Bottom-Up Innovations That Change How IT Does Sustainability
There is still another quiet day or two on the fresh page of my calendar, before the new year really gets going. Schools are still playing Bowl games, and the tree is still up (if brown-ish), so it must still be the holiday season.
And I have three topics I want to discuss before the 2012 agenda kicks into gear. These aren't really on the mainline IT-for-sustainability topic, but rather observations on changes underway in the IT industry, which may have some implications for companies' or individuals' sustainability efforts downstream.
Have you heard of Kickstarter? This is social media meets venture capital meets (very) early-stage entrepreneurs, tech and otherwise. Pretty much accidentally, I was pinged by and ended up contributing to two different projects which I will mention below. But check out the overall story at Kickstarter; it looks to me like a revolution-in-the making in terms of how new ideas will get funding and build community (increasingly those are one in the same).
The first project that found its way to my inbox is called Twine. It's . . . how to describe it? It's a little box that connects things to the Internet. Along with some software rules, the Twine box links internal or external sensors (temperature, moisture, motion, open/close, and the like) to the Internet via an email, text, or tweet.
Super-simple and potentially super-powerful, like when you put it in the basement and tell it "when the moisture sensor gets wet then tweet 'the basement is flooding!'" Just click and watch the video on Supermechanical's site; the guys there (who come out of the MIT Media Lab) can explain it better than I can.
I think you'll get the connection to sustainability pretty quickly — Twine boxes are a quick and easy way to set up sensor networks. First emergencies like flooding basements, then more routine stuff like too hot/too cold. And eventually sophisticated stuff like security and energy management.
And having ponied up my $50 for an early sample, I get a shiny label when I visit Twine on Kickstarter.
And then I found another project (or, I should say, it found me): the Elevation Dock for the iPhone. Nothing but design genius and simplicity-first here, a dock for the iPhone that matches the device's design and usability. Well, that's what they say; I'll see when I get mine in a couple of months.
Both of these Kickstarter projects have raised something north of $500,000 — five or 10 times what they were targeting.
Last cool thing, for now: the Nest thermostat. This has gotten a ton of mention and praise already in the blogosphere, so I'm late to the party. But talk about a device that is ripe for reinvention! And a direct, no-frills way to make energy management come alive for consumers. If somehow you have not come across Nest, check it out.
These kinds of organic, bottom-up innovations make me optimistic that technology can effectively address challenges in our world, from linking digital to physical and thereby making our world smarter, to making energy management intuitive and fun, to . . . having a nice home for the iPhone by the bedside. Ok, 2 of 3 ain't bad.
Happy new year, everyone!