Smart Home

SherloQ keeps an eye on homes from any mobile device

The Premise. Home security and smart home features go hand in hand. Being able to control aspects of a home from a distance using a smartphone is something dozens of companies are trying to make a reality for users, but can that be upgraded to include live security features from anywhere?

The Product. Offering cloud-based, around the clock surveillance and home lighting control, the SherloQ system is designed for any house or business. The standalone camera can be mounted anywhere and accessed using any iOS or Android device to view and record live video from a distance. Additionally, the SherloQ system can be used to control lighting or other electrical appliances connected to its power strip.

The Pitch. The SherloQ campaign feels a bit rushed, or at the very least, carelessly translated. The reward tiers overlap a bit but can be unclear exactly what they provide, and the video and photos contain some stock shoddy clip art-level production values. The official product website is much easier to use and comprehend, and is recommended for those that are interested in learning about the SherloQ. Photar AG, the company behind SherloQ, needs $100,000 to make a larger initial production as the company expands to the United States.

The Perks. For $99, backers can get a stand-alone SherloQ camera with wide angle lens, motion detector, microphone, siren, and more, in August 2014. Other add-ons are available including a wi-fi doorbell and night vision capabilities for those concerned with uninvited late night visitors.

The Potential. SherloQ is a good idea, but not an innovative one. The live streaming video aspect of smart home apps is being explored by nearly every company pushing the technology, and so the system feels like another competitor rather than a game-changer. It’s certainly something that many homeowners would like to have, but those with the money to spare will probably opt for more all-inclusive systems. The only for-sure must-have feature here is the ability to record surveillance video, which could be helpful with insurance companies or in court.

Lighting Smart Home

The Back-Off: Reinventing the light switch

Welcome to The Back-Off, where Backerjack contributors weigh in on two or more products being crowdfunded concurrently.

What. Smart lighting is becoming a regular craze in the smart home community. What is already out on the market doesn’t always do the job right, and so those who want to simplify their home through technology have a couple new options to consider. Both Bluegic and iOn have a new take on changing the most basic electric necessity of any home.

Why. Bluegic’s solution to home lighting is similar to some other crowdfunding projects, using Bluetooth as a way to control lighting even while away from home, using a mobile device to set timers as well as turn on and off lights. The inclusion of a push-button light switch alternative is also a unique personal touch of the Bluegic system. iOn on the other hand is more like traditional light-switches in the sense that one has to be in proximity to the switch itself to control it, but is anything but traditional beyond that. Using a capacitive field, iOn panels can be installed behind art, behind walls, and can be completely out of sight. Users then make a motion within that field, or place a capacitive item in the field that can be touched to turn lights on or off. Bluegic switches range from $54 to $69 depending on how many buttons are on the switch, iOn switches start at $40 a piece.

When. Both projects were launched on March 25th and have the same funding goal of $100,000, but Bluegic’s campaign is running 45 days instead of iOn’s 30. Bluegic also plans to ship in June, while iOn switches won’t reach backers until August.

Winner. In terms of what they offer, the Bluegic system is more flexible, but other options are out there that do the same thing. iOn is a much more refreshing take on the modernization of home lighting, and while it certainly could have its faults in terms of accidentally tripping the lights, would be more cost effective to put into a home and not require any other devices. iOn gets the edge here for its innovation and cost.

Smart Home

AngelBlocks reduces cost and complexity of the smart home

editors-choiceThe Premise. Home automation, until this point, has focused primarily on controlling basic devices such as switches and outlets. There’s plenty of other devices that, if connected to the Internet of things, would improve day to day life. Connected smart homes makes life more efficient, so it’s time that to raise the IQ of more appliances in the home.

The Product. AngelBlocks is looking to make the smart home go beyond typical light and appliance control. There’s a range of 13 different sensors that notify, monitor and control different aspects of the house to make life more comfortable. These range from temperature and humidity sensors, to motion sensors, to moisture sensors for plants, and even automated locks. These are the building blocks that learn from your everyday lifestyle and adapt to make your life easier. They have an incredible range of 1,000 feet indoors and two miles outdoors, which a staggering battery life of five years. AngelBlocks are now compatible with the Zigbee and Z-Wave low-power wireless protocols, which should open the door to even more functionality. It’s also compatible with the Ninja Sphere by the makers of AngelBlocks’ crowdfunded predecessor, Ninja Blocks.

The Pitch. More intelligence is beginning to make their way into more homes as smart devices proliferate. Still, the limit of the intelligence of a house is limited by what the user is aware of. In AngelBlocks’ video, creator Steve Montgomery narrates different sketches and examples of AngelBlocks in real-life situations to really begin to expand horizons of human imagination in regard to Smart Homes. If you still have questions about the way a Smart Home can benefit your everyday life, the AngelBlocks does a very good job of explaining just that.

