might entail (especially with that peppy exclamation point), and it doesn’t sound good. Actually, it sounds like the use of 8 words when one would’ve sufficed: “Nag.” As in “Moti might nag you if you’re slacking off!” Great! Can’t wait!
But again, to each their own – the project just launched, and is already about $20K over its $50,000 goal on Kickstarter, with 23 days left to go.
Alchema: Home cider brewing made really expensive
Another project, Alchema, aims to contain the earthy, frothy, fragrant, and often funky process of making hard cider into a connected countertop device that sounds kind of like a variation on a Keurig coffee maker.
A silver-colored plastic case hides the fermentation process from view, and includes a UV light that sanitizes the plastic pitcher before you start adding ingredients. Weight sensors communicate with an app to tell you exactly how much of each ingredient to add for each pre-programmed recipe, so you don’t have to measure or even think about what you’re making (presumably handy if it’s a repeat batch you’re concocting, after having just consumed the prior batch in one sitting.)
The $429 price tag includes 3 single-batch yeast packets; you can add more on to your order for just $1.33. (Or, you could go to a local home brew supply store and get yeast much cheaper.) A built-in hydrometer measures the alcohol content and displays it on the smartphone app. A pop-up notification lets you know when your cider is ready.
As we looked through the photos of Alchema’s prototype, questions kept … well, bubbling to the surface. For instance: A pressure sensor and auto release valve are supposed to do the work of a standard airlock, but are built into the outer case. Hence the entire setup looks like it might be very hard to clean, especially if cider foams up to the top of the vessel during fermentation (and in our experience, it usually does.).
In the press photos, friends gather around what looks like a pitcher of fresh fruit chunks in juice – a squeaky-clean substitute for cider mash. Again, we find ourselves wondering how impressive a party trick it really is, to whip out a big pitcher of unfiltered booze. Even so, there won’t be much to go around – the maximum yield is 2.4 liters, and much less if you start with whole fruit. Not a whole lot of payoff given the time it recommends for fermentation (1-2 weeks for craft cider, 1 week for mead or 16 weeks for wine.)
This product strikes us as a solution without a problem. Alchema commands a really steep price tag for hiding and automating the process of cider brewing, something that most home brewers are actually interested in observing. (Ever watch your mom get a sourdough starter from a friend, then get gleefully grossed out as it continues its journey?) This setup also makes it hard to keep tabs on your brew — so if your cider gets contaminated, you could have a not-so-savory surprise waiting for you.
To us, it still makes a lot more sense to spend a fraction of that money on some glass jugs with airlocks and a hydrometer, or on several cases of hard cider (if the idea of making your own is just too messy.) However, there does appear to be some demand — Alchema wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign last week, raising over $340,000 from 399 backers. A concurrent Indiegogo campaign is 430% funded, having raised another $345,000. We wouldn’t be one bit surprised to find that a lot of these backers are the same folks paying $50/pound for coffee.
TimeCap: Record every second of every day (and then figure out what to do with all that video)
Next up is TimeCap, a ”gorgeous wearable camera” that records your every moment and sends it to the cloud via your smartphone, using Bluetooth 4. It’s advertised as being non-intrusive, so your friends and family members will forget they’re being recorded at all times and act naturally. The maker describes it as a “jeweled brooch,” but to us, it looks more like an eyeball — available in green, or (even worse) red — and it’s hard to imagine wearing one as an accessory, ever, let alone every day.
It’s also hard to fathom the process of digging through 24/7 video coverage to find those precious moments we supposedly want to relive and share with our friends. Finally, the description says that the camera records “from the point-of-view of the person wearing it” but we’d like to point out that really it appears to be recording from the point-of-view of the wearer’s chest.
“I can’t wait to share your sweet nothings on social media.”
We also question how the resolution/cloud storage space would work, if and when these eyeball brooches start shipping. For instance, the video compression type and stream size when sending it “up” to the cloud aren’t specified — yet as two women who hail from the industry we used to call “cable,” we can never say too often that bandwidth is neither infinite nor free, and video remains the bulkiest online traveller. This is even more painfully true for mobile providers.
Moving on to the creepier aspects of this idea — does anyone really want to record every minute and store it in the cloud? Especially with all the security considerations that makers designing for the Internet of Things all too often put on the back burner?
“Are you seriously recording our conversation?”
