Cloudwash – our prototype connected washing machine

Cloudwash is a prototype connected washing machine. We prototype products at Berg to help us understand how our platform should work, and to encourage better design in connected things. We’ve made a film about Cloudwash, watch it here:

There’s a lot of detail. The Cloudwash case study has the whole story.

For me, Cloudwash represents an approach to thinking about connected products which isn’t reflected in the current crop of connected things. Tom Igoe’s CES writeup is excellent and a fairly brutal read. As a summary of the territory, there isn’t much in there which inspires me.

At the moment, connected white goods are in their early stages, they take one of two approaches:

  • They take functionality normally available on the front of the appliance and duplicate it on a smartphone, like a fancy remote control
  • They embed an Android tablet in the appliance, and add tablet functionality like calendaring and music

Neither of these fulfils the promise of connected things.

Think about washing machines. Once their automation seriously changed domestic life, they were regarded as high value labour saving devices. That is where they have remained, albeit with changes in electronics manufacture and retail. When I look at the rows and rows of washing machines in department stores, they all seem a bit… the same. Manufacturers seek differentiation in minor deviations in impenetrable UI and tweaking of spin speeds.

Connectivity holds out promise for something really new, these machines can become something actually different. Cloudwash is an expression of our thoughts on how to make this stuff matter and some steps to something better.

I want to highlight three aspects of what we propose…

Washing machines exist in time

By sending an alert before the final rinse and spin cycle of the machine is finished, the machine rinse can be delayed if plans have changed and you won’t be home until later than expected. This seems like a really simple, handy win. This is an acknowledgement that the machine exists in time, and it can do more to fit in with how we live. In the coming wave of connected products, it seems likely that the few useful humble features will prove more effective in actual use than glistening touch screens and embedded speakers.

A connected device is software you can use because you are standing near it

You don’t need the app to make the machine work. The interface is carefully shaped across the app and physical UI to be sure that guests or temporary users can use Cloudwash without even owning a smartphone. This is a key principle for us: sign in for laptops and phones doesn’t go far enough in accommodating small groups, strangers, or shared use. Connected products will have to do better. I don’t want to have to sign in to my kettle to make tea and I don’t want private media appearing in shared objects.

In-App Purchase for devices

Cloudwash has two physical short cuts to online purchase, you can buy detergent and conditioner from buttons on the machine. When pressed they can simply trigger a reminder… or make a purchase direct from Amazon. That’s convenient for users, but more significant to retailers and detergent producers. Maybe there will be new business models: Amazon might supply a machine because the button orders the product of your choice over it’s Prime service. Or a Unilever or P&G might subsidise a machine, because it’s pre-sold with 500 washes worth of their detergent. The machine starts to mirror Nespresso machines, or the ways in which mobile operators subsidise handsets. Either way, the land grabs and deal-making around stuff like this will make for some profound weirdness.

What next?

We made Cloudwash because we want to start a conversation about the design of connected products and what networking something can mean. We were able to prototype and think through making because we’ve got a technology platform that makes it easy to do so.

We want to know what you think.

And we want to get our hands on the whole kitchen. The office. The front room and the rest. We want to help manufacturers invent the connected products of the future. If you want to talk about how we can help you with your products, get in touch.