As anybody who’s finally decided to climb out of the "Upgrade my smartphone every time a new model comes out" abyss knows, "innovation" is often just another term for the mad scramble to keep coming out with new stuff, regardless of whether there’s any actual benefit.
It’s reminiscent of the time when auto manufacturers presented new models every year. My cousin David and I used to sit on the front stoop (we lived in New York; you got a problem with that?) and rattle off the year and model of every car that drove by just by looking at the fins.
The fins on the ’59 Caddy had no functional purpose other than to house the brake lights, but they looked like the business end of Buck Rogers’ spaceship, which was pretty much the point. Nowadays, you can hardly tell a Camry from a Bentley at fifty paces. Automotive innovation has largely gone under the hood, where it belongs.
Not so with consumer technology. We’re still getting an awful lot of useless fins. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Internet of Things, where the race to connect everything to everything else is spinning out of control.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are twenty-two "innovative" products, some real, some just jokes. See if you can tell which are which.
- HAPIFork, the smart connected fork. Helps you to overcome the chronic and destructive habit of eating too fast. It monitors your chew rate and alerts you to tachyingestia (from the Greek meaning "fast" and the Latin meaning "eat") with various alarms — vibration, a light, or a message to a mobile device. HAPIFork measures meal times and meal duration, average number of fork servings per minute, even the time interval between each forkserving (the manufacturer’s term). Comes with a convenient carrying case and a non-connected knife.
- Quirky Egg Minder. The Egg Minder is a AA-battery-powered tray that holds 14 eggs. It keeps track of how many eggs you have as well as the expiration dates of those eggs, based on both the date they arrived in the tray and how long you set the freshness period in the accompanying app. Each individual egg cup comes equipped with a sensor and a small LED. The light next to the oldest egg will turn blue, indicating that you should use that one first. Once you remove that egg, the light beside the next oldest egg will turn blue, and so on. The Egg Minder uses weight sensors to determine which cup contains an egg and when it arrived. It then transmits this information to the Quirky app on your phone so you can get egg-based notifications.
- PARO artificial comfort animal. An interactive robot that delivers all the benefits of a live therapy animal without poop, hairballs, and middle-of-the-night yelping. Sensors tell him if he’s being stroked, held, or beaten. PARO can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers. For example, if you stroke it every time you touch it, PARO will remember your previous action and try to repeat it so it can get stroked again. If you smack him one, PARO remembers what it just did and tries not to do that again so it doesn’t get whacked anymore. Much like myself.
- i.Con, the world’s first smart condom. Uses nano-bit technology to gauge performance (speed and duration of thrusts, etc.), compare performance to other users, and warn of sexually transmitted diseases. Following use, data are uploaded to a smartphone where they can be logged and entered into a global data base, which is certainly where I prefer my thrust data to be.
- Human-implantable chips. Workers at Swedish start-up hub Epicenter are getting chips implanted in their hands. One quick injection sticks a device about the size of a grain of rice in the soft skin between thumb and forefinger so workers can clock in, open doors and buy smoothies in the company cafeteria just by swiping their hands in the air. There are concerns about privacy, since data about employees is continually transmitted to company data bases, but hey: Just think of the convenience.
- Tripper. This amazing little gadget, installed on a window or door, lets you know if the window or door is open or closed.
- Smart milk jug: Warns you when your milk is going bad.
- Wi-Fi diapers. They tell you when your little one has soiled him- or herself. Finally, an end to the millennia-old necessity of smelling or feeling or listening, sense-based tasks prone to error and inattention. Now, get an alert on your smartphone and you can be sure.
- Neorest smart toilet: With a price tag of $10,000, you’d expect the Neorest 750H to do it all — and it pretty much does. There’s a dual jet system to wash you, which the company says reduces the need for toilet paper that can clog pipes. A fan will dry your bum with a warm breeze. And an air-purifying system eliminates odors. The bowl itself is coated with an ultra-smooth ceramic material fortified with zirconium, which prevents waste from sticking. As you approach to take care of business, the Neorest will detect your presence and mist the bowl with electrolyzed water before and after you use it, to further prevent build-up. The "toilet experience" is customizable, too, thanks to a wall-mounted remote-control panel that can store settings for two different users. You can tailor how the bidet sprays water and at what temperature, and then can decide how warm the air from the dryer should be. The seat can be heated to temperatures ranging from 82 to 97 degrees, and it will even treat you to a gentle massage.
