Smart Home

FlipFlic won’t leave you blinded by the light

It can be a major drag to face interruptions every time the window blinds need to be adjusted due to glare.

FlipFlic is a solar-powered, energy-saving device that adjusts window blinds based on sunlight, temperature or any schedule that is set via the accompanying app. An iOS app is already available and an Android version will follow soon. The automation device is easy to install. With one click, FlipFlic, which is about the size of a roll of quarters, attaches to window blinds magnetically.

Smart Home

JUCEBOX juices up the disconnected IoT experience

When couples have issues communicating, they go to a relationship counselor. When all the Internet of Things products in a home require 17 different apps to operate because they don’t communicate with each other, who do they go to?

If creator Urlich Frerk has his way, they will go to JUCEBOX, a universal device communicator capable of translating between the four main communication langagues used to code the IoT products. This allows those invested in the increasingly fragmented IoT ecosystem to take comfort knowing anything they have bought or will buy are all usable together with JUCEBOX, future-proofing homes for the foreseeable future.

Smart Home Technology

Habitat smart home protects, smoke detects, and opens your garage door

Home automation is enticing because it provides the ability to turn your electronic devices on and off from anywhere. But it needs to be easy to use and secure, and the Ottawa, Canada-based newcomer Habitat’s new automation system of the same name is both those things.

Like similar automation systems, including Linkio, Habitat is made up of several devices that can be connected to existing electronic devices in the home to control them. First is Habitat Hub, a mostly white desktop unit that takes up little room and serves as the brains of the system.

One key component separating Habitat from some other rival systems is that it includes a device, Habitat Park, specifically designed to automate garage door functionality. The third device is Habitat Protect, which integrates existing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors into the Habitat automation system, and informs users if there is an alarm or the battery in one of the detectors needs to be replaced.  It magnetically installs on a wall within range of a detector, and can easily be set up using the Habitat App on an iOS or Android smartphone.

The fourth device, Habitat Learn, comes with temperature, audio, motion and light sensors, and can monitor and react to events in the home, such as notifying the user when the refrigerator door is left open. Kickstarter pledges that include at least one of the devices start at $29, which includes one Protect. But there’s a catch: Pledgers must also back a pledge level that includes the Hub. For $89, pledgers can get one Protect and a Hub, and for $99, pledgers can get one Learn and a Hub. Shipment is expected in June and the company is looking to raise $80,000.

Habitat’s magnetic-locking system is appealing, and the Park device may be attractive to many consumers who own a garage door. But the $100 starting price tag is pretty similar to rival systems and the product will likely only find mass-market success if it can obtain major retail distribution. A lower entry-level price for each unit would help.

Smart Home Technology

Linkio offers affordable home automation solution

Mobile home automation systems offer the undeniably appealing ability to turn off your appliances and other electronic devices when you forgot to shut them before leaving the house from anywhere. French newcomer Linkio is yet the latest company to enter the growing category with an affordable and simple solution.

The company isn’t shy about celebrating native language with the system’s components. The main component of the white Linkio system is “Le Hub,” a central control unit resembling a router that communicates with the rest of the Linkio system and wirelessly links the user’s mobile phone to their electronics in conjunction with “Le Remote,” a remote infrared controller that looks somewhat like a typical smoke detector. A separate “Le Plug” connector allows any electronic device that it’s plugged into to be turned on or off via a free mobile app. Also part of the system is “Le Switch,” a component designed to replace mechanical wall switches that enables lights and ceiling fans to be controlled manually and through the app. The targeted price of a full Linkio system package is €99 (~$123), and it includes one each of the Linkio components.

Linkio’s system is targeted at consumers who aren’t interested in buying an entire smart home ecosystem, but instead want the ability to control just a few of their electronic devices from outside the home. Linkio will also sell plugs individually at €19 (~$24) each. The company’s Kickstarter goal is to raise €50,000 (~$60,000), in order to mass produce the finalized versions of the Linkio components. Linkio expects electrical design optimization to be finished in January and for the finalized product to follow in October.

