A spark and two simple sensors used to tell a "what if" story

Over the weekend I had an opportunity (read: snowed in) to put together a proof-of-concept video as a response to an idea a friend posited: a recent released-to-market toilet with LED night lights should have included a proximity sensor and BTLE.

I first thought “okay - let’s make that”, but then started to think about the what and why behind the concept. What would be the use of having wireless communications on your toilet? What would be useful to the end-user? (I should state that my friend and I have explored the concept of “too much information” with sensor-laden and projection-mapped Port-o-Potties in large venues before, so already have some background in this area :wink: )

In the end I came up with a thought experiment: what if even the most basic of tasks were able to present the cost of resources and wasted time to the user? Would it change their habits? Make them “go” quicker? Would it matter?

I used a spark core w/ battery and the pressure sensor and photoresistor that came in the Spark Maker Kit, attaching them to the toilet in our spare room, with the spark hidden on the floor behind. I built a simple web page using jquery to repeatedly call the values of each sensor separately every 3 seconds; if the light was on, start one timer, if the pressure sensor was pressed, start a different timer. Each timer updated a per-second value based on the real cost of using the five lights in the bathroom (times a future-scenario markup) and the current minimum wage in my state (again times a future markup).

I also played with the idea of a future where bathrooms were the only private space one would have, and that using one would have a direct financial cost. This is why the web page shows a welcome message to an identified private space, and showing the cost the user could be charged.

There was a bit of choreography needed between me and my wife for me to be able to film my iPhone using her iPhone, get in and out of the room, turn on and off the lights, etc. Was a good was to spend a Sunday. :slight_smile:

I love asking questions and being able to make real, working examples to show possible answers. The spark is proving to be very useful for rapid prototypes in areas that may not have normal power or networking abilities.

Here’s the video (nothing gross):



How creative is THAT! I love this forum.

Cool concept :sunny:

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That’s sweet! Very interesting approach to the idea of real / hidden costs. :slight_smile:

Thanks folks! I should point out my hypothesis and questioning shouldn’t be taken as serious research. That is, I’m a designer, not a social scientist; I have questions and like using technology to explore scenarios, but it’s more “speculative design” than “i have an answer”. :smile:

And thus lies the beauty of the Spark. It speeds everything up:



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For sure, this is great! It’d be cool to use this concept to help people reduce their energy consumption.

If you could say view a visualization of a lump of burning coal with billowing black smoke representing how much energy your house is consuming at any moment, that could be an interesting psychological nudge to encourage people into thinking about the hidden costs of their actions. If there were a network of users using an app like this, you could use peer pressure to encourage more efficient behavior–the gas company sends me graphs of how our energy compares to neighbors; it’s nudged toward being more efficient. I think there are a lot of opportunities in this space. Thanks @gwygonik for getting my gears spinning!


While I’ve always found services like Xively/Cosm/Pachube interesting and providing an useful service, the part I’ve felt was missing was using that service to tell a story, to correlate data, to do something with the data. It’s one thing to look at someone’s chart of energy usage, but it’s just a pretty graphic until you see it next to yours and your neighbors, when you can start to have a frame of reference for the data. :smile: