FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, July 09, 2004

Building a better alarm clock

I'm not sure what really got me thinking about this. It's probably when my alarm clock had the audacity to go off this morning and wake me from a sound sleep...

Earlier this year, the alarm clock came in second in an MIT poll of most hated inventions (cell phones were number one). "Hate" is a strong word here, as gadgets like nerve gas and various implements of torture are far more deserving of that epithet. The poll, however, pinpointed inventions that we can't live without yet still annoy the hell out of us, like that adorable puppy who poops on the rug.

To that end, any invention that makes this list is a candidate for some serious upgrading. As with the puppy, we don't want to take him back to the pound, so we housebreak him.

What to do about alarm clocks? The bell or buzzer that goes off to wake us up does its job admirably. If mine didn't go off, I'd sleep till noon at the earliest! Radio alarm clocks add more functionality by allowing us to wake up to news or music. But typically, the alarm goes off in a middle of a song or news story... which is even more disconcerting than a bell or buzzer.

I love the new generation of alarm clocks that update themselves based on broadcasts from the U.S. Atomic Clock, and can even display the current outdoor temperature via an external radio sensor. Now, let's take that clock to the next level, giving it more functionality and designing an alarm that will announce all this information to wake you up...

Why can't a clock get feeds not only for the time, but also for weather, breaking news, stock quotes, traffic reports, or even your calendar, so that instead of waking to an annoying sound, you get something like this:

"Good morning, the time is now 6:00. The current temperature is 70 degrees, with an expected high of 80 degrees. Sunshine is expected today, followed by scattered showers in the afternoon and early evening. Dow futures are up 14 points. On your schedule today, you have a meeting with John Doe at 10 AM and a meeting with Jane Doe at 3 PM. In the news this morning..."

Of course, what the clock announces will be highly customizable. The clock could also be used throughout the day to announce important information such as breaking news alerts, Amber Alerts and sever weather information.

Or, you could just train your puppy to wake you up at the same time for his morning walk...