The Perks. The starter kit is really everything you need to get started, all for just $149. In that early bird package, which is expected to be delivered in August 2014, includes an AngelGate, AngelTag, one OutletBlock, and two RCOutlets. These devices have many different applications around the house, and there are some interesting ideas listed out on AngelBlocks’ Kickstarter page that are worth checking out. There are different sensors that can be added on, and those prices are listed as well, but if you want one of each, the price tag is $699.

The Potential. AngelBlocks takes a naming and some broader functionality cues from Kickstarter alum Ninja Blocks (which has also returned to the crowdfunding site again with the intriguing Arduino-based MicroView). However, AngelBlocks’ approach is far more refined. While not necessarily enough to help  home automation break through to the masses, it represents a well-executed approach that succeeds in its goal of raising the overall IQ of a household that support many inviting applications.

Smart Home

Kumostat controls temperature, saves money and energy

The Premise. Traditional thermostat controls are incapable of adjusting to the constant fluctuations in temperature throughout the house. There have been a few temperature sensors that make the heating and air conditioning more responsive to the environment, but most of them are incapable of gaging the different temperatures throughout the house.

The Product. The Kumostat is joining the market of Internet-connected thermostats, but expanding the range of possibilities. By connecting with cloud-connected “Kumo Sensors” and existing Wireless Sensor Tags, the Kumostat gives a more accurate and precise reading of the environment in all the different parts of the house. You can customize the setting of the heat and air conditioning to reduce your energy bill while also guaranteeing a comfo-rtable temperature whenever you’re in the house. For example, the Kumo Sensors can automatically turn off the air conditioning when three or more windows are open. All of this can be done through the seamless interface of the iOS or Android smartphone app.

The Pitch. The video starts off in a Kumostat utopia (Kumopia?) where all the walls an windows are equipped with Kumo sensors. It explains how the sensors sense motion, and automatically adjust the temperature to benefit the room with the most activity for optimum efficiency. It switches to graphics of the smartphone controls that allow for the customization of your environment; the seems like a simple app for anyone to use, yet complex in the ways it can be personalized. Lastly, the Kumostat video makes a pitch to businesses by highlighting the fact that the Kumostat can work in large buildings—and reap large energy saving benefits.

The Perks. There are many different combinations of sensors that best fit your needs. If you already own Wireless Sensor Tags, the Kumostat itself only costs $36 and is compatible with Ethernet Tag Manager revision 5 or higher. If you don’t know what any of that means, it probably means you’re building your connected thermostat from scratch. The best option for you then is the $136 pledge category that includes a Kumostat, a Reed Kumo Sensor (door/window, temperature, humidity), a PIR Kumo Sensor (infra-red occupancy, temperature, and humidity), and one Wireless Sensor Tag Hub. That should be more than enough to get you started, and you can expand your collection of sensors if you enjoy the benefits of the connected thermostat.

The Potential. The Nest brought connected thermostats into the mainstream of the public eye, and now others are looking to join the market. These thermostats are going to start appearing in more and more homes as more people realize how much money and energy they save. Kumostat adds an interesting twist by factoring in the possibility of there being different temperatures in the house. It doesn’t have the same aesthetic appeal as the Nest, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be able to succeed in the market of people with larger homes and a desire for more control over their home environment.

Smart Home

Cosy is another smart thermostat that plans to leave the Nest… behind

The Premise. In the extremes of seasonal weather, coming home can be less about relaxing and more about suffering in the elements while waiting for the thermostat to kick in. One UK company believes that a home should be welcoming to its occupants the moment they walk in the door, without the presence of insanely high power bills.

The Product.  Not to be confused with another heating-themed project with a similar nameCosy is a home heating system designed to make all the arrangements that make a house a home. Using Legato protocol, each portion of the Cosy system communicates wirelessly using an 868MHz radio frequency and is upgradeable, allowing the inventors to add more components and more connectedness over time. Using the app on phones or tablets, Cosy can get the home to the perfect temperature at any time in advance, and cut back on heating costs when there’s nobody inside.

The Pitch. Green Energy Options, or GEO, has a short, sweet video that goes through all four of the compact parts of a Cosy system – the hub, the display, the switch, and the app. Each of these components is explained and illustrated in greater detail in the campaign explanation, showing how all of these devices work in tandem. The home heating system is ready for market, but GEO is raising £20,000 for WelcomeHome, an add-on using custom Smart Plugs that can be used with lamps or other electric devices so that they can be on and ready when residents arrive at their homes.

The Perks. As of right now, Cosy systems are only available to backers in the UK, and a pledge of £150 will give backers the system, the app, and 1 Smart Plug, available next month.

