Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

Innovation Engine

On Sale At Last: Twine, Your Gateway To The Internet Of Things

The hit Kickstarter product hopes to popularize "the Internet of things" with thoughtful product design.

  • 01 /07

    Twine includes sensors for temperature, moisture, position, and soon, vibration. The uses are myriad. For example: Twine can tweet when your house hits a certain temperature, or when your basement floods.

  • 02 /07

    John Kestner and David Carr, the team behind Twine, have been hard at work on a number of Internet-of-things projects. Pictured here: The Proximeter, which tracks the physical whereabouts of your friends over time, using GPS and social-graph data.

  • 03 /07

    The prototype interface for the Proximeter.

  • 04 /07

    Another project: The Rev-->Table. It’s more or less a simple side table.

  • 05 /07

    But the surface is embedded with a QR code that reveals the full details of its production, allowing you to make copies of it or repair it when you like.

  • 06 /07

    Supermechanical also created Tableau, a Twitter-connected table with a hidden photo printer inside. The table periodically scans your Twitter feed for images, and then prints them out in the drawer. When the knob lights up, you have an image surprise waiting.

  • 07 /07

    Supermechanical is in the early stages of developing a commercial version of their Proverbial wallets. There are three versions for now: one that buzzes when a transaction hits your bank account; one that becomes harder to open as your bank account thins; and one that physically puffs up when you get paid.

A year ago, two MIT Media Lab graduates raised half a million dollars on Kickstarter to create Twine, a cigarette-pack-sized chunk of Internet magic that promised to turn any object in your home into a web-connected, interactive "smart product." Want your basement pipes to send you a text message when they’re in danger of freezing up, or your garage door to ping you if you forget to close it? No problem: With Twine, building your own personal "Internet of things" is supposed to be easier than programming a VCR. And now that the product is available for purchase, it looks like creators John Kestner and David Carr have very nearly delivered on that ambitious promise.

How do you get a non-hacker to even understand a device like Twine? With product design that would make Steve Jobs proud. Kestner, who studied industrial design as an undergraduate, tells Co.Design that "we wanted to wrap the functionality in something that didn’t read as an electronic object." Twine is packed with sensors that detect temperature, moisture, and position, but it’s as light, small, and unassuming as a pack of gum. "It’s just a solid chunk of connectivity," Kestner says. "We settled on elastomer [for the outer case]—it feels great to the touch, and reads as durable, friendly, and decidedly non-electronic."

But Twine is also intriguingly mysterious: Flip the rubbery, featureless box over on its back and two instructions reveal themselves: "Place this side up," and "go to" From there, configuring Twine feels like an adventure instead of a chore. Wow, it just connected to the Web by itself … Now a little light is turning on … Whoa, now I can see an image of it in my Web browser, sensing the temperature … What will this thing do next?

Building this sense of wonder and delight right out of the box is essential to making Twine feel useful. If you think of it as a little magic box that can do anything—kind of like a Swiss Army knife crossed with a Tamagotchi—you’re more likely to find its open-ended possibilities inspiring instead of intimidating. After all, there’s no instruction manual. Once your Twine is set up, the dashboard in your Web browser invites you to set up "rules" (which are actually simple programs) for telling it what to do. I just moved into a new house with a cold basement office, so I used the simple drop-down menus to program my Twine to send me a text message saying "Get a space heater, doofus" whenever the temperature drops below 70°.

But you can get much more creative than that. Twine’s forums are already filling up with clever ideas from other users. My favorite: A parent who uses Twine’s magnetic switch to send him an alert if the kids break into the closet where their Christmas presents are hidden.

That’s Twine’s real genius: its complete non-jetpackiness. It doesn’t look or feel futuristic. Hell, it’s hard to distinguish it from the average garage door opener. Which makes it so much easier to imagine its capabilities—which are undeniably futuristic—actually becoming the new normal.

[Read more at Supermechanical, the startup behind Twine.]