Sign up FAST! Login

This Startup is Trying to Create—and Control—the Internet of Your Home

Stashed in: Awesome, Greylock, @joshelman, Internet of Things

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

And when your internet goes out for days, you will lose ERRYTHANG!!!

That is so NOT appealing.

We need Internet service that does not suck before I trust Internet of Thangs.

But to go mainstream, SmartThings and its rivals will have to convince a lot of people that’s it’s safe–and worthwhile–to trust their home life to technology. For all its hype, the full-service smart home is still very niche; less than 1% of U.S. households own that kind of system. And as with the Internet, the idea of extreme connectivity comes with real concerns about security and privacy. As Hawkinson puts it, “How do you avoid the creepy factor?”

Like many great ideas, SmartThings arose from disaster. In February 2011, Hawkinson and his family arrived in Leadville, Colo., for what they thought would be a relaxing weekend at their vacation home–only to find the interior caked in ice. The pipes had frozen and burst, and the repair bill came to $100,000. “How is it possible that someone hasn’t created something I could plug in,” Hawkinson wondered at the time, “that would alert me when something went wrong?”

The veteran entrepreneur gathered some friends and used a holiday slush fund to start developing what would eventually become the SmartThings hub: a wi-fi-enabled device about the size of a smoke detector that syncs with almost any connected gadget or sensor, allowing users to program their homes from a single app. When paired with a moisture detector, for example, SmartThings could be set to automatically text Hawkinson if his pipes burst again–or, perhaps, to cue the theme from Titanic on his sound system.

Within 18 months, the fledgling company had raised more than $1.2 million on Kickstarter (Ashton Kutcher was an early investor), and manufacturers like Quirky, now a General Electric partner, started sending their devices over for testing so SmartThings could ensure compatibility. By mid-2013, SmartThings had shipped more than 10,000 hubs.

Hawkinson was immediately struck by the creativity of his consumers. A couple in Minnesota put presence sensors on their kids’ backpacks so they could locate them. A man in Canada trained his speakers to play an angelic chorus as he approaches his majestically lit scotch collection. Witnessing such applications firsthand, says Hawkinson, “makes you start to see the world … as programmable.”

To get would-be buyers as excited as he is–an imperative in a space mired in skepticism–Hawkinson encourages users to upload their programs to SmartThings’ open platform so that others can browse and download the most popular ones, much as they do with smartphone apps. (Results are tailored to the gadgets and sensors they actually own.) To date, some 5,000 people have shared their gadget tricks–well above figures from any other smart-home platform–and thousands more have tapped them for personal use.

Still, no matter how much SmartThings crows about connectivity, “there is always going to be a segment that doesn’t see the value,” says Arrowsmith. The gadget selection is limited, the setups can be complicated, and legitimate fears of cybercriminals commandeering your smart locks and cameras have made people wary of making their homes potentially hackable.

They have 10,000 users. The mainstream will wait. Internet to the home still sucks too much to trust this.

Ugh, nerd alert!

Then again, connectivity can’t automate everything. Back at home, Hawkinson describes a SmartThings mode he made for his wife called Aaaawwwwwww Yeaaaah. Once he taps his phone, the lights dim red and the bass of Barry White resounds from the speakers. Alas, he says, that particular trick “has never worked out for me.” But don’t blame SmartThings. “Technically,” he clarifies, “it works every time.”

Also: how many cats are in that picture???

You May Also Like: