One of the earliest Internet of Things inventions, Quirky’s Egg Minder lets you check the number of eggs you have in your fridge while you’re browsing the dairy aisle at the supermarket.
Technology used to be about sending people to the moon. Now it’s about figuring out how many eggs are in your fridge when you’re at the store. The democratization of tech impacts our daily lives in many more ways than that trip to the moon ever will. Today, we all walk around with super computers in our pockets. Technology is literally in the hands of the masses.
A tangible result of this shift is the Internet of Things. While it sounds like a grandiose concept requiring a PhD to comprehend, it’s actually very simple.
The Internet of Things is about using technology — in the form of connected sensors, devices and objects — to fix problems. And not the big problems (like how to get to the moon), but the mundane problems, like finding things in your closet, making a trip to the grocery store pleasant, and helping you manage your garden. The Internet of Things is about YOU.
What Drives Technology?
Human desires and needs control technological evolution, not technology itself. After all, just because we can achieve something with technology, doesn’t mean we need to. We made it to the moon, but then what? People aren’t ready to live on the moon, but people are ready to take control of their lives, their lights and their washing machines. Yes, the Internet of Things is a technological advancement, but it’s also regular people doing regular stuff.
One of the best examples of this is a company called Quirky. Like its name, Quirky is a little bit different. An invention company based on the idea that the best products in the world come from problems real people experience, Quirky takes ordinary people’s ideas and turns them into solutions to everyday problems.
From a pivot-able power strip to an egg tray that lets you check how full it is from the store, all of Quirky’s products are completely crowd-sourced. Starting with the submission of the idea all the way through to the manufacture and marketing, everything Quirky develops is touched by thousands of minds from its 947,000-strong community of inventors. Each person who has influenced a project — be it suggesting a name, tagline or solving an engineering issue — is rewarded with influence points. Ten percent of all gross revenues from a product are then divided among any community member who played a part in bringing it to market.
Following the Breadcrumbs
Quirky tells would-be inventors to describe the problem the world faces and then explain the solution to that problem. Quickly, however, Quirky’s founder Ben Kauffman spotted a trend in the ideas being submitted. Connected devices were dominating. “In early 2013 we began to see a trend within our community that connected devices were going to play a large part in the future of consumer products,” founder Ben Kauffman wrote in this blog post. “By mid-2013, roughly 20% of our idea submissions were in the connected realm.”
Along with that statistic, some of its most successful products already on the market were IoT powered; the Egg Minder, Pivot Power Genius, the Nimbus and the Aros. But something was missing. Something to connect these connected devices.
One Hub to Rule Them All
Since the concept first appeared in science fiction, the biggest barrier to the implementation of IoT has been accessibility — both financial and physical. Technology used to be incredibly expensive, now that barrier has been lowered. But technology is still complicated.
And so Wink was born. Wink is an app and now a smart home hub that promises to connect all your connected devices, so you can manage products from multiple brands in a single app. “Wink’s goal is to hide all that techie stuff from consumers so all they see is a great product packed with a great user experience, connected by Wink,” Kauffman said.
Wink currently partners with 15 home automation brands and supports more than 60 products, as well as having the capability to work across all the current smart home protocols (Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Z-Wave). Because Wink aims to work with everyone, including some of Quirky’s largest competitors, Kauffman spun Wink out to be its own company.
Now that a platform has been established, ideas for the connected home, otherwise known as the Smart Home, are flooding into the Quirky HQ. Some examples of some currently under consideration by the Quirky crowd include a smart medicine cabinet, a programmable showerhead providing individualized settings for each member of the family, and a smart way to make sure you don’t wash dry-clean-only clothes. While none of these ideas are on par with a trip to the moon, they all have one thing in common that mission didn’t have: they fix a problem.
Quirky’s crowd-sourced origins are also reflected in its marketing procedures. No overinflated prices here. All product price points are crowd-sourced, resulting in deliberately low prices. Add to that its partnership with brick-and-mortar retailer Home Depot, and it’s clear that these are products made by the masses, for the masses.
The crowd-sourced business model may just hold the solution to the smart home conundrum. The concept of a smart home has existed longer than most of the technology that powers it, but the hurdle has always been how to get it in the hands of the people. There are numerous smart home hubs that have emerged over the last 12 months with the promise to help control the connected home, but with price points starting at $100, mass-adoption is not a given. Quirky’s Wink costs 99 cents if you buy it at Home Depot with two compatible products. Mass adoption was home automation’s biggest hurdle, but with Wink, Quirky, and its crowd, home automation may have just found a way to jump right over it.