The Neo smart jar that I wrote about in February weighs its contents and adds that item to the grocery list on your smartphone when it runs low. It’s a clever idea with one significant drawback: You must transfer the ingredients from their original containers into the smart canisters. Obviously that won’t work well for liquid or canned ingredients, such as milk, sauces, and soups.
At the same time I was talking with the folks behind the Neo smart jar, I was also exchanging emails with Italian entrepreneur Uriel Perugia. Perugia's company, SmartQsine, was working on a similar idea, but with a different execution: Embed the sensors in networkable pads and use the containers—bins, jugs, cans, or what have you—that the product came in or that you already own. SmartQsine’s solution is not only less expensive, it’s also more versatile. It allows you to monitor the inventory of anything that will fit on the pad, not just foodstuffs. Think paper for your printer, nails for your workshop, extra gasoline for your lawn mower, toilet paper—it should work for just about any product you don’t want to run out of.
Both devices work by weighing the commodity you wish to track and sending you an alert when the weight falls below a preset threshold. One Neo smart jar costs $60. You can buy two SmartQsine pads (one Gold, one Silver) for $65 during the company’s Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. You can also buy a limited number of Gold pads for just $25 each, and there are several other discounted combinations available.
What makes the Gold pad different from the Silver pad? Only the Gold pad has the capacity to communicate with the mobile app you’ll use to monitor your inventories. The less-expensive Silver pad can communicate only with a Gold pad, but you can use any combination of the two, and the app is not limited in the number of pads it can support. Network communication is based on the Bluetooth low-energy protocol, and the pads run on CR2032 coin cell batteries (with a life expectancy of six months each). Perugia says they settled on Bluetooth LE because Z-Wave chips require a hub, and Wi-Fi would drain the batteries too quickly.
The mobile app syncs with the pads on a user-defined schedule, and the app can be installed on multiple devices that are synced with each other. SmartQsine has developed three types of alerts to notify you when an inventory of a given product has fallen below an established threshold.
A time-based alert could ping you at the end of the day to let you know you need to stop by the store and pick up some milk on the way home. A person-based alert can send a message to someone with the same information. That could be yourself or your spouse or roommate if you’re using the pads in a home environment, or it could be your supplier if you’re using them in a commercial capacity. The third type of alert is a variation on geo-fencing and is delivered when you arrive at a particular location, such as a grocery store: “Hey, since you’re at the grocer’s, pick up some milk because you’re almost out.”
Uriel says SmartQsine needs to raise $80,000 by May 27 to take the product into production, and the company has commendably chosen Indiegogo’s fixed funding option because Uriel believes they won’t be able to do that with any less cash. SmartQsine estimates they’ll be able to deliver the product in August. Note the shipping charges that are in addition to the funding, however.
When it comes to managing grocery lists, Hiku has one of the least-expensive solutions, but it depends on your being proactive about scanning or speaking the names of the products you’re running out of. SmartQsine’s pads and SKE Labs’ Neo smart jars avoid that pitfall, but neither solution is cheap if you need to monitor a lot of products.