Smart objects may talk, but will we listen?

GigaOM Pro Analyst Laurie Lamberth of Lamberth and Associates, PARC's Bo Begole, Meta Watch's Bill Geiser, Vitality's David Rose, and Timothy Twerdahl of WIMM Labs at Mobilize 2011.The drive to web-enable all manner of non-computery things — parking meters, pill bottles, umbrellas — means that people can be reminded to do something: feed the meter, take the medicine, grab the bumbershoot.

This “Internet of Things” is already here in such items as the WIMM Labs’ WIMM wearable platform or Vitality’s intelligent pill bottle cap and Meta Watch’s products.

But the design of the notifications — in addition to that of the devices themselves — has to be considered very carefully from the start, according to speakers at Mobilize 2011 on Tuesday.

“There will be a proliferation of smart objects, just like there is a proliferation of apps in the app store,” said Bo Begole, principal scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which does a lot of work in this area.  Some of these apps will deal with important healthcare matters and some with less urgent consumer-oriented tasks. That means that the alerts and alarms have to scale accordingly to avoid potentially perilous alarm fatigue.

“We have to unify the feeds into one channel and then prioritize them,” Bogole said.

These companies have already given this problem considerable thought. For example, the alarm on the pill bottle starts out being quiet and ignorable, then adds arpeggios and gets louder and less ignorable as time goes by (and urgency increases), said David Rose, CEO of Vitality.

Absolute ease of use is also critical when addressing a population that may not be very technology savvy.

Some of these devices should be as easy to plug in and use as a nightlight, said Tim Twerdahl, VP of products for WIMM labs.

“It’s easy to make things very complex, it’s hard to make them easy,” said Rose.

Cost, as always, is a factor. But if a person’s prescription costs $10 per pill, then a $10 smart pill bottle  may not be beyond the pale. Another limiting factor is the current state of the art of battery and display technology which has not come a long way since the first digital watches came on the scene, said Bill Geiser, CEO of Meta Watch.

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