In an age where everything’s getting connected, is it possible to be too connected? We’ve got smart TV’s, smart thermostats, smart smoke detectors, smart surveillance cameras, smart locks. What’s next — smart garlic presses and toenail clippers? Perhaps some home objects don’t need an IQ bump.
That was my impression when hearing about Driblet, a new smart water meter. It tracks how much water a person uses in the shower and beeps to warn when they’re approaching a preset limit. There’s also (of course) an iPhone app for seeing the usage and temperature data. The idea is that this will help consumers save water, both for the health of the planet and their pocketbook. Save water, save the planet, save money, and lots of other happy happy touchy feely stuff.
Driblet has certainly come at a good time. As USA Today found in 2012 when studying 100 municipality water bills, prices had doubled over twelve years in more than a quarter of locations. And those prices are only heading upwards, given that extensive infrastructure reparation work is needed across the country to upgrade pipes and water treatment plants. One consultant of Black & Veatch, the firm that did the study, predicted that every few years consumers will see rates increase from on an average of 5 to 15 percent.
Some, like journalist Steven Solomon, believe that the next big war will be over water, not oil. Solomon penned the book Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. In it he cites a nerve-wracking number: only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh. Solomon went on NPR when his book ran in 2010 to discuss the fact that glaciers held much of our meager fresh water supply, and that the use of water has doubled in comparison to the growth of the world’s population.
Developing nations get hit hardest, with countries like Pakistan and Egypt likely to face water scarcity issues sooner than the rest of the world. According to Driblet, Charity: Water, a non-profit that helps people get clean drinking water in developing nations, has shown interest in buying their smart water meters to install in wells in Ethiopia and Nepal.
But Driblet is launching first in the US. “[The] United States has a culture of green initiatives,” co-founder Mario García says. He mentions the boom of “Internet of Things” devices, and the big sales of Nest’s thermostats in America for the price tag of $249. In contrast, early buyers of Driblet can get the device for just $49. “We think, putting all of this together, there’s more money in the States [vs other countries] to buy this type of thing,” García says.
The Driblet team is hoping there’s money to invest in their type of thing too. Earlier this year, they won the AngelHack hackathon in Monterrey City, Mexico. As a result, the team was accepted to the Hackcelerator program and earned a free trip to San Francisco for Global Demo Day and TechCrunch Disrupt. Upon returning home, the founders, all based in Mexico, launched a crowd funding campaign through Dragon Innovation.
Unlike other smart home crowd funding campaigns like Lockitron or Canary, Driblet has by no means hit the cash ball out of the money park yet. It has raised $2,614 of its $98,000 goal and has 24 days left. It would need to raise $3,974 every single day to reach its minimum target.
Some of the lack of interest may be because Dragon Innovation doesn’t have the natural web traffic of Kickstarter. Another problem, though, might be that Driblet’s job isn’t to better regulate our lives or make our homes easier to navigate. Its job is to nag us, in the shower, when we’re trying to enjoy just a few minutes of peace and quiet. How many Americans will pay even $49 for that?
[Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that the Nest smoke detector costs $249, when in fact it's the Nest thermostat that costs that much.]