Apparently yes. Astoundingly, with 8 days left the project is 563% funded on Indiegogo, having raised just over $112,000 toward its $20,000 goal. Yikes.
Cream of the Kickstarter Crop: Fall 2016
Every few weeks, I like to browse through the technology projects on Kickstarter – often a treasure trove of IoT ideas, from brilliant to head-scratching. Today, we bring you some of the most compelling ideas currently on Kickstarter (stay tuned for a roundup of projects on the “Hmm, that’s… interesting” end of the spectrum).
Dot – Contextual Smartphone Notifications
First up is Dot, described as a “physical push notification.” Don’t worry if you find that description confusing, so did we. In a nutshell, you stick Dots ($20 for one, $55 for a pack of three) around your house in locations where you typically do certain tasks with your phone. You can then set up each Dot to launch specific apps or actions based on your proximity (using GPS). For example: When you enter your car, a Dot on the dashboard can automatically launch whatever apps you like to use for navigation and music on your phone. You can also leave text messages for other people on Dots – so a Dot near the trash can text your kid a reminder to take out the garbage as he walks by (I’ll leave it to the parents to say whether this will actually work).
Dots also have a color-changing LED light that can be used as an indicator, much like the way we use Philips Hue light bulbs in the lab. Like the Hue bulbs, Dots will be integrated with IFTTT and able to connect with a wide variety of smart home gadgets. One of the more curious use cases on the Kickstarter page is sticking a Dot outside a roommate’s door so that it lights up when they’re inside, sort of like a church confessional, or, the IoT version of the old “if there’s a necktie on the doorknob” trick. So. This idea is creepy on a number of different levels – but we can think of plenty of potential applications that are not as likely to alienate the people sharing your living space. Worried about a dodgy hot water heater or rain seeping into a leaky basement? You can connect a SmartThings water sensor to IFTTT, and set the Dot to show one color for a-ok and another if you need to grab your waders. In my house, a Dot would most definitely be set up to act as a subtle temperature display for the connected greenhouse outside, showing different colors for different temperature ranges. With 6 days left on its Kickstarter campaign, Dot has raised just under $100,000, almost 5 times its goal of $20,000.
Sgnl – A Finger Phone for Real Life
Another project, Sgnl, aims to make the imaginary finger-phone a reality. Sgnl consists of a standard-sized watch band that connects to your phone using Bluetooth and contains a Body Conduction Unit (BCU) that turns the voice of the person on the other end of the “line” into a vibration. (No really!) This vibration travels through your fingertip into your ear, while an algorithm selectively amplifies the voice on the other end of the line so you can hear the call clearly through your finger, even in a noisy room. A microphone on the watch band allows you to talk back, all while your phone stays safely stashed away in your purse or pocket. Sgnl bands are compatible with both with smart and classic watches.
We’re intrigued by this idea, if only for the amusement of watching people stick their fingers in their ears while talking into their wrists. So are a lot of other people – its Kickstarter campaign has already blown well past its $50,000 goal, sitting at just under $813,000 with 22 days left to go. But as with all crowdfunded gadgets, there’s no guarantee that the product will ever see the light of day. As all “makers” know, coming up with an idea is one thing. Getting it through production and working perfectly as advertised is another.
It’s worth noting that Sgnl’s maker, Innomdle Labs, is a startup spun off of Samsung’s secretive C-Labs — this could be viewed as a good sign or a bad sign, depending on the state of the current prototype. It could be that Sgnl is well on the way to meet its expected ship date of February 2017, or it could be this crowdsourcing campaign was created to support additional R&D on a product that’s not quite working as expected. Until then, it probably can’t hurt to send Sgnl a little Benny Hill energy on the matter.
