It’s great to have well-read and connected colleagues. Ed Barton, Director, Digital Media Strategies at Strategy Analytics, pointed me to a new product being developed by a couple of MIT Media Lab graduates called Twine. It’s a small Wi-Fi hub (2.5” square and just a little thicker than a pencil) connected to internal and external sensors that notify users when a sensor has been tripped. For instance, a text message could be sent to a homeowner when the device senses moisture in the basement. All one needs is Wi-Fi connectivity. Twine has a cloud-based service with a web app that allows non-programmers to set up simple rules about when and how to be notified. Twine will ship with two built-in sensors (temperature and an accelerometer for vibration, impact, and motion detection). Additional sensors include a magnetic switch for use on doors or other moving things and a moisture sensor. There is an expansion jack to connect up to three other types of sensors on each device. Other sensors are being planned. The developers claim that the device will run on two AAA batteries for months and will notify users when they need to be changed.
Finished products are planned to be available in March 2012 – no price listed, but from the description on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site, where the developers have raised over $250,000 (well more than their original goal of $35,000) a pledge of $99 will get you one. You can read more at Fast Company's Co.Design or at Kickstarter.
Based on some of the comments on the Kickstarter blog some people are concerned about what the user interface will look like and if it will be really easy to us. My guess is the developers, David Carr and John Kestner, will address that issue. They incorporated a “programming” tool called Ifttt.com (stands for “if this, then that”) to set rules like: If sensor gets wet then tweet “Basement is flooding”. This seems to be a good start …we’ll see where it goes.
But let’s suppose that the developers get it right …make it very easy to use, affordable enough so you can have several around the home turning everyday things into Internet nodes communicating with whatever is useful. That’s pretty cool, but what’s the long-term business model? Selling devices for $99 with additional revenues for add-ons is straightforward, but may miss larger opportunities involving recurring service revenues.
One example of a service-based revenue model could be an appliance or HVAC installation and maintenance firm installing Twine devices with sensors that monitor the status and performance of appliances, heating and cooling systems. Sensors would collect and transmit operational data to a cloud-based analytic algorithm and notify homeowners and the maintenance firms when something is not operating properly. The service could be part of a maintenance agreement or extended warrantee offered through manufacturers. Other business models come to mind for broadband service providers and home security service firms.
The fact that Twine builds on the Wi-Fi ecosystem will be important to its long term success. Strategy Analytics estimates that globally there are currently 260M Wi-Fi home networks; by 2015 that number will more than double. This is a big target market to address and because of that I suspect lots of clever people will come up with ideas about how to use Twines. In fact that’s what the developers had in mind from the outset.
I was trying to figure out what the name Twine means or how it applies to the device. Rather than come up with my own story, I sent a note off asking the developers and John Kestner wrote back:
“Bill, I think whatever your imagination comes up with is equally valid. That's why we made Twine in the first place, after all - we can't think up all the cool things you might do with it. We wanted a simple, visual name, and maybe one that suggested its compatibility with Twitter. My wife suggested Twine, and we liked how that described a product that ties the physical and digital worlds together, so there you go.”
Client Reading: Smart Homes: Why Now?; Home Energy Management: Is It Real?