What if your house just ran itself? Every morning you could wake up to a fresh pot of coffee, a slice of warm toast and a heated kitchen that maintains just the right temperature for a chilly morning. Plus, when you leave your house for work, your door locks behind you automatically, your home's temperature control adjusts for an empty house and a special sensor kicks in to make sure your dog doesn't get into the garbage while you're away.
The smart home is a staple of sci-fi tropes, but it's not as far off as you may think. In fact, we can see systems in place as early as next month from a platform that is taking the tech world by storm. SmartThings is a platform to make everyday objects respond to digital cues, and it's poised to mainstream (and expedite) the smart home system.
"Whether it's just the entry ways of your home to really advanced of basic hardware technology," says Andrew Brooks, co-founder of SmartThings, "We're see our system resonating deeply with these use cases."
Mashable spoke with Brooks and SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson about the how SmartThings is breaking the mold -- and becoming one of the most successful hardware companies of the year.
The History of SmartThings
The ambitious endeavor of the SmartThings team began with an obsession of what Hawkinson and Brooks refer to as the "physical graph." Just as a knowledge graph pools together information in a seamless way and a social graph shares activities with friends in an easy and frictionless experience, the physical graph is the concept that everyday objects can easily become linked to the Internet and perform their tasks via digital cues.
"Everyday objects in the world are becoming connected to the web," Hawkinson says. "In process, it's not only remotely monitored or controllable, but the real world becomes programmable with software and apps."
Armed with their lofty plan, SmartThings burst onto the scene in one of the biggest arenas for hardware startups: Kickstarter. To say that the concept of a platform to standardize this physical graph was a success is a bit of an understatement -- SmartThings went over their original $250,000 goal by more than five times, taking in more than $1.2 million. But it wasn't just geeks supporting their bold visions for the future.
"We had one of the highest percentages of first-time Kickstarter backers sponsoring a project of this size," Brooks says. "That's really indicative of the fact that the massive consumer space is really excited about having these technologies in their world."
With another $3 million raised through a successful funding round, including major players such as Lerer Ventures and CrunchFund, SmartThings is well on its way to meeting its late-year shipping goal for their first beta product: a set of programmable sensors and a hub that bridges the hardware to the Internet. It sounds like a heavy-duty concept, but Hawkinson insists that even the average person can make his home smart.
"The goal is to be at the center of creating a platform that makes it really easy for end users, developers and device makers to come together and form the physical graph," Hawkinson says.
How Things Get Smart
The SmartThings platform is about agnostic as it gets: It can be designed to communicate tasks to nearly everything in your home, whether it's smart to begin with or not.
"The great thing is that this platform can work for a door, and it can also work for a coffee maker or a dog collar," Hawkinson explains. "We wanted to make the app flexible enough for developers to work with but keep an ease of use for consumers."
But how can the platform do it all? The secret is in the software, rather than the hardware. The SmartThings system is based around a cache of apps that cater to specific needs. For example, the "My Stuff is Secure" app monitors a sensor on a cabinet or drawer that contains valuables -- and will send a message notifying the owner when it is opened. Alternatively, the "Buzz Barometer" will send a notification to a light that will brighten or dim when you get a new follower on your social network. The sensors can also work with both simple and complicated tasks.
"The reality is no device has to be aware of a concept of a schedule. The devices need to simply be told when to perform their action," Brooks says. "Once you get more complicated appliances, like your dishwasher, you can free these devices from their firmware because it's so much easier to write programs in the cloud."
And these programs are fostered in SmartThings' developer community, called Build. Hawkinson says SmartThings has made it a priority to develop an open working relationship with eager developers ready to make the appliances of the future.
"We're getting great reactions from the developer community -- they want to write applications that touch the physical world," Hawkinson says.
SmartThings of the Future
For now, the the SmartThings team is excited to roll out the alpha product for their Kickstarter backers, but there are plenty of things in the future that are also on tap. In April, the company is hosting their first Developer & Maker Contest, which invites developers and makers to use the SmartThings platform in new and innovative ways. First prize nets $100,000 and exposure to the top seed investors in the country, and will honor both software and hardware in varying categories. "We see there are many walks of life that can be impacted by the physical graph going live," Hawkinson says. "And we think it's important that there's an open and healthy ecosystem that can attack those problems of living."
December 12, 2012