Awesome Stuff: The Future Is Finally Coming To Home Automation

from the getting-there-slowly dept

By now, weren’t we all supposed to have little personal assistants that manage our lives, and weren’t our homes supposed to be “smart homes” with fancy sensors to better manage everything? We’ve been hearing these promises for years, and it seems like we’re finally inching towards that goal. Over the past few years, a number of smart home devices and systems have come and gone on Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other platforms, but it seems like a bunch of new ones have launched recently. Let’s look at a few.

  • First up, we’ve got Benki, self-described as “connected devices done right.” It appears they’re looking to build out a whole suite of home automation sensors/devices that work nicely together. They’re certainly not the only player in this space on the market (not by a long shot), but their initial devices really do look nice, simple, easy to use and fairly compelling. An outlet that doubles as a baby monitor that automatically pings your mobile phone when it hears a noise? Yeah, you can do that with Benki’s smart outlet, Socket, which has a built in light sensor, temperature sensor and microphone. Or how about a combined camera, light sensor and temperature sensor. And, of course, everything can by controlled by your phone.
    The Benki folks apparently decided to go big or go home, choosing a super ambitious target of $220,000. With less than two weeks left, they’re only about a quarter of the way there, meaning it seems unlikely they’ll hit their goal without a huge last minute surge. Interesting project, but the goal might have been a bit out of reach.
  • If you want to go all hackery with your home automation/sensor work, you should check out wigwag. In some ways, it could be similar to Benki above, but rather than focus on building a few nice looking initial devices, it seems that wigwag focused its initial efforts on building out a platform that will let hacker-minded folks do almost anything. They’re offering up a sensor block, and some simple programming tools to let you write rules for “intelligent environments.” The vision here is fairly bold — basically using a variety of sensors to just do the right thing in your house given the situation. It’s easy to have sensors that, say, turn on a light when you enter the room, but what if it takes into account other factors: is it late at night? Maybe just slightly illuminate the room, rather than the full blast of lights. Honestly, a combination of something like wigwag and Benki might be cool, as they’re similar, but appear focused on slightly different areas of development.
    The wigwag folks chose a much more modest $50,000 target, and they’ve got nearly two months left in the campaign and they’ve already almost hit that goal. So this one will definitely get funded.
  • Sensors controlled by your phone are great, but voice control is the in thing these days, so we’ll kick it off with Fiona, the virtual home assistant, which comes straight out of random science fiction story. The video is kind of hilarious, especially the “date” example, where the guy asks Fiona to turn on some jazz music and dim the lights. Honestly, I’m a bit skeptical that the product works anywhere near as good as the video shows, and it seems like it may be a lot to shell out when it’s not clear how well it will really work. Also, they show two different versions of the device and it’s not clear which one they’re actually selling. This seems like it could be cool if it worked, but there are a lot of open questions. The company seems to be focused on natural language techniques, but we’ve seen lots of fanfare around those sorts of things turn out to be less than promised when they hit the market (*cough* Siri *cough*).
    Another fairly ambitious goal, seeking $100,000. They’re around 15% with 35 days to go which probably puts it as a borderline project, probably likely to just make it over the finish line, but not much more.
  • And, finally, we’ve got a somewhat similar project, called ivee. Frankly, after watching the Fiona video, the ivee product doesn’t look nearly as nice. It appears to be slower, have less functionality, and the text-to-speech and voice recognition don’t appear as nice. However, that said, the ivee looks a hell of a lot more like a real product that I’m more confident would ship. The company behind it has been selling voice-activated alarm clocks for years, so it has some experience in the space as well. It doesn’t seem totally futuristic like Fiona, but feels more like a stepping stone to that future.
    The ivee blew past its goal of $40,000 in just a few days, and there are still about four weeks left, so this one will be way overfunded by the time the campaign closes.

Who knows how well any of these products really work just yet, but it’s nice to see so many companies trying to tackle these sorts of offerings that were always somewhere off in the distant future when I was growing up. It means that sooner or later someone’s going to get these kinds of things right.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: The Future Is Finally Coming To Home Automation”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I see the possibilities here.
For me those things are useful to create little green houses around the home, by just controlling, water, humidity, temperature and lightning one can create a closet food producing area, further, I was thinking about toilets, yep not the normal ones the compost ones and how they could morph into waste processing facilities to extract substances which needs some controls to keep bacteria happy to transform waste into compost, metals, chemical compounds and fuel sources, yes you can burn waste to generate energy for your own home, talking about bacteria, it reminds me of yeast, with those devices it becomes easier to build home destilling facilities, why would you want to build such a thing, well, they are awesome once you see what they can do, once you start you will look at plants in a different light, you start seeing them as producers of compounds than just something pretty sitting there, you can extract fragancies, medicine and a lot of useful organic chemicals.

