"In the future, your house will send you a text message to warn you that your basement is flooding." Sounds like the kind of hooey you only hear in those fantastical "future of…" videos, doesn’t it? Not anymore. Two MIT Media Lab graduates have created a "2.5-inch chunk of the future" called Twine that does exactly that, and more, and is available right now.
Well, not quite: It will be available in early 2012, thanks to its wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. And the best part about it, the part that surely made that fundraising surge to over $170,000? With Twine, you can make that future magic happen without any coding skills at all, right out of the box.
Here’s the basic idea behind Twine: Software and physical stuff should be friends. You can program webpages, data, all kinds of apps to do whatever you want them to—and even use awesome tools like IFTTT.com to hack them together without knowing how to code. But making that software talk to stuff in the real world—especially stuff that’s just laying around your house, and not pre-designed to be a "smart product"—takes PhD-level skills. And that, according to Twine creators David Carr and John Kestner, is just plain wrong.
Twine is a small slab of gray plastic that hides that PhD’s worth of engineering magic—a bunch of internal and external sensors and a Wi-Fi hub—"the simplest possible way to get the objects in your life texting, tweeting or emailing," in Carr and Kestner’s words. To create the aforementioned "house that alerts you when the basement floods," just plunk your Twine in the basement where its built-in moisture sensor will get wet if there’s a flood. (And make sure it can still connect to your home Wi-Fi signal.) Then head to Twine’s companion webapp, Spool, and create a simple rule-based program: "If Twine gets wet, send me a text message." (Yep, the "programming language" is actually that simple.) And blammo, that’s it. You now have a "smart" house.
Carr and Kestner created a completely ingenious incentive to send their Kickstarter ask over the moon: For every $10,000 they received in pledges, they promised to build in another sensor to Twine’s repertoire. Out of the box, Twine can sense temperature, motion, moisture, and magnetism; if Carr and Kestner keep their promise, Twine will ship with 13 additional sensors, all controllable and programmable from the elegantly simple Spool web interface. That should be enough built-in "smart product" power to handmake a personalized version of Ericsson’s phony super-home, but in real life. Not bad for a couple of guys working in their spare time.