When pants can talk
A sensor to one day manage laundry and order the milk
If you think your privacy is not safe from intruders now, wait until your pants start talking. That might be sooner than you think.
Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest retailer, has filed an application for a patent on a device that would collect data from a tiny sensor embedded in a shirt or a pair of pants that would tell the retailer how the customer in the shirt or pants is using the goods — such as, for example, how many times he brushes his teeth, when he needs to buy another tube of toothpaste.
Another sensor could tell the retailer when a dirty shirt or a soiled pair of pants is put in a washing machine, and how many times it’s washed, giving the manufacturer the means to predict the durability of an item, and to tell the retailer when the old shirt is worn out and it’s time to deliver a new one.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., could further use the collected data for marketing, advertising and selling additional products. “For example,” reports the Arkansas Democrat Gazette of Little Rock, “a consumer who orders milk through the system could be alerted to other recommended items like cookies or chocolate milk.”
“The more and more information that organizations have, to predict when I am going to need that, and just send it to me,” Annibal Sodero, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Arkansas, tells the newspaper, “that is very critical right now. The one who can use that information and anticipate consumer needs is going to win.”
Wal-Mart’s system — which if successful would surely be copied widely by retailers everywhere — would incorporate sensor technology on items throughout the house, with barcode scanners and other devices giving out information once thought inviolate in a place a man once regarded as his castle. Sensors could say where certain items are located in the house, when they are moved and when they are used.
Amazon introduced a similar system two years ago, called Amazon Dash, with buttons on a device enabling consumers to order 300 items with a push of that button. So far the Wal-Mart system exists only in a patent application, but Mr. Sodero, the marketing professor, thinks such things will one day be part of everyone’s life. And when pants can talk, you can be sure they will.