If you're the kind of person that sometimes finds themselves talking to inanimate objects around the house then it might not be too long before they start talking back - not directly but via an SMS, tweet or email. MIT Media Lab graduates David Carr and John Kestner are looking to hook household objects up to the Web via Twine, a 2.5-inch square (16 cm2) box with internal and/or external sensors that connects to a Wi-Fi network to enable it to send a message when certain user customizable criteria are recognized by the unit's sensors.
In 1982, a group of students at Carnegie Mellon University connected a Coke machine to the internet so they wouldn't have to traipse down several floors just to find the machine empty. While the number of devices connected to the internet has exploded since that time, the majority of household appliances and objects have been slow to make the move online. Despite talk of the emerging "Internet of Things" connecting anything other than a computer, games console, tablet or smartphone to the internet via a home network generally still requires some specialized knowledge.
It is this hurdle that Carr and Kestner are aiming to clear with Twine, which they say will make it easy to connect things to the internet "without a nerd degree" - meaning there's no programming or soldering and wiring expertise required. The Twine module provides Wi-Fi connectivity out of the box and comes with on-board temperature and vibration sensors. Power is supplied either via the unit's mini-USB port or by two AAA batteries, with an email alert being sent when the batteries need replacing.
The module also includes an expansion connector for connecting additional external sensors, such as a moisture sensor, a magnetic switch and a breakout board with analog or digital input, power and ground for solder-free connection of other sensors. Carr and Kestner say that for every US$10,000 pledged over their initial $35,000 goal, they will also develop additional sensors based on backer votes. An RFID reader, pressure sensor and current sensor are among the possibilities.
Once the module is connected to a Wi-Fi network, users can set up the device using a Web-based application called Spool. The internal and any connected external sensors can be monitored in real time and rules to trigger messages can be set up using a simple selection of conditions. For example, WHEN the accelerometer stops vibrating THEN send an SMS saying "The laundry is done." Users will be provided with an initial bunch of rule sets and can share rules they create with other Twine users.
At the moment the Spool application can configure Twine to send an SMS, a Tweet, an email or a configurable HTTP request for more advanced users.
Carr and Kestner have built working Twine prototypes and are aiming to raise US$35,000 through Kickstarter to fund the refinement of the prototypes and the equipment and parts needed to take Twine into production. As of the publication of this story the project had attracted just over $10,000 worth of pledges with 41 days remaining. The apparent ease of setup and use coupled with its flexibility could make Twine just the thing to get the Internet of Things into the mainstream.