When smart devices jump the shark: An 'intelligent device' for your garbage can

GeniCan smart device
© GeniCan

And now, in the 'Give me a break' category, the folks behind this garbage can scanner assume you can't make a grocery list on your own.

I'm generally in favor of the idea of so-called smart devices, as long as they actually improve our lives and don't complicate otherwise simple tasks, because automating certain processes can make a lot of sense, depending on the specific situation. However, the only one I've seen fit to actually buy and use is a smartphone, which serves as my camera, phone, mobile internet connection, and calendar reminder and to-do list. I readily admit that I may be an outlier, and that others may find a great value in integrating connected devices in their homes or offices. But I have to wonder, with all of the new gadgets and appliances on the market that "talk" to your phone or other devices, is every smart device really "smart," or even useful?

When the press release for the GeniCan hit my inbox, I thought it was a joke. It was accompanied by a picture of a paperboard box being scanned as it is thrown into the trash, which set off my eco-radar, because in this day and age, I find it hard to believe that people don't know that paper products are recyclable. And if your shopping habits are anything like ours, packaged foods are only a tiny percentage of what we eat, and most of what we buy either comes in the original biodegradable packaging (read: fruit and veggie peels) or isn't scannable because we buy it in bulk from our local food co-op, so it has no bar code. So, with a sigh, I hit delete and moved on, looking for another micro-wind turbine to write about (kidding), but I kept coming across other articles about the GeniCan, and realized that not only was it not a joke, it was actually getting favorable media coverage. And so here we are.

The GeniCan is described as "the world's first intelligent device for your garbage can," which scans the items you throw away and adds them to your grocery list, alerts you when your trash is full, and then sends you coupons for items on your shopping list. It's currently in a crowdfunding phase, with the creators seeking to raise $20,000 for final design and production costs, and offering backers an early bird special price of $119 for the device (compared to the full retail price of $179).

Here's the pitch, which starts out with a little mom-shaming for forgetting items at the grocery store:

"GeniCan scans items as you throw them away, saving you time, money, and trips to the grocery store!"

I'm having a hard time believing that the person responsible for making the shopping list and doing the grocery shopping is going to keep forgetting the items they use every week or every day, but I suppose it could happen. However, a pencil and paper are just as convenient as scanning each item you "throw away," and if you need it on your smartphone, it's simple to take a picture of that list and refer to it at the store, and it won't set you back a couple of hundred dollars or require a separate charger or a WiFi connection. And if you need a device to tell you that your garbage is full, perhaps it's time to put down the smartphone and just look around you. Just sayin'.

To be fair, the creators of GeniCan say that the device can be used with both a garbage can and recycle bin, and non-scannable items, such as fruit and veggies, can be added to the shopping list via voice commands, and perhaps a separate shopping list app on your phone might be useful in some instances. I'm not sure what the advantage of having your grocery list "sorted aisle-by-aisle" is, unless you've never been to the grocery store, and the fact that the device is designed to send coupons to your phone, and to enable "automatic delivery with grocery delivery service partners" makes me think the end game isn't convenience, it's sales leads and marketing.

But hey, maybe I'm wrong and this "smart" garbage can device will actually save you "time, hassle and money." Me, I'm gonna pass and am just going to continue checking the fridge and pantry before going grocery shopping, making a list with pencil and scrap paper, and to empty the trash when it looks full.

[TL;DR: The internet of things is headed to your trash can, where it will fill out your shopping list on yet another smartphone app.]

When smart devices jump the shark: An 'intelligent device' for your garbage can
And now, in the 'Give me a break' category, the folks behind this garbage can scanner assume you can't make a grocery list on your own.

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