How A Tweeting Toaster Helped Bring The Internet Of Things To The Hungry Public

Dec 4, 2018

 

A toaster’s Twitter page turns 10 years old this month. The @mytoaster account joined the site in December 2008 and soon after tweeted its first message: “Toasting.”

The human behind the social media-savvy appliance, developer Hans Scharler, said he signed his toaster up for an account while Twitter was still finding its place on the internet. He and his coworkers didn’t understand why people would want to write a 140 character status update of their lives.

“But we had this idea of, what if things were on Twitter?”

Scharler thought having a toaster with a Twitter account would be funny and alliterative. It was relatively easy to set up, he said, because it only posts two messages: “Toasting” and “Done Toasting.”

The internet-connected appliance with a finished piece of toast (left) and a toasting piece of bread (right). The wires linking the toaster's switch are connected to a digital input and circuit board, which sends a signal to a website and the toaster's Twitter account.
Credit Hans Scharler

Scharler connected a switch to the slider on his toaster that was triggered whenever bread – or bagels, english muffins or Toaster Strudels – were put into the appliance. When the machine is in use, a circuit board linked to the swtich sends a signal to a website he created that tweets out the toaster's status.

In 2009, the tech news site Wired profiled @mytoaster. That, Scharler said, helped @mytoaster accumulate a few thousand followers and garner a lot of attention.

“People were sending me messages of, ‘What else? What else can you connect to the internet?’” Scharler said. “The toaster was fun and it was a good conversation starter, but the conversation very quickly moved to other things.”

A laundromat owner said he wanted to be able to send his customers texts when their washer or dryer was finished. A bakery asked Scharler for a way to connect its ovens to Facebook so patrons could be notified when fresh pastries were made.

This concept is known as the Internet of Things, a network of devices that exchange information and data. Scharler said after the toaster, he started to explore how to apply the technology in valuable ways.

“If you can measure how active something is being used, maybe you can predict when it’s going to fail,” he said.

With his toaster, for example, the time it takes to toast can be translated to how much power the appliance uses. Doing that for each device in the house, Scharler said, could help people reduce energy consumption.

Now, thousands of objects from bridges to hearing aids are part of the Internet of Things. While the toaster may seem like a novelty now, Scharler said it helped illustrate practical ways internet-connected objects can improve everyday life.