In Disneys Fantasia, Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice brings to life everyday objects such as brooms and buckets to help him with his tasks of cleaning - what starts as a good idea though ultimately ends with terrible results as he fails to be able to control them.
Whilst Mickey may have gotten out of his depth, this thinking of everyday objects being brought to life isn't just a fantasy.
Obviously not in the literal sense we see in the Sourcers Apprentice (although that would have been great!), but more in the sense that previously inanimate objects can now start to record their activities. Termed the "Internet of Things" this was discussed in part by a talk at DICE by Jesse Schell about gamification and how this may extend into everyday items and tasks. (The video is really worth watching if you haven't previously seen it)
What Jesse discussed in terms of earning points for brushing your teeth has now been enabled by start-up Green Goose. Using a combination of intelligent stickers or product add-ons, Green Goose claims to be able to track any activity, from cleaning your teeth to drinking a class of water. The system utilises a base station linked to your internet connection to allow the different tags to communicate activities wirelessly and for these to then be tracked centrally. Each device/sticker includes a 1 year battery making them truly untethered and so there is no syncing required, you just use them (or not) and see the updates online.
There are obviously implications for this within industries that care if you do these activities, whether that's a tooth paste manufacturer or a dental insurance company. If the Green Goose solution gains traction and most importantly open standards then we could easily see products in the future including these kinds of monitors as part of the manufacturing.
Already the car insurance industry is using tracking products within cars to provide more cost effective insurance for young people or low mileage drivers based on when they use their car and how they drive it. Green issues aside (lets assume it's a hybrid/electric car) - imagine if that technology could also be used by the car manufacturer or tire producer to track the miles you drive and to reward you for that, giving you feedback on how to get the best from your purchase, when it needs to be renewed/serviced and discounts off your next purchase.
Internet of Things pioneer, Kevin Ashton said of this:-
The problem is, people have limited time, attention and accuracy—all of which means they are not very good at capturing data about things in the real world. [...] If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost
But it's not just waste, loss and cost in terms of the tasks we're tracking, but also the marketing budgets of the companies we purchase from. Knowing who uses the products, how often and for how long can enable targeting of spend and offers to customers based on their current and potential behaviour.
Originally Green Goose was positioned more as an energy monitor, letting you track time spent in the shower, riding your bike versus taking the car or turning the thermostat down rather than up. The idea was to track these little decisions in real-time as well as the potential financial savings you accumulated so that these add up to a "nest egg" value which provides a nudge to do more.
Great in terms of saving my money, but not necessarily great in unlocking savings from companies who provide the products and services.
Their new positioning suggests a movement to tracking wider activities including many they haven't even thought of. Opening this up to developers (which they have) means more solutions and more ways to commercialise it. Companies wanting you to use their products and use them more often will soon be able to tap into a continuous stream of data about how and when people are consuming them bringing in a wealth of information and requiring new ways to reward and recognise this.
The challenge for both brands and consumers however will be the same as that faced by the Sorcerer's Apprentice - once we start providing/collecting this information, can we keep control of it, manage it and get the best benefit from it... or will it simply overwhelm us.
(images copyright Disney)