I will be the first to admit that I like eggs and toast for breakfast. Perhaps it is my Southern upbringing, but I see nothing wrong with a hearty start to the day. I have had some version of eggs and toast for breakfast nearly all my life. My grandmother, now 85, still makes me two eggs over easy with buttered toast and homemade jam every time I visit.
But never once in my youth did I consider that I would one day live in a world where my egg carton would send my smartphone an electronic message about the number of eggs it held. I never considered living in a home with a Bluetooth-enabled toaster that could remember how I like my toast. It never occurred to me that one day we’d be so sophisticated that we couldn’t peak in the egg carton or slide the lever on the toaster ourselves. Hruska (2017) wonders if the Internet of Things has officially hit “peak stupid”.
Which begs the question– what do we really need from the IoT? What gauge do we use to decide if an IoT product is value-added or value-ridiculous?
I remember seeing a Google Talk from David Rose, author of Enchanted Objects, last year about a conference table that responds to sound.
The table lights up with LED lights as participants talk. If you are not an active contributor, your side of the table is dark. If you are dis-proportionately vocal, it becomes obvious to everyone. I. Loved. This. Who hasn’t been in a meeting where they wished Susie Q was a little more self-aware and dialed it down so that others could contribute?
Sometimes humans need a little help with being better humans– the IoT can help. Could this be the barometer we’ve been looking for- the one that measures the value of IoT products? The more the needle moves toward humanity, the better the IoT product has succeeded at doing its job?
Postmates is a company that is incorporating the IoT into its brand and some of its applications are very human-centric. Postmates is an on-demand delivery service that operates in 44 US markets making 2 million deliveries of food and other goods each month. While the brand is known for its speedy delivery of burritos from Chipotle or smoothies from Jamba Juice, it also makes non-food deliveries like cosmetics from Sephora or devices from Apple. Its fleet includes couriers on foot, bike, scooters, cars and any other viable and legal mode of transportation. These couriers, like students squeezing in a few deliveries after school or part-timers using it as a side hustle, work hard to maximize their deliveries: the more they deliver, the more they earn.
Of course, like couriers for other delivery services, they earn more when they travel longer distances. Though they are well-compensated by Postmates, couriers “go the extra mile” for great tips. For this reason, couriers sometimes lack enthusiasm about accepting jobs like delivering a single pint of Chunky Monkey one block from Ben & Jerry’s. Postmates has began experimenting with self-driving delivery robots for routes such as these in test markets like Georgetown and DC.
Why? Because it is a win-win. It frees the couriers to accept the higher paying jobs, it satisfies the customer who wants the product lickety-split and Postmates continues to increase its capacity to meet the needs of internal and external stakeholders. While some argue that robots are on a path to replace humans, I argue that robots used in a thoughtful Postmates-like way prioritizes human needs and seeks to meet it.
Bastian Lehmann, Co-Founder and CEO of Postmates, recently testified at a Congressional Energy & Commerce subcommittee meeting on digital commerce and shared insight on the evolution of the on-demand economy and the value of automation as a complementary human function. He eloquently pointed out that services like his are helping local economies by indexing local offerings and employing locals to deliver said inventory as opposed to some logistics companies that build warehouses outside of a city and funnel good into it (Lehmann, 2017).
In Postmates case, automation is used to support the local economy. Consumers can buy virtually anything from local retailers or restaurateurs and have them delivered. Those that partner with Postmates offer consumers a deeper discount on delivery.
Now that we are fully invested in the digital age of Bluetooth this and Wi-Fi enabled that, I believe consumers will begin more thoughtfully evaluating the digital products and services offered to them. They will be measured against their ability to enhance and enrich consumers’ lives rather than their ability to be cool but useless. Postmates and other companies that incorporate human-centric technologies into the fabric of their brands will ultimately deliver the greatest value to their stakeholders.
Hruska, J. (2017, January 5). The Internet of Things has officially hit peak stupid, courtesy of this smart toaster. Retrieved from: https://www.extremetech.com/electronics/242169-internet-things-officially-hit-peak-stupid-courtesy-smart-toaster-griffin-technology
Lehmann, B. (2017, May ). Congressional testimony. Energy & Commerce Committee | Disrupting Delivery: Automation & Consumer Protection. Retrieved from: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF17/20170523/106016/HHRG-115-IF17-Wstate-LehmannB-20170523.pdf
Talks at Google. (2014, August 23). David Rose: “Enchanted Objects | Talks at Google. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOCLDaUVCm0