It’s amazing how ubiquitous an Internet connection has become. Wireless coverage is available almost anywhere you go, and our devices have evolved to take advantage of this always-on connection to the cloud. Yet, many objects remain offline, separate from the digital world we’ve created for ourselves. SmartThings is a platform developed to serve as a bridge between the physical and digital, bringing objects that haven’t yet been connected to the cloud into the modern technological fold.
A consumer product, development platform, and hardware maker, SmartThings is currently seeking $250,000 in funding from Kickstarter. The project has raised over $85,000 in one day and its founding team is confident that funding won’t stop at the $250,000 mark. Because SmartThings is a blanket term for a number of services, I’m going to break the project down into three categories: hardware, software, and development platform.
SmartThings is no slouch in the hardware department. The company’s main physical product is the SmartThings “hub,” a Bluetooth, Z-wave, Zigbee, ethernet, and cellular-equipped “brain” for the SmartThings platform. The company has “a relationship” in place with US and global carriers that will provide coverage in over 200 countries, CEO Alex Hawkinson says. The hub will work with both CDMA and GSM networks. A cellular connection will likely cost customers $9.99 per month, and ethernet or WiFi-only customers will pay $4.99 instead.
Customers will use “kits” – more on these later – to connect their doors, locks, power outlets, and more to the SmartThings cloud via this hub. Up to 100 objects can be connected to each hub, which uses available data to interface with the cloud and perform various functions as a result of this hardware and software connection.
And my, what a promise the company is making with its cloud offering. Hawkinson says that developers will be able to build “SmartApps” that can interface with objects in just about any way they want, allowing multiple combinations and possible uses for everyday objects. One example shown during the project’s promotional video that I found particularly interesting was the use of SmartThings to monitor a pet. When a pet leaves a certain area, which is monitored via the SmartThings hub and a low-energy tracker in the pet’s collar, its owner could receive a text message informing them of the pet’s escape.
That is but one example of what could be accomplished with SmartThings, and Hawkinson hopes that developers will use the platform to connect more objects and run protocols that the team hasn’t yet thought of. To that end, SmartThings is also releasing a ThingModule, a circuit board that will allow “makers” to hack their own devices into SmartThings’ system. The company’s goal is to have as many makers and developers using the platform as possible before the projected December release date to consumers. Hawkinson says that Kickstarter was the best way to spread word and get developer attention for the project.
SmartThings will be releasing a number of kits – tools to connect objects to the SmartThings cloud – with each hub, with the price varying based on how many, and what kind, of objects users want to connect. Hawkinson says that the SmartThings hub could ship with a variety of options and kits that would put its price between $99 and $199. (Note that these are simply estimates or goals at this point.) He would also like to make the service free for users that connect a limited number of devices, allowing people to experience the Internet of Things without having to make a monthly payment.
IFTTT (if this, then that) and Belkin have a created a system similar to SmartThings based around Belkin’s WeMo, a “smart switch” that can facilitate or cut an object’s power supply as needed. Hawkinson doesn’t see the system as competition, saying that SmartThings will either add support for the WeMo (if it has an open API) and, if that fails, relying on SmartThings’ extensibility to create a more powerful option for people that want to do more than automate a power supply.
SmartThings (the company) is currently looking into raising outside funding to supplement its Kickstarter backing, a move that will allow the company to expand outside of the US. The company is currently looking to release the SmartThings hub in the US this December, and internationally by Q1 of 2013 – which explains its “relationship” with a global carrier – and is attempting to navigate the myriad regulatory hoops that the SmartThings hub will have to jump through to reach its goal.
All told, SmartThings – and the Internet of Things movement in general – are fascinating. As we continue to make improvements with typically electronic devices like tablets, smartphones, and tablets, and we build out a more powerful cloud back-end, it’s hard to believe how many things haven’t been automated yet.
Hawkinson firmly believes that an Internet-connected and enabled world is the future. “The hope is that in five years, like we can’t imagine not having a smartphone now, the same thing will happen with objects,” he says. “You’re going to walk through your front door and not imagine that it wasn’t connected.” With any luck, SmartThings may be the project that makes this vision a reality.