What does it mean when the Internet of things comes home? I’ve been contemplating the idea of a domestic version of RFID shipping, something I call electronic caddies. We already have ships and trucks that use RFID labels (often with the addition of barcodes) to inventory and track cargo. Imagine doing the same for your suitcase before a trip.
As your toothbrush, medications, clothing, cosmetics, and electronic devices are slipped into your bag, all are accounted for. Perhaps a travel checklist on your smart phone would receive the information and check each item off the list. And, if you were to leave your house without the complete list, your suitcase could send you a text message alerting you. (The same technology might help you to avoid leaving things behind in your hotel room.)
This seems like a simple enough technology to implement nowadays. The combination of information stored in the cloud, the ubiquity of smart phones with various apps, and the falling costs and shrinking of RFID tags (here’s a story about using them to track ants) would seem to indicate that such a caddy idea would be viable. In fact, there might be ways to enhance the value.
The checklist could be connected to your travel information to adjust suitcase contents depending upon the duration of your trip, whether it is for business or pleasure, weight limits, and even according to the latest weather forecasts. It might even have a transportation security application that would simplify screening, first by ensuring your contents meet current restrictions, and second by declaring what you’re caring to a system at the airport.
An even more mundane use might be to applying such technology to a briefcase going into work or a backpack going to school. Given that purses are also fashion accessories, perhaps an insertable device (a smart pouch?) could be used to avoid leaving essential items behind.
An alternative that might be easier to implement would be taking advantage of the electronics and communication systems within cars. Before a family left on a trip to the beach, the car could inventory every tagged item within it and announce either that everything on the checklist was present or suggest additional items. The car might also provide a sense of well-being by assuring the owner that all doors in the house are locked, the security system is on, the correct lights are left on, and the oven is off. Some security companies already make similar information available via smart phone applications. So, both the position (it’s in my backpack) and the status (it’s turned off) of stuff that matters in our daily lives might be checked so we don’t get caught short.
Bringing the advantages of shipping technology down to the domestic level can go beyond the personal to the social. For instance, by sharing checklists, it may be possible to reduce what you need to carry—say, recharging cords or devices that can be shared with colleagues. And, by having databases of travel lists, it might be possible to create good starting points for new checklists, if you are visiting an unfamiliar region or traveling there during a different season. And, if a new product became available that suddenly began to appear on many checklists, it could be suggested to people with similar profiles.
This last could be extended beyond travel to simply walking around with an accessible electronic inventory of what you are carrying and wearing. Then, you could be alerted when something needs to be replaced (your shoes are wearing out) or a get a suggestion for a purchase (this store has a scarf that would complete your ensemble). Not everyone would be happy about broadcasting a detailed list of what they have on them, so there would have to be privacy options. However, for those who were willing to share such information, there could be some interesting benefits. For instance, it might become easier to borrow a needed item (e.g., a pen or a flashlight or an aspirin) from a stranger.
An added social benefit might be the ability to locate lost items or alert people as they accidentally drop a glove or leave a wallet behind. Of course, a shared inventory within a crowd could help to alert people to risks, such as the activity of pickpockets.
The systems could learn more effectively and anticipate needs better if it had data from large numbers of people. This could benefit users by making it unnecessary for them to create and update lists as their circumstances changed.
Of course, inventory solutions need not be limited to situations where people are on the move. As more and more things became tagged, you could locate them more easily within a house with a smart house caddy program. This would spell the end to frantic searches for keys and missing library books.