The Internet of Useless Things: Part One, The Home

Posted By on September 2, 2015

In The Internet of Useless Things: Part One, The Home Nikolas looks at those things we are highly likely to ever need to be connected…

X-ray specs, Sea Monkeys, Crypto-rings, Whoopee Cushions, Black Eye Telescopes. I loved the comic ads that were used to entice children to part with their pocket money back in the day. They were fun, they were gimmicks, and most importantly, they were cheap and throw away. These days we have the equivalent in a much more adult form in the shape of consumer goods that are billed as wearables or the Internet of Things (or ‘Everything’ as some people like to say to evoke epic visions of the world seamlessly interconnected).

Well, it seems like the Internet of Things is really gaining momentum thanks to the simple things for the home like Nest Thermostats and Smoke Detectors and the suchlike. It’s not just going to be a fad, it will be HUGE. Intel estimates over 200 billion connected devices by 2020 and this will usher in some real uses that aid us in healthcare, business, retail security and transportation.

That’s all worth waiting for but right now we have many manufacturers creating gimmicky, nonsensical and seemingly useless gadgets, that are connected to our smartphones and tablets, and portrayed as helping our lives.

Let me take you through some home useless goods that have ad-induced personalities make no sense to me. Firstly, meet MAID, the ‘smart’ oven that can help you make the perfect mac n’ cheese…

Personally I find this to be a little offensive to even the most basic of cooks. Does it know what a fancy eating? Does it order food from the store, get it delivered and have it ready to go upon my return from work? Can it make a perfect soufflé? I doubt it. I can’t even meet it as it’s not got an element of AI in it to facilitate intelligent conversation. It’s an oven with an integrated recipe book and app. In one foul swoop, I made my oven smarter at home by placing a recipe book and iPad next to it. It doesn’t need it to be integrated, that’s just a little too much.

On the point of how far we should go I want to quote Nicholas Negroponte, who at TED 2014 took the opportunity to bash the “Internet of Things” as it’s presently marketed, rightly noting that it’s often little more than putting “an oven control on your phone.” This is not innovation, he insisted. A “smart” appliance wouldn’t just be a display panel on your phone or tablet. A truly connected smart device can detect, on its own, that you’ve just put a chicken in the oven, and it should then know exactly how to prepare it, perhaps even to your liking. In his view, more work is needed in this area. Amen to that.

Then, as I trawled the corridors of the web, I found Pantelligent:

It left me speechless. It is even worse than the smart oven. Yet another appliance to take the effort out of thinking for yourself and the promise of anyone being able to cook well. I personally feel that everyone can cook basic meals with very little effort – I would argue less effort than going online to order this and to take it out of the box once delivered. I’d say that this is a new low in the Internet of Things.

From ovens to pans to fridges. Want to know what’s in the fridge? Open the damn door and take a look. Are my eggs out-of-date? Maybe read the box or simply drop each egg in cold water and throw away the ones that float (tip: they are no longer fresh enough to eat). Fridges, more than anything else, are being hijacked as trojan horses to get smart gadgets into the home. There are so many on the market that I cannot even begin to go into each one so there is this convenient Tumblr to use as a reference point – http://fuckyeahinternetfridge.tumblr.com/. Urgh.

I’m not saying that the promise of a smart home isn’t a good thing. It’s just that so many people are getting it wrong. I have lambasted some of the gadgets out there and I do find it ironic that designer Simone Rebaudengo’s vision of a toaster, names Brad has really led the way in terms of thinking about how things (and smart appliances) that people really, really want should really work.

It interacts, invites usage, helps you make delicious toast and then even reassigns itself if it is no longer useful or feels that you are just neglecting it. Why have a toaster if you never use it? Absolute genius (of sorts).

One last product and one last thought. Once you’ve done cooking you perfect meal in your smart connected oven and by using your smart connected pan (damn that was difficult switching between apps, I almost burnt my steak and mac n’ cheese) you can then get help with the next phase.

Belty is a belt that adjusts with you. It looks like about the same size as a can of sardines and, quite frankly, looks uncomfortable. I get that it is a prototype but I doubt it can get better in any way shape or form. And, this was one of the most talked about things at CES in Las Vegas in January, 2015. It’s a sad, sad world out there.

I think the Internet of Things will be really great once we work out what is valuable. Sure, there will continue to be gimmicky devices and I think that there will be books written about the ridiculousness of the world that people envisage.

Right, I have to go. Where did I put the keys to my flying car?

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Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.


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  • http://www.pixelinitiative.net/ Stacey Kelly

    “Help! My fridge is full of spam!”, – best internet of things headline so far.