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.