August this year saw the UK launch of Amazon’s Dash buttons, physical, wirelessly networked buttons which are synced to an individual’s Amazon account. The buttons are available for a range of branded household products, from mouthwash to toilet roll, and have adhesive backs so that they can be attached to walls, cupboards and household appliances. When pressed, they submit an instant order to Amazon, allowing consumers to purchase domestic products at the point of use at- literally- the touch of a button.
This latest innovation from Amazon is a perfect example of the extent to which the internet of things has entered the public consciousness. Six years ago, it was a niche concept, sometimes considered no more than a gimmick. You may remember the derisive response to the Twettle, a ‘socially networked’ kettle designed by Murat Mutlu and Ben Perman that sent a tweet every time it was boiled. The Twettle was greeted by many as the ultimate useless invention, a symptom of society’s obsession with over-sharing. Looking back on it today, though, it’s clear that its designers were onto something. IT research firm Gartner estimates that there will be 20.8 billion ‘connected things’ in use by 2020. With growing numbers of smart, Wi-Fi capable objects hitting the market, from cars to washing machines, a kettle which can let you know via Twitter when it has boiled doesn’t seem so outlandish after all.
Consumers are starting to appreciate the many ways in which networked everyday objects can reduce waste, save time, and simplify daily life. The internet of things has a vast number of commercial applications: cars synced to google maps which automatically plot your route home; dishwashers and washing machines you can operate from your smartphone whilst still at work- these examples only scratch the surface of its potential. Kevin Ashton, who claims to have coined the phrase, argued in 2009 that it could ‘change the world’, perhaps to an even greater extent than the advent of the internet itself. It is too early to say how accurate this speculation will prove, but in this period of exponential growth, technological advancements, and exciting innovations, we are already beginning to find out.
Written by: Louise Carey