- Anti-toilet paper theft device. As long as we’re on toilets…apparently, stealing toilet paper from public lavs is a big problem in China. Now, technology is being deployed to foil the dastardly thieves. When you enter a public loo, you have to stare into a facial recognition device that will then dispense exactly two feet of paper. If you need more, you’re out of luck: The machine won’t grant more paper to the same person until nine minutes have passed. It is therefore heartily recommended that you stay away from tap water and dubious eateries for the duration of your stay in Beijing.
- . This is a vessel (get it?) that tells you what you’re drinking. It catalogues information about it and uploads it to an app on your smartphone, a great way to monitor your caloric and nutritional intake. Also, if you’re on a diet, Vessyl can tell you "Oh my God! You’re drinking a milkshake!" and give you the opportunity to stop before it’s too late.
- Anova connected sous vide cooker: Your basic sous vide cooker keeps water at a constant temperature, and nothing else. But the Anova has a Bluetooth connection so you can monitor the temperature from up to thirty feet away. You can also shut if off from up to thirty feet away. God forbid you should have to walk thirty feet.
- WiFi-enabled tea kettle: Responds to voice commands to begin boiling water. ‘Nuff said.
- Connected toaster: The next step in making mornings as streamlined as possible is the Connected Toaster, a full-featured digital toaster that helps users toast smarter. This Bluetooth-enabled smart toaster is controlled by a companion smartphone app to offer personalized settings for the perfect slice, every time. Connected Toaster is a two-slot toaster with digital temperature adjustment and settings for bread type, darkness, even gluten-free breads (which is a lot like spice-free Indian food). Once you’ve dialed in your preferences, the app remembers how you like it. Connected Toaster links with other home products for seamless integration into your daily routine.
- Connected kitchen scale: Weighs ingredients and transmits the result to your iPad, providing (as per the brochure) "real-time insight about your food."
- FoldiMate automatic laundry folder: You don’t have to be a professional to have consistent, high-quality folds. Anyone in your family can use it. Finish a laundry load two times faster than manually folding. Will fold almost anything except sheets, underwear and socks. And, it has a WiFi connection. (De-wrinkling is an optional add-on.)
- BOx, the connected bottle opener. This little beauty pairs with your smartphone and lets your friends know, via Slack or Facebook Messenger, every time you open a bottle. The ‘Smart Cheers’ algorithm uses time, location, frequency and other factors to keep your friends updated wherever they are. It is not known whether there is an option to throw your friends off the trail and tell them you’re in Tangiers so they quit coming over to drink your booze.
- Oral B Genius 9000 smart toothbrush. Simply attach your phone to your bathroom mirror at mouth level so that its camera can watch while you brush, all part of your exclusive "28-day plaque journey." As you brush, the screen lights up to tell you which part of your mouth you’re working on (which I know has been a great source of anxiety for many of you), how long you’ve been at it and how much more you have to go, and what the weather is in your area as well as current news events. It logs every brushing episode and lets you compare current to past performance, a form of game-playing virtually guaranteed to lead to better oral hygiene.
- Elvie, the pelvic floor trainer. I’ll leave the details to your imagination (the sensor is the best part), but let’s just say Elvie is revolutionizing the way women do their kegels. Coyly dubbed "your most personal trainer," Elvie even lets you compete online with your friends, although it is not clear what the winner gets.
- Peggy, the smart clothes peg. Contains a thermometer and hygrometer and tells you, via smartphone app, such bits of instant wisdom as, "Best dry the wash tomorrow. Rain coming today." The benefit is that parents can spend more time with their children. Or staring into their smartphones to check the wash.
- My.Flow, the smart tampon. Closely related to the smart diaper technology-wise, this tampon is connected to a long string that attaches to a sensor clipped onto underwear or a waistband. It sends notifications to a smartphone (notice a trend here?) that the tampon needs to be changed. In addition to protecting women from toxic shock syndrome from tampons left in too long and averting embarrassing accidents, it also helps avoid the hassle and expense of changing a tampon when it isn’t necessary.
- NotiFly. Uses an "invisible user interface" to tell you when your fly is undone.
Every one of these devices is real, either on the market already or being readied for launch. Many of the descriptions I gave come right from the manufacturers themselves. (Well, okay: I made up "tachyingestia.")
Lee Gruenfeld is a Principal with the TechPar Group in New York, a boutique consulting firm consisting exclusively of former C-level executives and "Big Four" partners. He was Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Support.com, Senior Vice President and General Manager of a SaaS division he created for a technology company in Las Vegas, national head of professional services for computing pioneer Tymshare, and a Partner in the management consulting practice of Deloitte in New York and Los Angeles. Lee is also the award-winning author of fourteen critically-acclaimed, best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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