When pants can talk

A sen­sor to one day man­age laun­dry and or­der the milk

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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