It won’t be your phone, laptop, television, car, your micro electricity storage grid, your thermostat or your fridge. It will be your toilet.
You may not have expected that. It will be a top of the technology chain looking after the most important thing in our lives – our health. Nothing is more important, and it just so happens that sensor technology is entering an inflection point where dramatic technology advances will change medicine and health as much as germ theory did.
All forms of technology in our connected world are under going rapid price deflation. Power is increasing and prices are dropping exponentially. The technology inside the technology is also benefiting from the same pattern of accelerating returns. This means that many vital sensors, like those found inside the 1.75 billion smart phones which have already been manufactured, have prices at the disposable level. Mere cents on the dollar. It’s this era of disposable technology that will drive the web of things era. But what it also means is that powerful high end technology is on the same path. Technology that would once have only had a place in a high end laboratory will very soon have a place in our bathrooms. It’s a pattern we’ve already seen with consumer and media based technology and widgets.
You’re toilet will become a a micro testing lab which will keep track of your health so that you don’t have to. It will include sensors of every type, measuring every kind of human feedback possible – all integrated and web enabled. It will have a DNA code of all of the members in a household, their health records and constantly be testing human waste for any anomalies which might not end well if left unchecked. It will know you are sick, or about to get sick long before the symptoms arrive. It will create a tracking timeline of changes in your health over long periods and provide the ultimate in quantified self.
It will weigh you every time you sit down, and use micro sweat to determine your daily levels of body fat and blood sugars.
It will talk to your doctor, and provide a much better assessment of what’s going on than you do when the doctor asks your those very important questions you can never remember the exact answers to.
It will have a convivial relationship with your fridge and cupboard and know what’s stored in it and what actually gets eaten. It will have a similar relationship with your kitchen and ovens.
It will make auto suggestions to your shopping list when you’re down on vitamin c, or protein or calcium, and post red flags with other items you’ve scheduled for delivery which are not in your best interest.
It will certainly track your movement via your smart devices (watch, phone and other wearables) and know what type and frequency of exercise you’re getting. It will update the shopping list to include the right foods for your level of movement and nutrition needs.
It will assess the health of your skin through the seat and track sun exposure. It will be linked to your shower which will take daily photos of your skin to check for dangerous sun spots.
In fact, it will do much more than this.
This then raises all sorts of important questions about which previously unrelated industries should be collaborating with each other. If Plumbing and medicine start to matter to each other and packaged groceries and white goods matter to each other, then you can be certain there’s an industry you haven’t thought twice about that will start to matter to you. And probably quicker than you think.
Our toilet will be the smartest device in the house, looking after the most important things in your life, your health and your family. It’s another reminder that technology is neither good or bad, but a tool we can choose use to make life better and even extend it.
Every now and again there are movements which gather pace and very quickly form industries. Industries which have inevitability about them. Industries which are suited to the startup realm more than they are to corporate giants. Industries in which it is clear to see that a void will be filled and fortunes will be made. The kind of concepts that are who and when, rather than if and how.
The personal computer industry had this in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. The the media industry was clearly going to be transformed in the 1990′s witht the dot come boom and right now the web of things is a big opportunity that most industries are failing to see, or at least act on. The thing that they are failing to see is that every product people buy is also going to become a tiny computer. So here’s a question entrepreneurs searching for an idea should ask themselves:
How can I turn product X into a computer?
The companies who already make product X probably know it to, but I seriously doubt they’ll do anything about it. Especially if the company was born before the internet. They’re likely to do what they’ve always done; try to make their product cost cheaper than last year, and maintain their market share. It’s what industrialists do as they return a profit to their shareholders while mitigating risk and changing incrementally – or only once the market demands change. Sure, their are more innovative established firms who’ll see this opportunity and act on it, but they’ll be in the minority. This means that the opportunity is a massive white space for entrepreneurs. A white space where you can turn your hobby into a company – by doing exactly what the question asks. Putting a computer onto a product you love. I intend to do it for surfing. And this isn’t some fanciful development years from now it’s already happening:
LIFX did an amazing job making web enable light globes to change the home.
