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The Internet of Things, Huge Data, and Starbucks

Mark Gibbs | Jan. 21, 2013
Gibbs ponders how a Starbucks coffee cup could become the greatest business edge.

This week in Gearhead, I cover an application that's related to the concept of The Internet of Things, but applied to a novel area: Citizen-driven air quality monitoring.

As I was writing that column, I got a call from a friend and I was telling him about the product and the technologies used. I went on to claim that connecting monitoring devices to "things" and, in turn, connecting those devices to the 'Net was the way of the future; that we can expect anything and everything to eventually be connected and that we'll be tracking the minutiae of what happens in the real world.

I further argued that the coffee cup you get from Starbucks will eventually be instrumented and connected.

My friend disagreed; he felt that there would be some lower limit to the return on investment in the data that could be gathered that would mean that there would be no profit involved in connecting Starbucks coffee cups to the Internet of Things and therefore it would never happen.

I disagreed and here's my argument: First, let's consider how cheap it will become to instrument a coffee cup.

Today, it would be far too spendy to do such a thing, but tomorrow ... ah, tomorrow.

Tomorrow there'll be a strip down the side of the coffee cup that contains temperature, pH and volume sensors, along with some flash RAM for storing data while connectivity is lost, and for tagging the cup when the order is filled (which could be cross-referenced with the till roll to identify the purchaser), accelerometers to detect movement, and a WiFi transceiver to provide not only communications but location services as well. And this instrumentation package will be dirt cheap ... maybe a few cents by the end of the decade.

Now, let's consider what we, or rather Starbucks, could learn from this smart, connected coffee cup: Starbucks could track how coffee is consumed, including how fast it's consumed, how big each sip is, and whether sugar and or milk or half-and-half or cream is added.

They'd know if the coffee wasn't finished, what temperature the coffee was when it was abandoned, how far the cup travelled while being drunk, and how it travelled (for example, if the cup followed the street grid and frequently exceeded walking speed and stopped often ... that could be inferred that it was on a bus).

In terms of understanding your customer base this would be huge! Those customers who don't drink fast and leave coffee in their cups could be automatically given a doubled-up cup next time to maximize the time the coffee stays hot to increase their satisfaction with the product which, in turn, would help ensure customer happiness and loyalty.


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