In 1939, Danish metalbender Holger Nielsen introduced the VIPP wastebin. You stepped on a pedal and the top opened. It was simple and well-built, and it's still in production. In fact, many of the original ones are still in daily use. Fast forward to 2015, and Jim Howard and Lori Montag of Poubelle LLC are introducing the Bruno Smartcan. It doesn't have a foot pedal; you wave your hand near it and the top opens on its own. This can be a very useful feature. (I have a bin that does this beside my composting toilet, for example.)

bruno senses sweeping

This really sucks. (I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself.) (Photo: Poubelle LLC)

The most interesting feature of the Bruno is at the bottom, where it has a built-in vacuum that sucks up whatever comes near it, thanks to motion and light detectors that sense a broom is near. "The powerful vortex vacuum feature will deliver every dog hair, Cheerio and grain of dirt directly into the trash bag. No more stopping, no more scooping, just place the broom in front of the vacuum inlet to start the suction, and Bruno will do the rest." 

The items are sucked in at the bottom and ducted up to the top and dumped into the garbage bag lining the can. This might be a small convenience.

But, as they used to say on the TV infomercials, "Wait! There's more!"

bruno smartcan app

Yes indeed, there is an app for that. (Photo:Poubelle LLC)

The Bruno comes with an app that warns you when the can is getting full. It will tell you that you are running out of bags. It will even tell you that it's garbage day and you should get off your sofa and empty it. All this for an estimated $229, and cheaper on Kickstarter. It has already blown through its Kickstarter target, so clearly there are some people out there who think it's a terrific idea. 

The Bruno raises some interesting philosophical questions about the direction smart technology is going. As an architect, I've learned that different systems have different life spans; the structure of a house might last 100 years, but its furnace might need replacement after 20. As a homeowner, I have a KitchenAid stove with electronic controls on the oven. The gas burners will last decades, but the controls are shot and I cannot operate the oven. (My wife has it memorized so she manages.) Fundamentally, it's dumb to mix electronics that might last five years with cast iron that might last 50 or more. A Vipp waste bin might last forever; a Bruno will not.

The Bruno Smartcan might be very useful for people who have trouble bending down, the aged or the obese. But if you can bend down, a dust pan is going to last a whole lot longer and cost a whole lot less money. It's not so hard. The can without a vacuum is going to last a lot longer too, since it's nothing more than a can vs. a can with a rechargeable vacuum built in. We are adding so much complexity to things that used to be so simple; Perhaps a bin should just be a bin.

As for the app, I just don't know anymore. Soon all of our appliances are going to be nagging us to do this or that and we're going to end up just turning notifications off because we can't take it anymore. Perhaps we should tiptoe into this smart new connected world and think about what we really want pinging us. I don't think it's Bruno.

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.