The Potential. Cosy knows they’re not the first ones to market with a smart thermostat. Aside from existing units like Nest and its competitors, there are other connected thermostats taking the crowdfunding approach. What Cosy expects to be able to do better than all the others is offer a complete-home heating system, covering everything from individual preferences to hot water, and even including a frost-protection system to eliminate the possibility of freezing pipes. The price is right for something like this; Cosy would indeed by s smarter thermostat.

Smart Home

Jalousier lets sun shine in on home automation with blinds control

The Premise. Blinds and curtains can often be difficult to maneuver and operate, and they always have to be readjusted for different lighting environments. Even expensive electric blinds still have to be operated by button or a remote control. Wouldn’t it be great is the blinds could just adjust automatically?

The Product. The Jalousier, named for the French word for blinds, looks to overcome the everyday obstacles normal blinds pose. The device is able to monitor different stimuli such as lighting conditions, room temperature, sun position, and weather. Using these variables, the Jalousier adjusts the blinds to optimize natural daylight, provide privacy, and lower artificial lighting, cooling, and heating by up to 18%. The built-in wifi makes it accessible through your smartphone, and integrable with your smart home community.

The Pitch. The Bulgarian team offers a pretty self-explanatory device, and the video shows just how simple it is to use. The project creators explain the difficulties of wrestling with blinds and always having to readjust them, and then they show how the Jalousier factors in different variables to adjust to the ideal angle. The design of the product makes it easy to install and take off with minimal effort, and the video shows just how easy that is.

The Perks. If you want to try it out at the early bird price, one Jalousier will cost $99. If you want to expand to more blinds throughout your house, the price doesn’t get lower as you purchase more—it’s a flat rate of an additional $100 for each additional device. Currently, Jalousier expects to deliver its device by October 2014.

The Potential. The Jalousier has a minimalist design that packs some interesting features that change the way we control our blinds. Electric blinds can often be too pricey, so the Jalousier is a more economic solution that also puts more control in your hands through their free app. Control of one’s blinds isn’t at the top of the home automation wish list, but after the precedent set by products such as Nest thermostat and Hue light bulbs, it seems as though another home automation task is about to be democratized.

Smart Home

EmoSPARK melds AI, cloud intelligence in a small cube

The Premise. The movie Her raises many questions about artificial intelligence (AI) in relation to human interaction. As technology grows smarter, a more capable AI becomes almost inevitable as humans continue to grow closer and closer to creating a computer program that can think and interact like a human.

The Product. The EmoSPARK is one of the first products that claims the capability to read human emotions and learn from its environment in order to improve its interactions with people. It allows people to interact with it via conversation, music and visual media through an Android-powered program that uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. By reacting to human emotions and interaction, the EmoSPARK can enhance the stimuli it receives to boost that emotion and make interaction seem natural—as if with another human being. It has access to over 39 million topics and can be paired with smart devices to make integration that much easier.

The Pitch. While maybe not as advanced and alluring as Scarlett Johansson’s voice in “Her,” the video shows that the EmoSPARK can read and understand human emotions—and subsequently translate that into a response that constitutes normal interaction. It can be used by people of all ages, and it can even be used as an Internet learning tool with its wide access to information on the web. The creators have held out two stretch goals at $200,000 for home automation and a Windows Phone app and $300,000 for compatibility with crowdfunding alumni Webee and Ninja Sphere.

The Perks. The EmoSPARK cube costs $224 for early adopters, and it will be delivered by May 2014. For an extra $50, the IP camera that gives it eyes and ears at home is worth getting as well if you’re investing in the cube. If you’re willing to drop a cool $9,000, you can claim a day with CEO in EmoSPARK’s London office as well as a cube signed by the whole team.

The Potential. The idea screams potential, but unfortunately, the product doesn’t. The EmoSPARK definitely takes steps toward being a more capable AI unit capable of human interaction, but the it still hasn’t reached the natural cadence of human interaction. EmoSPARK bills itself as the firat AI home console but it’s certainly not the first cloud-based device sitting waiting for your ambient commands. The Ubi recently began shipping to backers since being funded on Kickstarter in 2012. Nonetheless, the EmoSPARK may be a stepping stone worth taking a look at as we continue to strive toward that goal.

Smart Home

Webee seeks to boss around home controls

The Premise. Technology is meant to seamlessly intertwine with our lives to make every day living more efficient and productive. But with so many devices, it can be hard to keep track and manage every single one. So imagine if you could control every appliance in your house, from a simple app on your phone.

