[Liveblog] Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino on making the Internet of Things not suck

Do we really need to make more things, just to connect them together? The Internet of Things needs to ask serious questions about its role in our lives.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sosino, Designswarm

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the first 48 hours after publication.

When the Pope and China are in alignment on climate change, you know we have to change. Things are made in china and shipped all over the world. That makes the Internet of Things both really exciting – and really dangerous.

We binge on information – but we binge on things, too. We live in an era of mass consumption. It’s a dangerous approach to just make MORE things – connected things – and sell them to people.

Object gluttony

Cognitively, we’ve learned to skip from topic to topic to topic. We’re starting to do the same with objects. Some women don’t want to appear twice in the same dress on social media.

Arduino has grown from an enthusiast product into the genesis of a consumer market – a maker market – for connected device you can work with. Kickstarter has helped innovation.

But are we thinking about what’s taken out of the earth? How they’re assembled in China? Our stories about making are very glamorous, and about creativity. But they break down at scale.

Simple idea, hard to execute

Her own product – Goodnight Lamps – connect together two lights anywhere in the world. A very simple idea – but an extremely couples system to get work. Every part of it has stopped working at some point. Two days ago, Quirky went bankrupt. Making things is difficult, expensive and complicated: it’s the usual story. MakerBot might have lied to their investors when they sold the company.

These are not the nice maker stories people tell. Arduino are stuck in lawsuits. There are broken realities behind the fictions. For a start, the idea of connected everything is horseshit. You have no idea how complex it is to get LEDs to turn on together around the world. It’s virtually magic that all our mobile phones work in this space.

Funding the right projects

We need to go back to the things that matter. Pollution. Waste. Elderly Care. We have to pay attention to them. Capitalism is putting your Euros in the right place.

BigBelly is a solar powered bin, that crushes your rubbish down, until it’s completely full – and then it summons pickup, rather than the weekly cycling garbage truck These need to be supported to sit. Air quality monitors – difficult to do, but some people are doing. Koto in Slovenia are working on it, for example, as is airqualityegg. Geiger maps in Japan mapped the radiation level post-Fukushima.

Healthcare is another important one. We will all get ill. We will all die. Products for palliative care or end of life don’t get funding because people don’t like thinking about it.

Some examples:

  • Kemuri allows you to monitor people’s usage of their home.
  • Glowcaps
  • Lively

We need to produce more locally, and stop being so nomadic. The Goodnight Lamp is now made in the UK – it’s all within an hour of London. That’s despite UK manufacturing dying. Maybe we can help China stop generating so much pollution by bringing manufacturing away.

Recycling the results

It’s soon going to be illegal to chuck gadgets away in New York. Recycling those devices will be a new business opportunity.

Maybe we need labels on the objects saying what they are, and what they represent. Can this be used to get the object back to the company for recycling, even if it sold on several times? We need to stop just being consuming machines, who don’t worry about what happen to things after they leave us.

Provenance tracks where parts of objects come from – they started with fashion but moved away because the fashion industry doesn’t want to admit that.

We need to kickstart things with government money – maybe match funding with industry. We’re not talking about hockey stick graphs here – we’re talking about long-term change, and very, very slow success.

We’ve run out of the kooky ideas of the 50s. We need our new ideas – but we also need intelligent criticism. Will these things change lives? Will they help us change the way we live? We need that, and we know we need that.