Home / Blog / How smart could/should a smart shelf be?

How smart could/should a smart shelf be?

Can you see those thin black trays under the paper towels, paper rolls, mineral water bottles… Those are scales connected to Amazon, via Internet, to let Amazon know when a refilling is needed… Image credit: Amazon

Over the past few years Amazon has released a number of “gadgets” to make even more seamless our buying experience, the Amazon Dash Replenishment. It started with some sort of tokens that you can associate to a specific product. Once you notice that you are running short and want to buy some more all it takes is a little press on the token and a signal will be sent via your wifi and then on via Internet to Amazon that will promptly send you a replenishment. Really convenient. No more typing on your PC/phone/tablet, a little click on the token and there you are.

Last year Amazon has started to offer, in the US, a mat, in three sizes, that you can place under boxes, bottles, whatever. The mat has sensors that detect the weight of the stuff you are placing on it and can be programmed to send a message to Amazon once the weight goes below a certain thresholds. Suppose you place mineral water bottles (like in the photo) and you decide that when only 5 are left you need a replenishment. You click on the app connected to the mat to program that thresholds and from that moment on whenever you care getting low on mineral water a message is sent to Amazon calling for a replenishment. You will receive a new pack of bottles next morning.

The mat is smart, that is, is able to detect if something strange is going on, like you have placed different stuff on it (or the cat is taking a nap right on it) and it will adjust accordingly.

Clearly this mat idea is way better than the token, you no longer need to check if you are running low and click for more, but at the same time you are handing over to Amazon way more information on your consumption habit… and I guess they just love that. You also have to pay 20$ (independently of the size) to get one of those mats.

A Wired journalist has experimented with these mats for a few months and reading her report is quite interesting (and fun too!). She shows that you can easily make your shelf smart but at the same time she cast some doubts on the loss of privacy that goes along with that!

It is also fun to note that the original Amazon dash button was provided for free (the idea was that you would pay for it over and over as you bought merchandise from Amazon) and some hackers found an easy way to hack into it and use it as a “free” remote control. All it takes is a smartphone. If you are interested, watch the clip!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.