I Want Better Friday Mornings. I Need A Smarter Trashcan.

In my town, Fridays are Trash Pick-up days. I’m frequently reminded of this fact by hearing the trash truck coming up the street before the sun rises, and having to dash out of my house with our trashcan in tow to make sure our mountains of trash are picked up. It makes me nuts. I’m not sure how often this scenario plays itself out, but I’d bet it’s more than 50% of the time. I often miss trash pick-up entirely. I’ve tried calendar reminders, “todo list” apps, and even notes on my pillow to no avail. I’m a parent of small children. Lost sleep and missed trash pick-up are very real problems. Any solutions to those problems have very real value.

Happily, technology is getting cheaper as time goes on. App and service development is getting easier. Things that attach to other things so that they may become “smart” things are getting smaller. Today I can at least dream of a near-future when I’m reminded by a service on my phone, laptop, tablet, and Amazon Echo (I’ll do whatever it takes) every Thursday night that my Trashcan is still sitting in our garage rather than sitting by the curb. More importantly - unlike a calendar reminder - I’ll continue to be reminded until the trash can is actually moved. Just imagine how much more pleasant so many of my Fridays would be if I started with a nice cup of coffee rather than a mad dash to take out the trash.

At Leverege, we prefer to identify actual problems people have and solutions available by virtue of the IoT rather than building “gimmick IoT.” Gimmick IoT is anything that exists purely to show off a technical implementation that didn’t have a valuable reason for being in the first place. My favorite example is the internet-connected-hamster wheel. How many people own hamsters, and of those people, how many would find value in the data from the wheel? This sort of thing happens when engineers get too wrapped up in the implementation details, or when a marketing department doesn’t want to make their new product look like it couldn’t handle any abstract idea in the universe. I was reminded of this while reading @davislevine’s Talking about the Internet of Things.

I lose interest because the IoT mindset fetishizes technology because it is a technology. By talking about the IoT as a thing in and of itself, we are inherently excluding the human on the other side.

At Leverege we think about people first, and then - working with our clients - figure out what problems people actually have that we can solve. These problems may sometimes seem mundane, but they often have real negative consequences.

Now, there are already several implementations of “smart trashcans” out in the wild. That’s excellent. These implementations solve some big city problems, but I still haven’t seen one that simply helps me remember to take out the trash on Thursday nights. Seemingly every single smart trashcan is doing advanced things, but not the one thing I want it to do.

With a little time, very little money, some effort, and a few dozen questions of my much smarter peers, I could easily create my own “smart” trashcan. But again, I’m a person/parent. I value my time to the extreme. I look forward to the company I pay for trash pick-up just giving me the smart trashcan so that I may never again forget to take out the damned trash. In return the trash pick-up company gets better data about their business operations. Win-win.

I empathize with companies that continually invent problems for their IoT solutions. It can seem very difficult to find examples where IoT will make things better for the average person. But a little bit of empathy for people - or even yourself and whatever might make your Friday mornings better - can go a long way.

By the way, if you’re reading this and you happen to own and operate a trash collection company, give us a call at Leverege. You wouldn’t believe how enthusiastic we’d be about working with you to improve our Fridays.

Written by

Director, Product Engineering @ STAQ. Specialization is for insects. Into IoT, Web, dev, food, football, data, beer, biz, etc... Not so much insects.

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