John Kestner

Twine

Listen to your world, talk to the Internet

2012

Twine was the first consumer Internet of Things product. It alerts you to small problems before they become big problems. Quick Wi-Fi setup and AAA batteries that last 3 months let you drop Twine anywhere you want to monitor temperature, vibration and orientation. Additional sensors detect floods, leaks, opened doors, and signals from other home systems. Tell a web app what to listen to with simple rules, and you'll get notifications and peace of mind via email, SMS, Twitter and more.

Twine grew from the seed of an idea in my master's thesis. What if it was simple to connect any object or environment to the Internet without technical knowhow? This had to be far simpler than a computer, let alone embedded electronics. We integrated several layers—low-power sensing hardware, easy connectivity, scalable back end, and web-based configuration and monitoring—and wrapped them in a consumer-friendly form and rules-based interface.

How it works

Twine is a 2.7" square sensor integrated with a cloud-based service. The durable, rubbery block has Wi-Fi, on-board temperature and orientation sensors, and an expansion connector for other sensors. Power is supplied by micro USB or two AAA batteries.

The Twine web app makes it simple to set up and monitor Twines from a browser. Set rules to trigger messages without any programming. The rules are put together with a palette of available conditions and actions, and read like normal sentences: WHEN moisture sensor gets wet THEN text "The basement is flooding!"

Because the hardware and software are made for each other, setup is easy. I made a single-page web app that holds the user's hand while they're necessarily disconnected from the Internet in order to connect to Twine's Wi-Fi.

Sensors

Arduino represented a leap forward in embedded electronics with an onboard programmer and IDE that made it easy to start coding. But to do anything interesting, you still have to learn how to make sensor circuits.

We made external sensors that were as easy to connect as a USB peripheral. Each sensor has a unique ID that we could use to identify it, and as soon as it's plugged in, it's represented and streaming data on a web dashboard, and ready to use in rules—instant feedback makes testing rules easy.

This modular system has empowered people to solve their own problems. Its approachability gives laypeople the confidence to add Twine to their toolbox. This is designed for tinkering, not for technology's sake, but to be adaptable to the variety of ways customers want to wield it.

My contribution

Developed the idea into a product. Industrial design, mechanical engineering, front end design and coding (HTML, CSS, Backbone, JavaScript), back end (Python, Tornado, PostgreSQL, nginx, AWS), copy, illustration, packaging, identity.

Press: Wall Street Journal, Engadget, Wired, Better Homes & Gardens, etc.