A wristband that zaps you with a 255-volt electric shock if you over-spend is the latest idea from Intelligent Environments, a company that first announced the Pavlock wearable 18 months ago as a way to dissuade owners from visiting time-wasting websites.
The band would be triggered, explains the BBC, if your bank balance drops too quickly.
If the funds in the account go below an agreed limit, the band kicks in. It can also work with smart meter Nest to turn down the heating and save energy bills if funds are low.
Unsurprisingly, no bank has yet signed up for the service. But while the idea may be silly, it seems to me that the underlying concept here is exactly where the Internet of Things should be headed …
As Zac recently noted, most current smart home products are not actually that smart. Many of them simply turn your iPhone into a remote control.
Don’t misunderstand me: I love being able to use my iPhone to remotely control everything from lighting to my kettle, and it’s pretty cool to be able to answer my door-bell from 20 miles away. I just don’t think there’s anything ‘smart’ about enabling me to press a button on my phone. Hi-tech, yes; smart, no.
My heating system is smart. It took a while for Nest to reach Europe, so I opted for Tado, which got here first. The great thing about that is that, while Nest took quite some time to add presence-detection, Tado had it from day one. When we’re both out, it turns down the heating; when one of us is on the way home, it turns it up. It knows how long it takes the house to heat up and cool down, and it has learned the effect that outside temperature has on this. Tado – and Nest now – is smart.
We’re just starting to see interaction between smart home devices. So, for example, if Nest sees you coming home, it can turn on your lights. If your door lock sees you go out, it can turn them off. But it’s still all pretty basic stuff, requiring explicit rules rather than anything resembling genuine intelligence.
And that’s why I think Pavlock may have chosen a silly example, but its underlying concept is sound. Truly smart technology should anticipate our needs, rather than requiring us to program in rules. It should learn our behaviors, draw connections between things and do things we would have done for ourselves had we had all the available information.
For example, I really like the Dark Sky app as an ultra-short-range weather forecast. It alerts me if it’s going to rain soon, and does the same when the rain stops. That’s a really helpful planning tool if I want to walk to the shops or cycle across town. But 95% of the time, those alerts are irrelevant to me because I’m in the office for the day or settled in at home for the evening.
A truly smart weather app would request access to my calendar when I install it, then wouldn’t bother me when it could see that I was staying put for a while, but would suggest minor changes to my schedule to avoid the rain. For example, if it can see that I’m scheduled to ride across town between 5pm and 5.30pm, but it’s going to start raining at 5.20pm, it would alert me and suggest that I might want to leave ten minutes earlier.
Similarly, with a really smart kettle: since the first thing I do in the morning after switching on my office lighting is to wander downstairs to make tea, my kettle should switch itself on when I turn on the lights.
So maybe it is a step too far to have your heating system reduce the temperature setting when the money seems to be running out faster than the month, but I think the thinking here is broadly along the right lines. We need our smart homes to be truly smart, and our connected technology to draw a few connections of its own.