The Product.  Not to be confused with the identically named children’s educational computing system that mounted an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign in 2012, the Webee is a smart home system that connects and controls your devices though an app on your phone. While there are other such systems on the market, the Webee claims that it is unique in that it learns from your patterns and makes suggestions based on your style of living. (However, the Kickstarter-hosted Ninja Sphere  makes a similar promise.)

Webee promises to upgrade your lifestyle and save a ton of money by reducing your energy bill. Simply plug in the small “Boss” box and install the app to start controlling your smart appliances vs. modules known as Bees, and turn your regular appliances into smart appliances with a smart Plug that automatically pairs with the Webee.

The Pitch. In seeking  $50,000, Webee’s campaign page why people would want a smart home. The video shows just how easy it can be to manage all of your appliances to maximize their efficiency. The system’s designers show how the user interface can make suggestions based on your patterns in order to save money and live in a smarter universe.

The Perks. For $299, one can claim the Early Webee Lifestyle package to get started on your Smart home. That package includes a smart hub (Boss),and a host of  things to control (Bees) including a smart plug, a smart lamp holder, a door closing/opening sensor, a Smart Station, and a Smart Host. If you want to test out the system to see if a smart home is for you, you can get a smart hub and smart plug for only $129.

The Potential. There are other smart home devices on the market such as the Revolv. All promise to reduce the cost and complexity of automation dramatically, but it’s really anyone’s race right now until the use case is better proven out.

Connected Objects Sensors/IoT

A little Birdi whispers life-saving things to your smartphone

The Premise. Everyone has those annoying fire alarms in their home, but many people let their batteries die or unplug them because they continue to beep for no reason. Because their notifications are so annoying, many folks aren’t too diligent about checking their battery levels. Or aren’t too disappointed when they get too low. Plus, even when they’re working, most budget smoke alarms can’t do much to save your home when you’re away.

The Product. The Birdi is a connected multi-use home alarm set to compete directly with the Nest Protect. It connects via WiFi to alert you of smoke, carbon monoxide, and 10 other variables such as humidity and air quality. It sends the user alerts when there are elevated levels of smoke or carbon monoxide, but if it detects sufficient levels of these dangerous elements in the air, it will dial out the fire department. Birdi can even notify you via smartphone when its batteries are low and automatically order replacements (although the standard AAs wouldn’t be too difficult to find at any nearby store.)

The Pitch. The inventors of the Birdi make their case well for a smarter alarm in a two-minute campaign video that features lots of shots of the product and families. They also note that they’re working with PCH International’s Highway1, an accelerator that helps take projects from prototypes to projects and may help increase their chance of success.

The Perks. After selling out the $89 early bird, the Birdi is now offering a $99 Indiegogo special for its flexible funding campaign. Units are due to be delivered in October 2014.

The Potential. The humble smoke alarm is one of the many things around the home that companies are looking to turn into connected products. Obviously, everybody needs one. And many can probably justify even a significant premium for a device that can not only automatically contact the fire department when you’re not home, but do so with no subscription fee. There’s cause to be more skeptical about Birdi’s interesting neighbor-notify feature, though, since that would likely require a very large installed base.

Connected Objects Sensors/IoT Smart Home

Ninja Sphere keeps digital tabs on things roaming around your home

The Premise. Everyone loves the promise of a smart home that can alert us to — and ideally control — things around your home. But many of these products are expensive or complicated. Other systems require apps for different manufacturers.

The Product. Ninja Sphere is a second generation home sensor and automation platform from the Australian team who raised over $100,000 bringing you Ninja Blocks. And, boy, have they upped their industrial design game. The curved, underlit Spheramid is the heart of the system that also includes roaming waypoints and smart plugs. Ninja Sphere integrates Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee radios and takes advantage of gestures and triangulation to pinpoint where things are in your home in addition to the usual sensors.

The Pitch. The campaign, while someone jargon-heavy is beautifully done. It showcases many of the features of the Ninja Sphere. Most users will be too captivated by what’s happening on screen to listen to the narrators discuss technical details. Examples of the functionality include a pop-up on the television screen that alerts the user to an incoming call and tells her what room the phone is in. While a proof of concept, you can also turn the lights on and off with the push of a button on the “smart watch.”

The Perks. This product is obviously pushing the limits of technological advances, and the ability to control your home are growing exponentially. A system of devices, Ninja Sphere started at the sold-out $199 AUD level. However, the company also offers a $549 AUD level to address a two-level home. Other configurations are aimed at apartments, but it doesn’t seem feasible that many people living in apartments would have the need for something like Ninja Sphere. Products are expected to be delivered in June 2014.

The Potential. With some similarities to the multi-radio Revolv home automation system, Ninja Sphere is definitely a bleeding-edge product designed to keep track of multiple things going on in your home. The success of these products will depend on how many things worth controlling enter the market and how many consumers adopt them.