We’re a society of increasingly spread out networks. Back in the 1950s, about 9% of Americans lived alone; according to PBS, today it’s 28%. And it’s more common to live far away from your loved ones—for example, "commuter marriages" in which couples live in different cities for some or all of the year have skyrocketed.
These big-picture changes present some little-picture challenges. It’s sad to miss out on the daily routine of a daughter or son living abroad; it’s a challenge to check up on an elderly mother in a different city. Texts and calls are great, but sometimes you’d just like to know when someone is around in an ambient way.
The Goodnight Lamp—currently on Kickstarter—uses the Internet of Things to strengthen the bond between loved ones who aren’t always in the same place. "It was born out of a desire to stay connected with my friends and family who are spread around the world," says creator Alexandra Deschamps Sonsino. "I wanted to share a little bit of my daily routine with them."
Here’s how it works. The starter kit includes one "big lamp" and one "little lamp." You keep the little one and give the big one to someone you’d like to stay in touch with. You can buy additional "little lamps" as you go and add multiple members to your lamp community. When your daughter in Berlin turns on her big lamp, a Wi-Fi sensor sends a signal to your little lamp, and it turns on, too. If your partner is leaving work, he or she can turn off her little lamp to let you know they’re on their way home. "It’s a physical social network," says the design team.
The lamps were unveiled at CES last month, timed to coincide with the launch of the London-based company’s Kickstarter campaign. There are seven days left to become a donor—£89 gets you a starter kit, and the option to purchase extra little lamps for £15 or so. The team also has plans to launch an Arduino DIY kit for anyone who wants to tinker with the lamps. There’s also plenty of room to experiment with target users: As the team’s pitch video notes, the lamps would be useful for people who collaborate globally—by turning on your lamp, you could let your project manager in Delhi know that you’re free to Skype.
It’s a charming idea. The Internet of Things is still a nascent idea, and it’s often spoken about it in technical or conceptual terms. But the Goodnight Lamp is simple, emotional, and—importantly—easy to grasp, even if you don’t know much about ubiquitous computing. Apparently, others agree: Both Usman Haque (the founder of Internet of Things platform Pachube) and Blaine Cook (a former technical lead at Twitter) have pledged seed funding for the young company.
Check it out on Kickstarter here.