Webinale: The successes and failures of the internet of things
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The internet of things is going to make the real world a strange place.

We’re not used to latency and error messages with analogue home products. When we flick a lightswitch, we expect it to turn on immediately. We don’t expect to have to wait for it to load. If we turn on the heater, we don’t get error messages about connectivity issues.

„Connectedness means more way for things to go wrong,“ says Claire Rowland, IoT expert and keynote speaker at the 2014 Webinale.

„Why is my heating system telling me my internet is down?“

By adding the flaws of the internet to the real world, the IoT can make the real world prone to errors. Everyday, functional objects like heating systems and fridges can be made to fail in many new and innovative ways, Rowland explains at the tech conference in Berlin.

So before the internet of things makes our lives easier, it looks like it’s going to make them more complicated. That’s why tech designers are facing major challenges to make sure their products are actually solving a problem.

At four times the price of a normal thermostat, products like Nest’s smart heating system needs to prove their usefulness before they can justify their price.

„Users shouldn’t have to understand exactly how a sytem works in order to use it,“ says Rowland. To make the smart home devices truly useful their design needs to be natural and sensible. Unfortunately it turns out that giving a smart device ‚common sense‘ is harder than you might expect.

Rowland takes her audience of international developers and decision-makers through some of the ways in which the IoT can be used to improve and obstruct everyday life.

Nest Protect

The smart thermostat manufacturer Nest developed a smart smoke alarm with a feature called „heads up“. If the alarm detects smoke, the user can shake their arms to tell the device it does not need to alert the fire department.

Unfortunately for Nest, it emerged far too late that when on fire, a person tends to shake their arms around. A smart device that can’t tell the difference between „It’s ok, I just burned the toast“ and „Help, I’m on fire“ is not an improvement on the previous design of smoke alarm.

nest alarm

Screenshot: nest.com/smoke-co-alarm

Crock Pot

Belkin’s slow cooking oven allows users to control the cooking process remotely, and turn it off even if they’re not in the house. Leaving a hot thing running when you’re not at home, makes people nervous. Bringing an oven like this into the internet of things is solving a genuine everyday problem.

Ericsson’s smart home

„Good design does not just mean shiny hardware,“ the keynote speaker tells us. And although Ericsson’s projection of a smart home future (below) is sleek and shiny, the video betrays a darkness to the internet of things.

Many devices in the IoT are battery powered, meaning they can’t be connected at all times. „Constrained devices offer suffer discontinuities,“ explains Rowland, who says she experiences a two minute delay when changing her heater’s temperature.

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