On my radar: Meet Brad, the grumpy toaster

2014-04-17 10:00

If you haven’t yet heard the phrase “the internet of things”, then best you settle down and read further because the internet of things is already part of our daily lives and is soon going to be even more embedded in everything we do.

The internet of things is a computing concept that describes a near future where everyday physical objects (like kitchen appliances) will be connected to the internet and will be able to identify themselves to other devices, and communicate with them without human interaction.

For those who have watched too many dystopian sci-fi movies in which the “rise of the machines” plays a pivotal role, this is probably your worst nightmare.

Say hello to artificial intelligence – in your kitchen.

Electronics companies have been working for the past couple of years on smart appliance technology. These appliances, everything from fridges to your home security system, will be linked to your smartphone, which will allow you to control the appliance remotely.

For example, you can put a chicken in to the roaster while you watch your favourite sport or catch a movie.

Once the chicken is cooked, the oven sends you an alert on your phone.

If the game or movie is not finished, you are able to send a message back to the oven and instruct it to switch from cooking mode to warming mode until you are ready to eat.

These kinds of innovations are becoming ever more pervasive. You are now able to switch on your house lights via your smartphone

if you have to work late. You can even feed the dog(s) remotely.

But the next wave of this technology is when machines can “think” for themselves and solve potential problems without human intervention.

Already, you have washing machines that have the capability to “self-diagnose” a fault. The machine is able to identify which part is malfunctioning and, after doing so, sends a message directly to the manufacturer’s repair centre.

This enables a technician to arrive at your house knowing what the problem already is, armed with the correct parts and therefore cutting down the time spent on the repair. There’s now a company also working on a washing machine that will order washing powder for you if it feels your stock is low.

This sounds blissful, but the sceptics – and especially the conspiracy theorists – will feel vindicated when they hear about Brad, the “addicted” toaster.

Brad the toaster is a conceptual collaboration between Italian product designer Simone Rebaudengo and the Hague Design+Research centre in London.

The toaster is not commercially available (yet), so the conspiracy theorists can relax for now.

Rebaudengo works as an “interaction product designer” for the design firm Frog in Munich, Germany. In this collaboration, he explores the unusual and very futuristic idea of “addicted products”.

It is an extreme scenario of a potential future in which we do not own our appliances but rather share them, much like the bicycle- and car-sharing systems that are rapidly being adopted in many countries.

The fact that these sharing schemes already exist makes this project a possible future reality.

The sharing scenario works on the principle of an imagined future where people might not have “buying power”, but rather have to prove their “keeping power” when it comes to products and appliances. If you have an appliance – like a toaster – that you don’t use, it is shared with someone who will use it.

Brad the toaster is connected to the internet but more importantly, he is connected to other toasters, what Rebaudengo calls a “peer product network”.

Brad is programmed to love being used, and if he is ignored, he has the ability to draw attention to himself by sending tweets to either his owner or his peer network, telling them all how unloved he feels.

If you think that is creepy, Brad is also able to communicate with other appliances in the kitchen (and if we already have smart appliance technology, this becomes a very real possibility).

He might even get up to some mischief and order in more bread from the supermarket to ensure he gets used more (again, if a washing machine can soon replenish stocks of washing powder, this scenario is also very possible).

If Brad’s shenanigans don’t work, he is able to take extreme action and contact a courier company and request that he be moved to another home that will appreciate his services more. Cue the devastated owner who comes home to discover his toaster has deserted him.

As this is just a theoretical and conceptual project, we can laugh (nervously) at the radical possibilities of the technologies we are currently dabbling in.

But we should dabble with care. Just because things are possible does not make them benign: take 3D printing as an example. Soon after 3D printing became a reality, anyone with a 3D printer could download and reproduce a working plastic gun.

The internet of things is a reality, as are smart appliances. When you do start syncing your smartphone with your appliances – and that time will come – I bet you’ll never look at your toaster in the same way again.


.?Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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