There’s been similar home automation system concepts before. The Webee smart home system is just one of many competing products to seek crowdfunding. Belkin’s WeMo Switch, meanwhile, is a competing product that’s already widely available. An advantage that Linkio has over some of its rivals is that it’s an independent system that requires no server dependency. Also, unlike at least some rival devices, Linkio supports Windows Phone in addition to the more ubiquitous iOS and Android. But the home automation category is just too crowded to expect Linkio will become a major mass-market consumer product.


Smart Home

EZ Wand has the magic touch to motorize blinds

One part of the home that has unceremoniously been ignored by smart home fever is the window blind. As such, automating them is an involved process that usually costs home owners lots of time and money to properly do. The EZ Wand makes the entire process as simple as replacing the wand on horizontal or vertical window blinds. When that’s done, the supplied remote control can control up to eight different wands either individually or in groups, making what used to be an annoyance as easy as a button press.

With the EZ Wand as easy to install as it is, it makes for a low-cost no-brainer for most home owners who are looking for this sort of thing. The 4 AAA required powers the wand for nine months while the remote for two years at a distance of up to 45 feet away, a fact that would make it pretty versatile were it not for its lack of color options. Unfortunately, the EZ Wand is limited in what kind of blinds it can control and doesn’t feature smartphone interaction. Other types of blinds can be outfitted with the ShutterEaze or Tilt My Blinds instead. In any case, $59 gets backers one wand and a remote, with an estimated delivery date of December 2014. The company behind the campaign is looking for $35,000 to make this product a reality.

Smart Home

Aquanta smart water heater controller quantifies savings

Many Americans are quick to turn off the lights or the air conditioner in an effort to save money on energy bills, but not many think about their water heaters as a culprit. As the second leading consumer of energy in most homes, the water tank is oddly left out of advice found on morning news segments and in articles. With the rising trend in home automation pretty much everywhere, Sunnovations has taken the water heater to task with Aquanta.

The Aquanta is a smart water heater controller that works over Wi-Fi and instantly raises the IQ of the water heater in most people’s basements. The product is able to learn the usage patterns of the tank in question and use the resulting information to automatically control its heating element to best use energy. The option for users to do it themselves is also available as well, an attractive route considering the level of information its companion app provides about every aspect of a home’s energy usage along with the suggestions it offers too. The app also alerts users to malfunctions and leaks to prevent them from getting out of hand. The $99 Aquanta will be on backer’s doorsteps by July 2015 provided Sunnovations meets their $75,000 goal.

The Aquanta is a very polished smart water heater controller when compared to another, more low-tech option in the Jul Bujh. However, its installation is somewhat involved and the product doesn’t work with older, mechanical models of water heaters that may be in the minority but are still owned by many. In that way, the Aquanta is a little too smart, but ultimately a solid option for those with whom this is a good fit.


Tiny Mono provides development platform potential

Sometimes, our smart devices are a little too smart for what we want to do and a little too rigid for the intrepid among us. This makes merely tinkering with the different platforms in our lives pretty much impossible. Innovations like Arduino boards and Raspberry Pis lets buffs realize their ideas, but they can easily get out of hand and end up with nothing but a jumble of wires.

The one difficult thing when it comes to creation is testing out the idea, but the Mono makes it easy to do just that. The tiny device comes equipped with a 2.2″ TFT touch display, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, and a temperature sensor. Mono is a gadget as much as it is a development platform. As such, it’s completely open source, so it can act as an interface for other, custom ideas, or act on its own. By downloading tailored apps from the MonoKiosk app store, Mono can act as a one-touch light for Phillips Hue connected bulbs, or can display weather forecasts, for example. A single, fully loaded Mono goes for kr710 (~$119), and is expected in May 2015. The campaign is looking for kr500,000 (~$83,300) in funding.

In and of themselves, the applications touted by the Mono seem fairly tame, but its potential is really in how makers end up utilizing it. An expansion connector on the device’s back allows for increased utility such as connected power, a 3.5mm carries multiple digital and analog signals, and an SD card slot really gets the mind going when it comes to how much programming and data a single 32GB card can hold. All this tech in the hands of the right person can result in comparable, more innovative products than those on the market now, all at a fraction of the cost.

