The IoT Explained by Connected Coffee

By Mitch Maiman November 12, 2015

The hottest buzz phrase these days is Internet of Things (IoT). While the consensus among the tech crowd seems to be that this is an interesting and worthwhile development, what the phrase means is actually very ambiguous. Broadly speaking, IoT is shorthand for smart, networked devices utilizing applications to communicate all manner of information. Through a concept called Connected Coffee, the full end-to-end nature of IoT can be readily understood.

While not all IoT creations provide value to the users or to the companies providing such solutions, when the right value propositions are understood and realized, companies can incubate or grow. With high value solutions, consumers can greatly benefit from the connected nature of such products. Here is a clarifying example. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether or not this is a good product idea.

Problem Statement: Consumer
Almost everyone loves a fresh hot cup of coffee or tea. In the midst of your day, imagine a system where you can always be provisioned with a fresh, hot cup of Joe and you don’t even need to leave your desk to get it; no running to the office kitchen to make a cup of coffee, no interruption of your heads down work. What you receive is just a cup of coffee arriving as if by magic, prepared with your preferences in mind to satisfy your thirst for caffeine (or decaf). Sound good?

Problem Statement: Provider
Your customers arrive in the city and come in every morning to quickly grab a cup of coffee on their way into the office. Sometimes, they may stop in for a 2nd cup at lunch time or when taking a break in the afternoon. You know your customer would like to drink coffee more often but how do you service that customer?

The Value Proposition for Consumer and Provider
The consumer would like to get coffee more frequently if it could happen in a less disruptive manner. The coffee provider would like to get you a cup of coffee more often – maybe even get you a donut or bagel once in a while. Here is the IoT solution:

Account Creation
Imagine a smart, connected coffee mug that is yours upon subscribing to a service provided by the local deli or cafe. As part of this monthly subscription, you get use of this mug and automatic delivery of a fresh hot cup of your favorite beverage based on your consumption. Via your smartphone, you create a Connected Coffee account (like you would an Uber account). You enter your profile which includes your name and credit card information. You enter your office location which then displays a map showing you the Connected Coffee providers within some radius of your office. You select one as your default provider. You then enter the specifications for how you like your coffee (what kind of coffee you prefer, cream or milk or black, sugar or sweetener). You might also select the tasty treat you might like to accompany your coffee on occasion (donut? bagel? roll? muffin?).

Connected Coffee providers can be any local deli or coffee shop or barista. Sign-up involves registering with Connected Coffee and agreeing to terms where Connected Coffee gets paid on commission.

The Uber Coffee Mug
It all starts here: the smart, connected coffee mug. This is the key to getting regularly replenished coffee anticipating your needs. It is a mug that includes sensors to determine the amount of coffee in the cup and possibly even the temperature. That’s the smart part. When the coffee level gets low or cold, a message goes out to the Connected Coffee cloud server indicating that it is time for a refill.

The refill message triggers, locating a provider within a radius of the coffee drinker. The signal is routed to the providers in the area who have subscribed. If the coffee drinker has preference for a provider, they get the message but a map is always available on the client’s smartphone indicating the location of other providers and their customer satisfaction ratings. The coffee drinker also gets to indicate whether or not they want their order extended beyond just the coffee. How about a bagel? The provider is given the location and pertinent profile information to fulfill the order. The provider is compensated either by the cup or via a monthly unlimited subscription service.

The coffee drinker is notified that a cup is on the way. If they elect, they can cancel or delay the order via their smartphone app. At their leisure, the coffee drinkers can review and provide feedback on the coffee provider – just like the Uber car service.

The scenario for Connected Coffee is facetious (though someone might make a go of this). However, this example shows the breadth of what is required in an IoT solution:

1.     A value proposition to the customer. One where the benefits exceed the cost

2.     A value proposition to the service provider. In this case, the value proposition is compensation for coffee service. In other cases, the value could be brand recognition or reinforcement or other benefits indirectly tied to revenue

3.     A means for sensing the need for the service

4.     A means to communicate the results of the sensing to a cloud based service

5.     Cloud based aggregation of sensor data with other cloud based data along with analytics to drive actionable next steps

6.     Communications from the cloud based system to the point of activity. In this case, it is feedback to the coffee drinker and a trigger out to the provider to prepare the coffee and make the delivery

7.     Closed loop feedback whereby the coffee drinker provides a review of the coffee provider.

8.     Ability to add products to the system to enhance the coffee experience (for example a connected machine in the office capable of fulfilling various customer profiles).

In summary, a properly designed and implemented IoT solution starts with user needs and, in most cases, a business value proposition. Information needs to be acquired, processed and communicated to a remote server. That information needs to be further aggregated with other web or server based information, analyzed and processed into actionable downstream information. Lastly, the actionable information needs to be communicated out to the point of activity. In this case, it was a coffee provider. However, it could just as readily have been a machine controller in an M2M (machine to machine) application. Through this example, you can see that a robust IoT solution is about much more than creating a widget. It is a holistic system for satisfying needs or wants.

Mitch is the President and Co-Founder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS), a company that delivers a new model for software and hardware product development, integrating the full spectrum of design and engineering disciplines as a single source solution.  Always espousing a hands-on approach to design, he holds a portfolio of United States and international patents and has more than 30 years of  product design experience. Mitch can be reached at

Edited by Ken Briodagh

President and Co-founder Intelligent Product Solutions

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