Can m2m and the IoT tell you when your milk expires?

Published by Telefónica m2m Team Utilities & Sustainability, Consumer Electronics, Industrial

The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about giving daily objects a digital presence and a capacity to communicate and interact with the rest of the world.

In this blog we focus on M2M –one of the cornerstone technologies that makes the IoT “miracle” come true. The IoT deals with uniquely identifiable objects –or things – and connected devices that interact to provide better services and solve problems (new and old).

Food expiry dates have always been a common household headache. Having a way to prevent throwing away food and shopping for groceries more efficiently would be two welcome improvements to embrace a technological bump.

The first step is managing expiry dates on objects. This requires for elements to be manually input in the fridge through RFID tags, serial numbers or using other tracking methods for food.

M2M technology connects devices to enhance information collection and usage. When facing a real life problem like expiry dates in food, the centrepiece to articulate a solution is the refrigerator’s capacity to interact with users warning about items to shop, upcoming expiration dates or suggesting recipes or nutritional advice.

This has been a hot debate topic as “far” back as 2008. During the Internet of Things conference of that year there was a paper by Matthias Rothensee called ‘User Acceptance of the Intelligent Fridge: Empirical Results from a Simulation’. The abstract states: “It was found that generally a smart fridge is evaluated as moderately useful, easy to use and people would tend to buy it, if it was already available. Emotional responses differed between the assistance functions. Displaying information on durability of products, as well as giving feedback on nutrition health and economics are the most appreciated applications”.

Even though 6 years have passed from this paper, the smart fridge has still not reached critical mass and still seems far from becoming mainstream. Why, when everything it has to offer sounds promising and useful? There are two very big obstacles: life cycle and feature set.

One of the main criticisms that some technology futurologists made a few years back was that Internet [nowadays dubbed Smart] Fridges were never going to take off, due to the limited life cycle of the connected component a smart fridge requires.

Their criticism was based on the fact that incorporating a computer, with lifetime of about a year, into a fridge which has to last 10 years just didn't make any sense, so they went on to say there was probably no real mass market for internet fridges.

The other key obstacle is to find the right mix of functionality and use. Earlier iterations of any innovative home appliance (or wearable for the matter) was all about “stuffing up” your device with functionality whether they were meaningful or not. The first smart fridges included, television connection or satellite radio as key features and favoured flashy features before those truly useful.

So is there a solution that can succeed? Relying on ecosystems would seem a winning bet. Ecosystems are more device independent so they rely less on the age of a component and more on delivering the service to a certain extent within hardware limitations.

In the same way Apple has created a fully connected environment for the phone (which has extended to the tablet and to the computer realm absorbing them) smart fridge manufacturers are thinking of ways to turn the house into an ecosystem.

LG is very strongly pushing a vision of a connected and interactive home. Their Home Chat –that relies on the messaging service Line– allows the interaction we can expect between humans to occur with appliances.

Samsung also believes in connecting the household extending their already popular Samsung exclusive Android apps for their smartphones, tablets and computers to interact in the Samsung Smart Home Service, an app based solution to automate management and interaction with the fridge, the air conditioning or smart bulbs.

Smart Fridges are still in an early period of development and it is still unclear if LG or Samsung’s vision will succeed in managing expiry dates in a meaningful way though they replicate models that have been successful in other arenas.

Telefónica m2m Team

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