The Moxie showerhead has a wifi enabled speaker inside it so you can rock out while bathing.
We’ve also seen connectivity on home locks, sports shoes, cars, and clothing, so why not milk cartons or cricket bats?
In fact, have a look around your home and office – look at something and that thing will be connected to the internet at some point in the next 10 years. Whether the connected technology will enhance utility, automation, the smart home, e-commerce or feed into the quantified self, it is going to happen. And the entrepreneurs may not even need to make the thing – it might be attached to the product others make. There’s any manner of ways it can be mashed up. And given that these things that will be connected to the internet already exist, with established markets, the exit potential is clear and simple. So the only question remaining is whether or not you’ll do it or watch while other entrepreneurs fill the void.
The thing that we are fortunate with today, is that it is easy to catch up. If we haven’t been paying attention to the world we make our living in, someone usually has been. And of those people who have been paying attention, these days they are often generous enough to share what they’ve seen. If we’ll take the time to invest a few minutes with a sharp mind, they can teach us what took them years to uncover themselves. I recently happened upon two Youtube videos which do just that – albeit in different ways.
Then & Now
This keynote from Seth Godin is the best I’ve seen from him. It really is a master class in how to do a keynote. It provides the most compelling story about our exit from the industrial era and shift to the connection economy. If by chance you’ve not noticed the structural shifts in our economy in the past 20 years, this 55 minute mind boggle will get you up to speed. Given you’re a reader of this blog and that can’t possibly be true, please share the link with someone who you think will find value in it. Click here to watch.
Tim O’Reilly is one of the great philosophers of our time. He knows how to see, he notices the long play, more than most I think. I often just type his name into Youtube and the word ‘interview’ after it. I then sort the Youtube search result by date to get most recent content. Every time I do this I find an astounding interview with him which provides deep and profound insight. That’s what I did yesterday and I found this gem. A discussion about the maker movement, and evolution in the web of things. The stuff that is coming in our technology world. Really leading edge thinking: Click here to watch. (or listen as this has no important visuals)
In today’s world we can know anything, on demand from the worlds best thinkers. It’s the first time in human history this has been possible. There aren’t really any excuses for a lack of knowledge in our topics of interest. These days knowing or not knowing, has little to do with access and a lot more to do with effort.
Anyone involved in an entrepreneurial sphere, has at some point lamented the fact that they missed a previous revolution. A time when the momentum of change swept everyone forward. Those times when change was inevitable, or only a few people knew about the big change that was underway. Those times when being there, or just turning up was enough for success to be inevitable. The home brew computer club, the early days of the web. It was so much easier for those guys to launch something new and innovative, and make a bundle in the process. The world was so open and less competitive. Right?
Yes – it was less competitive, but we must remember that access to resources was a big issue. To finance projects, and get around the barriers to entry was incredibly difficult. Ceteris paribus – I’d say the probability of success is unchanged. Some parts are easier, some are more difficult.
The other thing which is interesting, is that those previous revolutions we wished we participated in: The personal computer in the 1970′s, the dot com boom of the mid 1990′s or the web 2.0 renaissance are all still here. The names have changed, and the widgets are new, but the opportunity is just as large. And 5, 10 or 20 years from now you’ll be reading about entrepreneurs who changed the world forever in these in 2 important areas – The web of things, and 3D printing. Both of these areas are as big as any piece of the digital revolution we’ve already lived through…. the ones you missed. And right now they are both in their early 1970′s era equivalent in terms of development and opportunity. So the only question remaining is this. Why are you doing about it?
My father told me this which I never forget. The opportunity of a lifetime comes up about once a week. But only when we’re looking for it.
