When “Smart” is Stupid

As a technology descriptor, “Smart” waxes and wanes in the various cycles of hype and marketing overreach, but looking at “Smart Home”, some of the real life examples are pretty Stupid…

If you look at the definition of Smart technology in general, you will see the sort of key attributes that look like this…

1. Defining “Smart” technology – key attributes

Those being:

  • Connected, by Wi-Fi or whatever, with some Cloud services and remote access to your devices
  • Friendly UI, typically connected to a mobile app
  • Automation of some sort, often by linking to Alexa (or similar, other virtual home assistants are available), or IFTTT
  • Using data analytics and processing to drive some level of intelligent behaviour
  • Being part of an eco-system of devices

In the home, central heating is one of the more mature uses of Smart technology, with the possibility of managing your home heating efficiently and effectively, using a mix of distributed WiFi/Zigbee thermostatic valves on the radiators controlled centrally and accessible by voice command using you home assistant. It’s a beefing up of the older analogue thermostatic controls

2. Smart Central Heating – a good application of Smart technology

Looking in the kitchen or utility room and you will however see another story, the sorry tale of woe that is “Smart” home laundry.

3. Home Laundry – not Smart Technology

Yes, the big names will sell you a “Smart” Wi-FI enabled washing machine or tumble dryer, but the marketing doesn’t match the reality. For example:

  • Cloud connected. Generally yes, the remote diagnostic feature can be useful…
  • Friendly UI. I suppose having a cute mobile app to programme the machine might be nice, but you need to be standing in front of the machine to load it, so just twiddle the knobs…Pointless.
  • Remote access. What is the point of being able to programme your washing machine when you are 20, 30, 50 or 10,000 miles away – you are not there to put the washing in. If you forget to put in it before you went out, then you are royally stuffed. (It’s not like a Wi-Fi enabled cooker that you could use to check if you left the gas on which would be very helpful, especially if you could command it to shut the gas off.) Also pointless
  • Automation. Having an alert when your washing cycle is finished might be useful if your house is sooo big that you can’t hear the washing machine when it finished, but if the house is that big, you are probably in the demographic that doesn’t do their own washing anyway. Again no use if you are far away, it will just have to stay in the machine and get wrinkled and fusty smelling. More pointlessness.
  • Analytics. OK, this part might work in some way, in that the machine can work out how much you put in and then adjust the water level and wash and spin cycles to match. Otherwise it’s not going to give you much useful advice like “last time you turned me on at this time you used the cotton cycle programme, would you like to do that again” or “55,345 people are watching this cycle now“, or “your friends are currently relaxing and watching TV whilst you are doing the washing“. Annoying
  • Ecosystem. This is the killer issue. The home laundry process is an almost entirely manual and labour-intensive, and so there is no automated continuous flow of washing passing through for which to apply Smart technology. Showstopper!

So, there you have it; it’s Stupid.

You can envisage some ways of changing the Home Laundry paradigm:

  1. Don’t wash your clothes – the Null solution, but loses you friends very quickly
  2. Outsource and send your clothes to a central laundry which is continuous flow, may being picked up and delivered by a Johnny-cab auto-taxi
  3. Truncate the whole process with self cleaning clothes – these sort out the bio-stink with little copper wires in the fabric but I am sure they would need to have the dirt washed off them, or maybe you just recycle them. You could try the HercLeon Apollo Self Cleaning T-Shirt which to quote the sales blurb “can be comfortably worn for days, weeks, and even months without having to be washed with soap” [my bold]
  4. Build the Laundry Jet laundry collection systems into your house
  5. Buy a Panasonic Laundroid laundry robot if they ever launch (apparently they invested $60m in this)

Time will tell what innovations will arise…

You can consider some other examples of Stupid and work out what differentiates Smart from Stupid like this, to the left of the donkey…

4. When “Smart” Technology is Stupid

Stupid technology shares a lot of the attributes of Z-list celebrities, that is, like a showroom dummy with a pretty face and all the intelligence of pond life which needs a handler and has nothing to say worth listening to.

  • Coffee machine. A coffee machine would only be smart if it was part of a caffeine delivery flow system, ordering fresh capsules, cup management robot, free flowing water and liquid waste pipework, and disposal / recycling system for the capsules and grounds. But they don’t, just a pretty UI and pointless Wi-Fi connection, like the Delonghi Primadonna Soul Bean-to-Cup Coffee Machine, a snip at £1299
  • Toaster. The crew of Red Dwarf had issues with the Talkie Toaster, so maybe a full continuous flow toast making eco-system could be an issue, but the current generation of Smart Toaster are just a pretty face, like the Revolution InstaGLO R180B Touchscreen Smart Toaster, yours for £366 on Amazon, and it doesn’t even have Wi-Fi
  • Pressure Washer. As my family would tell you I have a love-hate relationship with pressure washers. Even allowing for that bias, in my humble opinion, the use case for Smart pressure washers is pretty well non-existent. I suspect, however, the purpose is actually a dark, spooky objective to gather customer data (somehow). The Karcher K7 Premium Full Control Pressure Washer has a Bluetooth connection linking to the Karcher mobile app – why?. I installed the mobile app, couldn’t see the point and deleted it…

The key insight that we learn from this analysis above is that to be properly Smart, technology has to be part of a continuous flow system which is largely automated, otherwise it is just lip-stick on a pig.

So we can revise the first chart at the top of this article, and add that continuous flow requirement to the key attributes, thus…

5. Defining Smart Technology – key Attributes (Revised)

So there you have it, now we can spot when Smart is Stupid, and also have the signpost on the road to make things proper Smart

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