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Marcel Schouwenaar: Sooner or later this is going to come to us all

30 October 2016

Designer Marcel Schouwenaar (The Incredible Machine) believes he should get us more acquainted with the Internet of Things. This is part 5 of a series of short interviews with designers participating in Dutch Design Week.

The Internet of Things is a frequently used term. But what is it exactly?


The “Internet of Things’ refers to physical products linked to the Internet. These products collect data they share through online services. The data provides insight into patterns that were previously invisible. And give us remote control over things that we could not control at all until recently. There are bins, for instance, that send a message to be collected when they are full. But also thermostats that know whether you’re home or not. The Internet of Things is to make our lives easier and businesses more efficient. This is no longer wishful thinking for the future, this is now. It’s there, because we want it to be. And it won’t go away anymore.”


What do you want to show or tell us with this exhibition?


“From Mondays to Fridays I do research and design with The Incredible Machine, commissioned by companies. In this work I’m regularly confronted with ethical dilemmas related to the development of the Internet of Things. In Just Things Foundation my colleagues and I tackle this. We wrote a manifest, because we’re striving for an Internet of Things we can all benefit from. With the exhibition during Dutch Design Week we want to familiarise people with the phenomenon. We want to raise their awareness by emphasising the ethics and offering hope. There are negative, but fortunately also many positive developments.”



Can you clarify that using examples from the exhibition?


“Let’s not devote too much attention to the negative side. PayGo Energy is a good example of how the Internet of Things can improve the world. The idea is quite simple really: in Kenia a lot of families cook on kerosene, because they can’t afford natural gas. That’s not only unsafe, it’s also very unhealthy. Through a smart adaption of the existing gas bottles, this is possible now. The bottles are linked to a payment system connected to the mobile network. Through their mobile, people only pay for the gas they use. If the gas bottle is running empty, the supplier automatically drops off a new bottle. When Marc Zuckerberg got word of it, the project was soon overwhelmed by investors. This is now causing a minor revolution.”


Of course, you think about smart products yourself. What contribution does The Incredible Machine make to the Internet of Things and this  exhibition?


“Another project that works through mobile telephony: Velocracy, we call it. This is a system of ‘open-source’ city bikes expanding itself through use and rental. Every bike has a lock (or: a ‘bug’) that opens when you check in with your smartphone. You use the bike and pay automatically with a bitcoin-like payment system as soon as you close the lock. The lock  saves the payments until the bicycle has earned enough money. Then a message goes out to bicycle retailers. They cash the money in order to add a new bike to the network. This way, the system spreads through the city like a virus.”


Finally: next week Dutch Design Week will be over again. Any idea what you will invent, do and make in the coming period?

“The exhibition has already attracted the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Delft University of Technology. We want to remain in touch with parties like that of course. We’re also going to China to study the development of the Internet of Things there. But also for the continued development of the hardware for Velocracy. We need a budget of about 25,000 euro. As one of the initiators I’m also involved with ThingsCon. This is a two-day conference in Amsterdam about the future of hardware and the Internet of Things. I find it important that not only designers and developers, but for example also entrepreneurs, researchers and teachers come to think about the developments. Because whichever way you turn it, the Internet of Things is here, and sooner or later it’s going to come to us all.”


The making of’ is the theme for the 15th Dutch Design Week. The anniversary year is an ode to the making process and the makers. Guests of honour are 2500 designers who made the event bigger, and the world just that little bit better, smarter, handier or more beautiful. For 9 whole days in Eindhoven they show their latest work and the best of what design has to offer.

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