Smart Home

Lock-Bot stores, releases keys for renters, AirBnB guests

Sites like HomeAway and AirBnB have facilitated the growing popularity of property rental, making it easier for owners to put their spaces up for rent and for travelers to have lots of choice pretty much anywhere they go. As progressive as these sites and the values they promote are, some aspects of the process aren’t and owners are always on the lookout for solutions to the many unique problems this new economy creates.

When you’re not in, the biggest hassle is safely getting keys to renters when you’re already gone. Think of the Lock-Bot as your own personal desk attendant for your property so you won’t have to worry again. The Wi-Fi connected lock box provides a secure place to for an owner to leave RFID-attached keys for incoming renters with mobile web access, and sends text messages alerts to both parties with check-in and check-out information. You can feel confident knowing that different codes can be set for different users so that no two codes will be alike. The company advises to mount the Lock-Bot onto a wall and its hardened aluminum construction will make sure it stays there all without you having to pay subscription fees. The device is powered by either AC or battery power, so that means users are out of luck if there’s a Wi-Fi or power outage.

The company does mention that they’re working on a four character manual switch, though, but it seems like that should’ve been baked into the original plans. The Lock-Bot comes in at $79 with an estimated delivery date of May 2015. The campaign is aiming for a goal of $100,000.

Cell Phone Accessories Smart Home

Rico reuses your older smartphone into a smart home station

Keeping current with the latest smartphones is a battle with many casualties, namely all the old phones that just wind up in a closet or a drawer collecting dust. What if there was still a way to put their processors to use?

Rico is a cute little smart home sensor package that can function basically on its own to do motion detection, smoke monitoring, and controlling devices connected to smart outlets. What makes Rico unique however is that it also serves as a housing for smartphones, that combines the strengths of smartphone hardware with home automation sensors. As a result, this opens up the possibility of having an HD security camera with microphone and speaker connected via 3G and Wifi.

In doing so, Rico pushes two important realities of the modern age: finding a use for devices that are too often simply discarded or forgotten and helping consumers more easily enter the era of the smart home. Rico developers MindHelix, Inc. are trying to raise $100,000 to finish design, testing, and production phases on the project. Interested supporters can grab a Rico for $99, with an estimated delivery in November 2015.

While the individual feature set of the Rico may not be anything groundbreaking, the method that it goes about accomplishing home automation is very clever. It would be nice to see the addition of a smartphone provide more than just audio/video functions and network access, but ideally this will help some consumers save money on home automation.

Sensors/IoT Smart Home

pēq promises home automation and security from behind closed doors

The Premise. The smart home comes with a wealth of benefits in terms of automation, convenience and control. Maybe one of the more overlooked benefits of a connected home network is the ability for appliances and items to act as a watch dog for the home, reporting any unusual behavior to owners in a timely fashion so that the security of the home is never breached.

The Product. The latest entrant into the field of home automation, pēq, promises the combination of control and security that a smart home should provide. With a starter kit hub that comes with window and door sensors to detect any entrance into the home and report it to a smartphone, tablet or computer, pēq relies on connected objects to create and interact with data in real-time. With a connected camera, motion sensing can take pictures of any guests, whether wanted or unwanted.  This same connectivity can be applied to lights, thermostats, even water fixtures.

The Pitch. The promotional video for pēq offers up a bright, whimsical 8-bit retro game motif while explaining the numerous benefits of having one in the home. Unfortunately, this is counter-balanced by the website offering almost no information at all beyond what the video presents and pre-ordering information. In order to even pre-order, one has to enter their full name and email address to gain entry to the device’s Early Access program.

The Perks. Those who pre-order can get a pēq Starter Kit with two sensors for just $49.99, or for some extra security, those who pay the full retail $149 price tag will receive a free camera to connect to their pēq. The pēq service will then have a monthly fee of $9.99 to have maximum functionality.

The Potential. It goes without saying that there have been numerous similar devices put out on the market before, even those that blend automation with security like pēq promises to do. That being said, it really merits more information from the creators to differentiate their product from its competitors. The price tag is high enough that it’s hard to make an impulse purchase on, let alone subscribe to a monthly fee to continue using. Based on the quality of its presentation, it’s easy to feel inclined to give pēq the benefit of the doubt, but for a pre-order crowdfunding campaign there has to be an established level of trust between buyer and seller. With pēq there just isn’t enough public information yet available to inspire confidence in backing it.