Your home start becoming a living organism in a sense, your home become a producer of things and that should excite people.

For example, I was messing around with hydroponics and aquaculture. then I found out about the Kratky’s method which is a non circulating hydroponics method for growing lettuce, and for hydroponic solution using compost tea(i.e. you throw water on top of your compost and collect what comes down which leached all the nutrients). You can do it anywhere where you get light and lettuce like cold weather those things could be controlled to achieve optimal conditions(I was thinking winter time here, all that snow and short days).

Also how about an automated can recycler?
You just throw the aluminium cans there and it has a balance, when it is over a certain weight it starts the induction furnace and when it senses that is all melted it opens a little door on the underside letting the molten metl go into a clay mold made by the lost wax casting method.

Well after all of that I think what I am trying to say is that the market for this stuff is in helping folks create a home that will help them instead of being just cool and all, it needs to be functional, it needs to address a need.

I and others have a need to control environments to process raw materials(i.e trash) into something useful that I can use repeatedly.

lfroen (profile) says:

This isn't going anywhere

Benki: almost nothing “right”. Socket with camera? WTF is this for? Why do I need temperature sensor in every room? And where is control for all this stuff anyway

WigWag: yet-another-PIC-with-sensor. Already exists in form countless arduino/raspberry “projects”. “IF-THEN” is pure idiocy – programming doesn’t work this way. Hint: what to do when rules are contradict themselves? Issue compiler error and turn everything off?

Voice-controlled stuff is vaporware. Save for IBM’s Watson machine no computer understand commands good enough. Also, people prefer not to shout commands to power switch – just press the damn thing.

In short: usual techdirt incompetency in technical side of the world. Next time write about “X sue Y”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This isn't going anywhere

Why would you want temperature sensors in every room?
Well, you can start by being able to tell if the expensive insulation you just bought and paid for actually works, you can remotely tell if anybody is in the room since it increases the temperature a bit if sensitive enough, you could control the temperature from the internet making sure when you comeback you don’t find your pets and plants dead, by taking measurements daily you can get an average temperature history of the home, good be good for sales people, but also to plan ahead and see which rooms get really hot or cold.

Sensors allow you to do some interesting things.

But of course you can just take the word of the guy who build your home or is installing the insulation saying that his product is the best in the world, they are all honest and would never lie to you I am sure, trust me, I promise.

Paul L (profile) says:

It's already here!

Affordable FULL home automation systems are already here.

Z-wave native master controller with available bridges to talk to X10, Zigbee and Insteon devices if you can’t find what you want in a Z-wave flavor.

I’m still running the older Vera2, but the Vera3 is out now and is cheaper than when I purchased my Vera2! I will say; it’s a bit annoying seeing individual stand-alone products billed as “home automation”. Sure, you can buy a thermostat that can directly be controlled with your phone, and individual LED lights that use a different app to control, but those are all just individual automated devices vs. a fully integrated system.

When I get home from work, my system detects me pulling in the driveway and unlocks the doors. Based on light sensors inside the house; it turns on accent lighting to make sure I can see my way in. It then auto adjusts the termostats based on the areas of the house it detects as occupied. Additionally; phantom power use is all but eliminated by physically cutting the power at the outlets to those devices that don’t need power if no one is home.

At the end of the day, a $1200 investment in the Vera2 system along with a bunch of modules to control everything I needed paid for itself in 11 months in terms of energy savings.

I’m certainly going to take a look at the new projects on Kickstarter to see what they offer; but on the whole I’ve been largely disappointed with some of the new “home automation” offerings.

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Matt (user link) says:


That’s the thing about home automation – it’s not expensive anymore. The price is coming down and everyone can now implement some sort of automation into their homes. It may not be an automated security system yet, but they can have a more automated kitchen, automated cabinets and more.

We’ll likely see the price for this stuff drop even more, and real estate developers will start putting this stuff in houses at the time of building.

Olivia Mak says:

Thanks for the highlight on home automation. Personally, I am excited to try the new gadgets. My husband and I recently purchased an older home but updated it so that we could automate our basic home functions. It was a bit tough as the air conditioning unit was older. My contractor had to?reorder the Carrier HVAC parts for my home to update the functionality. I agree home automation is the future, and I hope to see more interesting products featured in your upcoming articles!

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