Stepp – Real-time Running Feedback
On the fitness wearables front, Stepp is a product from a company called VST Technology (not to be confused with Virtual Studio Technology) that claims to help you run better, including a few more metrics than the smart insoles we’ve covered in the past. Stepp integrates 3 sensors (two on your shoes and another on your hip), measuring things like swing speed of your legs and impact force on your knees and ankles. The idea is to paint a more informed picture of how you’re aligning your body as you run, picking up on subtle signs of fatigue before you risk injury. (Like there’s anything “subtle” about how running fatigue feels…)
Stepp also offers real-time coaching through its smartphone app, so it can cut into your music with advice for improving your form as you run. (according to the FAQ, audio alerts will be configurable so you can turn off annoying unwanted advice. No word, either, on whether celebrity and/or customized voices are an option. If that’s an option, Stepp, we’ll take the Jimmy Fallon, please.) At a retail price of $199, Stepp may to be a better alternative to the more-than-$200 it’d cost you later at your sports medicine practitioner/massage therapist/chiropractor. Anyway, the countdown is on here — with 22 days left to, Stepp is a little over half way to its goal of $70,000. We’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
Fathom One – Affordable Underwater Drone
It was only a matter of time before the drone craze went underwater, and Fathom One is the first plausibly affordable amphibious drone to launch on Kickstarter. At under $600, it costs about half as much as other underwater drones on the market.) Fathom One films in 1080p resolution and includes built-in high intensity LEDs; its casing is built to withstand pressures to under 150 feet. Wireless piloting and live streaming video are accomplished via a WiFi buoy, connected to the drone with a long extendible cable (which we presume would also be handy for fishing your drone out of the drink if something goes awry).
With 13 days still to go, Fathom One is already $30,000 over its $150,000 goal. If the response to this campaign is any indication, our social media feeds will soon be brimming with underwater drone videos. Feature suggestion: Add some cloud connectivity, Fathom One. Contact the people at Shark Week, so we can all take the hit from Señor Great White, from the comfort of our terrestrial locations.
Check back soon for our curated selection of crowdsourced clunkers – those Kickstarter campaigns that seemed like a good idea at the time….
The Package Guard: A Shrill New Solution for Stolen Packages
If you’ve ever had a package go missing, a guy named Mike Grabham knows your pain. He hopes to stop would-be thieves with the Package Guard, a smart package alarm that launched on Kickstarter last week.
The Package Guard is a Frisbee-sized sensor that says “PLACE PACKAGE HERE” in big letters. You put it on your doorstep, and hope that the person delivering your package is in a good mood (here’s where the technology would fail for me – our neighborhood UPS guy generally prefers to throw packages from the driveway, and he doesn’t have great aim.)
Assuming your package ends up on the sensor, which connects to your home WiFi network, you’ll be notified via text message or email – and you’ll need to reply to that message before you can remove your package from the Package Guard. If someone tries to steal the box (or, more likely, if you forget to reply to the message before you grab your package), the entire neighborhood will be treated to the shrill sound of the Package Guard’s alarm – similar to a car or fire alarm.
Future plans for the Package Guard include integration with “major brands” of surveillance cameras (as yet undisclosed). This means you’ll be able to watch would-be thieves as they cover their ears and run away, and then share the fun on social media.
The Package Guard is priced at $80, but early bird specials on Kickstarter offer a 50% discount. And 50 (un)fortunate people can sign up for the $5 “Package Theft Victim Special” that covers shipping for a free Package Guard, as long as they can provide proof of a stolen package (police report, media story, or response from shipper.)
You might be wondering if a thief can steal the Package Guard and your package at the same time (we did). According to the FAQ it is “almost impossible” to steal both at the same time, because it’s very difficult to get a human finger under the device without getting it off balance and triggering the alarm. Sounds like a challenge to me (with earplugs of course)! Also, the device can be attached to hard surfaces on a “semi-permanent basis,” which we’re guessing involves a bunch of that double-sided foam tape stuff.
Incidentally, the FAQ on the Package Guard’s Kickstarter page consisted of only that one question when we first saw it. It’s been filled out quite a bit in the meantime, but we still have a few lingering questions:
First up, battery life – it appears to run on four AA batteries, which doesn’t seem like enough power to keep the Package Guard sending texts and sounding alarms for very long. When the batteries get low, does it send you a text?
And when you’re not expecting a package, do you bring it inside (and if so will it wake up the whole family by shrieking from the confines of the hall closet in the middle of the night)?
And what if you live in high-rise, condo, apartment, or any other kind of multi-dwelling unit, where each resident would need their own Frisbee-sized disk in the lobby?
We’re interested to see how this gadget turns out, if only because the mental image makes us smile. But will we be testing it out ourselves anytime soon? Until the UPS guy can learn to hit our front porch (let alone a target), it’s not going to work in my neighborhood. It’s not going to work at Leslie’s lab, either, because it’s in a high-rise with 58 units (and a pretty small lobby). Just sayin’…