Switched On: The fork, the ficus and the flandoodle

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|12.02.12

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Switched On: The fork, the ficus and the flandoodle

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

DNP Switched On The fork, the ficus and the flandoodle

As sensors and crowdsourcing give us ever more granular data into the norms and deviations of the world around us, enterprising developers and hardware companies have trotted out various combinations of atoms and bits to package that awareness, sometimes paired with recommendations, into products. Back in March, Switched On discussed a number of Kickstarter projects (all of which have now shipped) that extended sensor-based monitoring and notification to remote locations (provided there was WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity). Where does it end? Three recent product announcements enable us to know more about things that we might not ever have thought to track in the past.


Perhaps you're a farmer, horticulturalist or drug lord for whom the health of your plants is tied intimately to your business. In that case, you might want to have anytime insight into the well-being of your flora. Reaching a broader market, though, might represent a more serious challenge for Koubachi, which is now entering the US market with its WiFi-based plant sensors. The device, which resembles the sawed-off head of a driver golf club, uses its Plant Care Engine (or PCE as its literature so abbreviates) to detect such important plant growth criteria as water, fertilizer, humidity, temperature and light. It then recommends a course of action. For example, if your plant is low on water, maybe you should water it. (Switched On Tip: Avoid Brawndo.)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Koubachi is that it has had at least one predecessor, the far cutesier, albeit WiFi-bereft EasyBloom. That device includes a USB connector for sending diagnostic data to your PC or Mac and is designed to be used in an outdoor garden whereas Koubachi is available in both an indoor and more rugged outdoor version.


Koubachi may sound a bit like it hails from Japan (the company is actually based in Germany) but another tracker from Fujitsu is launching in that Eastern nation. The idea behind Wandant is similar to that of any number of accelerometer-based activity trackers available on the market from Fitbit, Nike, Striiv, the resurrected Jawbone Up and others.

The difference is that it's designed for canines ("wan" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound a dog makes). The Wandant, which is worn around a dog's neck, collects data about physical activity and uploads it to a web site. Of course, the key difference between presenting data about physical activity for domesticated dogs versus humans is that dependent pets often cannot change their behavior without outside influences whereas humans will complain about not being able to do so. Pet owners purchasing Wandant must decide whether it's best to have the device ferret out the truth about their slothful dogs or whether they should just let sleeping dogs lie.

As with Koubachi, the Wandant is far from the first dog-tracking product on the market. In addition to tracking canine activity levels, the Tagg pet tracker, created by a division of Qualcomm, tracks the location of your dog should it wander outside and get lost or into dangerous situations.


All right, that's enough of all this love for plants and animals. Omnivores face no dilemma in telling you some of those things make for good eating. The thing is, many people do too much of it. As noted, there's no shortage of monitoring devices that can measure caloric output; HAPI Labs even offers its own, the HAPItrack. However, they all rely on manual logging caloric intake, i.e., food.

Enter (into your waiting maw) the HAPIfork, the smart device that promises all good things in tine. While the HAPIfork can't analyze the nutritional value of the food you are eating, it can detect how long and how fast you're chowing down, encouraging you to stuff your face at a slower pace. To facilitate washing the device, all the electronics conveniently slip out the back of the fork handle. If you find the HAPI goal lucky, you can sign up to pre-order one now at its web site. However, there's no information on how much you'll have to fork over.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at@rossrubin.

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