It wasn’t long ago that sensors and personal tracking seemed like pure nerdery. In the early stages of graduate school — before smartphones were popular or even widely available — I played around with sensors that had finicky battery life and Internet connectivity, the software was buggy, and the hardware looked clunky.
New tracking devices pop up regularly these days. They’re built and designed for a wider audience, and sometimes to my surprise, the devices are embraced by the target audience. It started with personal trackers that are fitness and health-related, but people are branching out now to monitoring their surroundings.
CubeSensors (shown above) are available this summer and promise to “continuously measure temperature, humidity, noise, light, air quality and barometric pressure for every room.” They’re pretty, network-connected cubes that are almost as much decoration as they are tool.
Thermodo is a project currently on Kickstarter (that is well above its goal and still has 21 days to go), and it’s a small thermometer that plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone. It comes with an app, is slick, and pretty cheap at only 25 dollars.
So the technology and audience are there, and the former will keep getting better, but I wonder about the latter. Is it just a fad, or will people grow more data hungry and want to track more things and buy fancier devices?
I think the key is finding usefulness in the long-term. In the short-term, it’s fun to measure the temperature to see if your furnace and thermostat work or to measure noise pollution and light levels in an office. But once the novelty of the devices has worn off, you just want to feel comfortable. You put on a sweater if you’re cold and take it off if you’re hot, and it doesn’t matter what the actual temperature is. If it’s too loud, you close the window or put on headphones, and it doesn’t matter how many decibels are measured.
The data comes easy now. Essentially, the challenge is making use of the new feed of data past current status.