Hands full with her toddler and a bag of groceries, one busy San Francisco mother is relieved she doesn’t have to use her hands to turn on the lights or the home alarm system. She simply gestures at a lamp and the keypad with her Bluetooth-enabled bracelet called Reemo. Putting the groceries down, she still has a squirmy toddler in one arm but manages to turn up the thermostat to warm the house and turn the TV on to her daughter’s favorite cartoon – with a wave of her free hand.
Reemo is a wristband being developed by Playtabase, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based company, that is due out in the market in the second quarter of 2015. It’s one of an array of devices in the pipelines by startups all over the world clamoring to come up with the next “must have” smart home product.
When Google Inc. bought smart thermostat maker Nest Labs for an impressive $3.2 billion and video monitoring service DropCam for $555 million earlier this year, investors and consumers alike started taking the smart home space a lot more seriously.
To many observers the smart home market is still in its infancy, which spells great opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“I think we’re at the beginning of the wave for the smart home and connected life service,” said Maribel Lopez, founder of San Francisco-based Lopez Research. “However, it’s not easy nor is it clear to see who the winners are. A company can only be successful in the smart home space when they make something very simple to use and provide new value.”
An example of adding new value is not just making it easy to let your friends or housecleaner into your home without a key, she said, but also being able to control how long someone has access to the home and having the ability to easily revoke access.
The global smart, automated and energy efficient homes and buildings market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 29.5 percent from 2012 to 2020, according to a recent report by Allied Market Research. That growth will be fueled by a number of factors including the need and desire for energy conservation, rising energy costs, rising security and safety concerns and the fact that that the market “has achieved maturity assisted by the availability of various technologies to automate buildings.”
CONNECTING THE CONNECTED HOME
To Lopez, it’s not yet easy or clear to see who the winners in the space are.
“Start-ups begin with a simple idea but then the homeowner is forced to figure out how to get 10 startups to work with each other so they can have an automated home,” she said.
That challenge is one San Francisco-based Sentri Inc. is trying address in the development stages of its product by the same name, a self-described do-it-yourself solution that monitors temperature, air quality and humidity in a home. Sentri co-founder Wendy Qi said the developers’ aim is to make the solution as simple as possible. It’s a plug and play that is connected to a Wi-Fi network, so doesn’t require complicated setup. Information is presented on the device’s screen and also conveyed to the Sentri mobile app. Users get notifications about home temperature fluctuations that could mean energy efficiency issues or a potential fire (particularly important for vacation home, for example). They might also get a notification about a door being unlocked for a certain amount of time or about an unexpected noise that could indicate an intruder.
Sentri is relatively small (about 9.4 x 9.4 x 1.5 in) and features an HD video camera with night vision capability, a microphone, a speaker, a motion detector as well as an accelerometer and sensors for temperature, air quality, light and humidity. It can be pre-ordered on the company’s Website for $299, and will be out on the market in mid-2015.
“We’re working on building into the device the ability to say, connect to the Nest thermostat or to a smart light so that a user just needs one app for access, instead of five different apps,” Qi said. “And it makes other smart products smarter too. For example, Nest doesn’t have weather integration and doesn’t take into account how hot or cold it is outside. So Sentri can help calibrate that information. Also, since you don’t have to hardwire into a wall, it’s easy to just take with you when you move. It also will remember settings so a user doesn’t have to start over again.” Sentri raised $390,000 in 30 days through crowd funding.
Playtabase, the startup behind Reemo, was founded in 2012 by three men out of the University of Minnesota. The father of a member of the trio had suffered from a series of strokes. His son wanted to find a way to give him more control in his everyday life. While the group initially targeted the senior market in developing Reemo, they’ve since expanded their target market to the “modern family,” according to John Valiton, Playtabase’s chief business development officer. The ten-person company has partnered with major telecommunication firms such as Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications & AT&T to sell their product through channel programs. The bracelet and three receivers will cost $200 and, Volitin said, will be able to connect to other home automation platforms.
Lopez believes that the smart home startups that will be successful are those that focus on solving a real problem.
“Some things don’t make as much sense – for example, an egg tray and the smart refrigerator. It’s too hard and expensive to make a refrigerator smart,” she said. “It also may be great to know I need eggs but it isn’t worth spending $70 on it. It just doesn’t have enough data to impact my shopping list.”