The Android platform is reaching beyond mobile phones and is poised to conquer all the electronic machines in your home. San Francisco based Touch Revolution has created a seven inch touchscreen module, the NIM1000, that can be easily adapted into major appliances. At CES 2010, TR debuted prototypes for a washing machine, office printer, office phone, and even a microwave. These Android enabled devices would function like normal except with touchscreen commands, endless Apps, and USB, Ethernet, or WiFi connectivity. On the microwave, for instance, a user may want to download recipes, look up nutritional information, or just listen to Pandora while they cook. If successful, products like these may be a sign that every object in our lives is on the path to becoming a droid. Check out a video of the Touch Revolution prototypes in the video from CNN Money below (skip to 1:11).
Eventually we may reach a point where everything around us is made from tiny computers that can change shape to match our needs, so called programmable matter. At that point, the digital and the physical will be interchangeable. To reach that stage, however, we’ll first have to introduce computer-like intelligence into our world appliance by appliance. That’s exactly what the Touch Revolution module is doing. A company makes a washing machine, TR helps them embed the NIM1000, and now that company has a smart washer. Smart microwaves, smart office phones, smart printers…the list will grow as easily as the market allows. It’s unclear, however, whether or not these Android enabled devices will actually sell.
It’s not that these devices aren’t cool, it’s that the market for them has to be built. Most people buying a microwave probably don’t worry about whether or not it can download music. Give them enough advertising, however, and they may start to, especially after they try the devices for a while. I certainly never counted on my mobile phone to show me where a restaurant was until I got an iPhone. Now, I’m one of those people who checks out their screen when they get lost before even thinking of looking around with my eyes. Hmm…maybe smart phones make a dumb user? A post for another time.
The other question to ask is if the Touch Revolution module actually has what it takes to appeal to manufacturers who want to add “smart” in front of all their products. The NIM1000 has a good screen – at 7 inches it’s not too big for smaller devices, but it’s still big enough to boast a crisp 800×480 resolution. It has a 806 MHz ARM processor, and can handle the full complement of Android Applications available. The NIM1000 is also capable enough that Touch Revolution has developed a tablet shell for it. This TR Android tablet is no iPad, but it is pretty capable and does speak to the versatility of the module. Of course, TR is courting all major partners by offering a complete NIM development kit. Whether or not TR strikes it big depends on how many big name manufacturers decide to pick up that kit and smarten up their appliances.
Whether or not the NIM1000 starts cropping up all over BestBuy and Sears, I think the concept of an Android enabled module is a winning one. It doesn’t even have to be Android. Apple, or anyone else, could develop a smart-phone-like touchscreen that can be incorporated easily into other “dumb” electronics. At some point, all the appliances in your home or office could not only be web-enabled, they could speak to each other. Your oven could warn your thermostat that the kitchen’s about to get too hot. Your TV could tell your car which cartoon your kids were watching so they can continue viewing when they have to go for a ride. All of them could display your emails, texts, and social network feeds – you’d never have to unplug from the grid. Actually, come to think of it, that sounds a little scary. But it could also lead to a world where every object is “alive” with digital information. I think that’s cool enough to risk the scary bits.
[image credits:OhGizmo!, Touch Revolution]
[sources: Touch Revolution]