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The coffeemaker that tells you the weather

Bill Gates previews examples of SPOT
(Image: Microsoft)

At COMDEX Fall 2002 in Las Vegas, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates introduced the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) Initiative, aimed at improving the function of everyday objects through the injection of software.

A range of new technologies including a low-distraction user interface, a new operating system platform, and new communications capabilities have been developed in the labs of Microsoft Research (MSR). Bill Mitchell, general manager of the Microsoft Personal Objects Group, explained Smart Personal Objects and why this technology was significant.

What were Smart Personal Objects?

Smart Personal Objects are everyday objects, such as clocks, pens, key-chains and billfolds, that are made smarter, more personalized and more useful through the use of special software. These everyday objects already exist in huge numbers, and, of course, all of them already have primary functions that people find valuable. So our goal is simply to improve on these core functions to make these new, smarter objects that are not just useful but indispensable.

Melitta ME1MSB drip coffeemaker
(Image: Microsoft)

As an example, consider time-displays like watches and clocks. With the right software and hardware, these timepieces could be augmented to do a much better job. They could provide more accurate, perhaps atomic-clock-accurate, time displays. They could also be extended to display not just time, but timely information -- traffic information, schedule updates, news -- anything that is time-critical and useful to people. Smart key-chains, of course, will have to be improved along different lines: they need to help people with the task of physical security, of locking and unlocking things. There are lots of great device opportunities here, and the really neat thing is that we don't have to hard-sell customers on all sorts of whizzy new customer scenarios.

Our initial focus has been on devices like the Smart Alarm Clock that Bill Gates showed on stage at COMDEX Fall 2002, which is a clock that has been improved through some low-cost, highly integrated hardware, novel software and user-interface technology we've been developing. When we've shown prototype devices to potential customers the responses have been very positive.

As of April 23, 2008 the line has been officially discontinued.¹ ² After a long, painful, nearly anonymous ride on the wrists of a select few uber-geeks, Microsoft's finally throwing in the towel on one of its longstanding pet projects. On October 26, 2009, Microsoft announced that it will shut down MSN Direct by the end of 2011, impairing the functionality of all devices sold by companies that partnered with Microsoft.

¹ "SPOT watches, R.I.P.: 2004 - 2008"
² http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/02/technology/business-computing/02compute.html

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