The graphical web as we know it is about to have its 20th anniversary. The first free downloadable graphical web browser ‘Mosaic‘ was launched in January 1993. In the past 20 years, the world has been reshaped no less dramatically than it was during the halcyon days of the industrial revolution which started in the 1750′s. And while it is clear that we are living through something like a 200 year shift, the shift can be segmented into easily definable parts when we pay attention to what has been happening.
The web, so far has had two distinct phases – from a commercial and a human perspective. The first was the connection of the infrastructure and the second was the connection of people. But now, we are about to enter a third and most interesting phase – The web of things. The web of things can be defined as a world where the web becomes so omnipresent that it becomes…invisible. It will be a world where everything and everyone is augmented via the web. You may be asking why anyone would want this and how it could relate to marketing and advertising, but before we do that, it is worth considering how we got here and why the web of things is inevitable.
The first phase of the web was the connection of the machines. This takes us all the way back to the 1960s when experiments in data transfer arose. Machines and code were being built so that previously separate forms of technology (largely mainframe computers) could talk to each other. The second phase was the one that confirmed this internet thing was not just a passing fad. In fact it was this part that caught the advertising industry napping and resulted in the largest disruption to human existence since we left the farms en masse. It was the connection of the people, the web 2.0 phenomenon, as it became known later, when we realised there was value in humans being connected to each other’s expertise, thoughts and creativity. The previously top down marketing models big brands lived by became yesteryear – turned upside down forever. Coined in the early 2000s, this phase was defined by the power of the people on the web, rather than the infrastructure providers themselves. This shift was made possible by ubiquitous cheap technology and a rethinking of platforms from a bottom up standpoint. Now that we have our invariably permanent connection to the web, we want more. We want everything we touch and experience to be augmented, bettered and digitally enhanced. Step forward phase three – the web of things.
The web of things is a vision where everyday devices, i.e. objects that contain an embedded device or computer, are connected by fully integrating them to the internet. This has been made possible by the dramatic deflation in both size and cost of the sophisticated technology, which enables the web. This includes microchips, cameras, GPS, sensors, RFID et al. The constant need for better and cheaper technology in smart phones has provided a classic scenario where the web of things can ride on the coat tails of innovation of what already lives in our pockets.
In order to provide some context of how cheap augmentation technology has become, the following price changes are enlightening: In 10 years, one gigabyte of memory has dropped from over US$12 to less than five cents and a single RFID chip is now a little over 10 cents. What this means is that technology that connects ‘things’ to the web is as disposable as the packaging it comes in. If we add to this consumers’ desire for all things to be connected to the web, then there is no stopping it from becoming a consumer and communications phenomenon that will dwarf the impact of the social web. After all, a web of things has direct financial implications and monetization potential.
What we have seen with web connected running shoes and refrigerators is just the tip of the proverbial ice berg. Imagine how we might be able to integrate communications with a fridge that knows exactly what is in it – everything we buy at the local supermarket is connected to the web. A world where, we can remotely control everything in our homes, where almost everything we buy can interact with us, other products, our smart phones, our friends and our media habits.
Let’s take the humble toothbrush – imagine it is web-enabled. All of a sudden we can directly reward usage and brand loyalty. The toothbrush will know how often and how long it is used for each day. So there would be nothing stopping the toothbrush manufacturer from coalescing with a dental health provider. The toothbrush brand could provide discounted insurance based on regularly tracked brushing and brand re-purchase, while insurance provider could benefit through reduced risk of poor dental health. A triangular loyalty and incentive programme which lives outside of in-store discounting. It is this kind of product/ service mash-up that entrepreneurs need to be thinking of. There’s plenty of evidence already that humans really like tracking their own behaviour – runkeeper for example.
As entrepreneurs, we have now got a chance to invent the commercial implications of the inevitable ‘web of things’. The social web has now connected us and introduced a new era for startups, so we should now take the lead and create consumer goods mash-ups and value equations which couldn’t exist in a world without connectivity. And just like the social web, we will only ever know what people want to track, share and do when we put our web of things startup in front of them.