What if your bike told you where it was if it had been moved? What if your camera suggested where and when to get the perfect shot? What if your guitar helped you find other musicians nearby who wanted to jam? What if smart meters turned on our washing machines when it was most affordable to do so?
These are not hypothetical situations out of a science-fiction novel. These are real possibilities that a startup called Evrythng is pursuing.
Evrythng is still in stealth mode, but during a meeting with founder Niall Murphy, I got an exclusive look at the technology and learned about The Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things is the idea of connecting “non-smart” (dumb sounds so harsh) devices and objects to the web. Just as people have an online identity through the social graph, so can each and every object have its own digital fingerprint.
“The concept of the Internet of Things has been around of a long time, but only now are the conditions interesting for it to become real,” Murphy said during our chat. “There was no infrastructure on the net for things to have a digital identity. Now with smart phones and other innovations in technology, we can give every single thing a web presence.”
Evrythng’s most fundamental role is to provide the digital identity. It has various options to do so, such as QR codes, image recognition, Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, microchips, and augmented reality. It is a business-to-business model; Evrythng works with other companies to figure out what application of its technology is the most appropriate. Once the method of connectivity has been established, the online presence is applicable in many ways.
Companies can supplement their physical merchandise with digital services and more deeply personalize the consumer experience. They can use the online identity for tracking and monitoring, customer service, marketing, and, really, anything that lets individuals and companies alike to get the most out of their possessions.
Every product has its own use case. In the case of a refrigerator, a barcode could link owners through their smartphones directly to a repair service in the area or a website with tips for troubleshooting. If a frozen meal is in the freezer, the appliance could alert you when it is about to expire. My favorite possible use is wine that tells you what to pair it with.
“See this table?” Murphy asked as he pointed to the coffee table between us. “There is a whole universe of metadata about this table. What is it made of? Where did it come from? Is there a warranty? Where can I buy more? We can turn products into owned media by connecting them to all the relevant content you could want to know.”
This has marketing applications as well. Businesses can use Evrythng to deliver coupons or special offers at just the right time. Murphy cited a young family that ordered a month’s supply of diapers. What if at the end of the month, a discount on diapers was part of a loyalty program? This also gives companies better ways to interact with their customers, by accessing all the data that their product generates in the real world and reacting accordingly. The product becomes a portal for services and communication.
In addition to companies and marketers, manufacturers, application developers, and academics might want to use the platform to exchange information from and about physical things. The particular hook that links the object to the web may be built in at the factory stage as part of the production process. Developers can use Evrythng’s API to design and develop digital services, while a researcher could use it to gather field data.
The technology is complex, and Murphy believes he is not disrupting an existing category — he’s defining a new one. He envisions a future where every product has an active digital identity.
“Our vision is that everything is connected to make the world smarter and more efficient,” Murphy said. “Maybe we are staring at the sky, but why not? I love the idea of the physical world and the digital world seamlessly co-existing. There are endless opportunities.”
This is not a project a first-time founder could take on, but Murphy is a serial entrepreneur with experience in computer science, mathematics, business development and strategy, and venture capital. He founded Evrythng in 2011. Its operation is based in Zurich, and the team consists of 30 employees.