In the tech industry, creativity generates brilliance. And there’s no shortage of amazing products and services out there derived from that spark of ingenuity, a burning desire to make people’s lives better.
Nonetheless, especially in the early stages of any new technology realm, practicality isn’t necessarily the product of that passion. Instead, weirdness ensues. That’s where we are now when it comes to the Internet of Things. Developers and manufacturers still seek the balance between sensible and sensational. Sometimes they’re light on the former and deep into the latter.
Here are five head-shaking examples of questionable IoT offerings:
- World’s slowest kettle
The iKettle may be remembered for making a simple task extremely complicated. You’re supposed to be able to turn on this Internet-linked item through the Web. But software engineer Mark Rittman famously spent 11 hours trying to get it to work, tweeting his efforts. (See the details in TechSpot’s story.) He had to debug the kettle, troubleshoot the Wi-Fi and work with an API to get it going. “My work is done,” Rittman tweeted when the kettle finally started to boil. “And now onto everything else I meant to do today, after that first cup of tea.”
- Cut the lawn, hack the mower
To be fair, this is not a product, but one man’s personal project to create what may be the world’s first tweeting, Web-connected lawnmower — for no good reason. According to Hackaday.com, the mower’s owner fitted it with sensors and a Wi-Fi module to collect and send information such as how far the mower had been pushed and how long the cutting mechanism was engaged. He can hit a button on the machine to publish those details on Twitter (@MyEGOMower) and also send that message to his Facebook page “just to annoy my friends.” It may be working.
- Sit, stay, connect … good boy
PetChatz is a two-way audiovisual system that lets you connect with your pets when you’re away from home. Your pets can also contact you by tapping the PawCall accessory button. Integrated with the camera and microphone is a scent-making device designed to effuse an odour animals find calming. There’s a treat dispenser, too, so you can remotely reward Fluffy or Fido. According to the manufacturer, the product is priced at $380 through Amazon or the maker’s website, petchatz.com.
- Keyboards: not just for typing anymore
Das Keyboard 5Q is a cloud-connected computer keyboard. Each key can be colour-controlled via the Internet, according to the developer’s Kickstarter campaign. For instance, program the B key to glow green when your latest software build is complete. Or link the number keys to your customer relationship management system to show how satisfied your clients are on a scale of one to 10. “Now you’re able to close all those CPU-wasting browser tabs and actually do some work while information streams out of your Das Keyboard 5Q deep into your enlightened consciousness,” the developer says on the campaign site. The startup had attracted more than $580,000 by late November, well over the $100,000 goal.
- Not what it’s cracked up to be
Quirky Egg Minder is a web-connected egg tray that links to a companion app for your smartphone and tells you how many eggs you have, how fresh they are and when you need to buy more. In its review, CNET’s said it’s “glitchy and often inaccurate,” sometimes counting eggs as used when they’re still in the tray. And if you remove an egg by mistake and put it back in, the tray counts it as fresh no matter how old it really is.
These products may seem less than practical. But you never know. They could be huge hits. After all, who would have guessed a micro-blogging website (Twitter), a glorified message board (Facebook) or an online warehouse-style retailer (Amazon) would count among the most successful technology businesses on the planet? It’ll be interesting to see how the weirdness unfolds in IoT — and what other strange ideas people come up with.