The dream of a connected home, where smart devices communicate like technologically advanced Toy Story characters, still feels far off to most of us. In a fragmented market cluttered with devices chatting in over a dozen different communication protocols, "smart" has become a fraught concept. Imagine you’re living in the very near future: Your coffee pot refuses to make friends with the television, and your iPhone alarm won’t tolerate the allegedly intelligent bedroom mood lighting. It’s enough to inspire an "Internet of things" crisis meeting, and this reality isn’t even here yet.
The problem, according to the creators of a new device called WigWag, is that smart devices need a common language. The WigWag device attempts to ameliorate the problem with a piece of hardware similar to a Twine sensor with an app-based operating system. The goal of the platform is to make protocol-specific, smart-object jargon simple enough for normal human beings to dictate through simple "if this, then that" rules—like IFTTT for smart appliances.
The most basic WigWag package consists of the Relay and Sensor Block and can connect an entire house. The Relay connects WigWag and smart devices to the product’s cloud service, which pulls Internet functionality like email, Dropbox, and Twitter into the network. Eight different plugins mean WigWag’s Sensor Block can detect light, motion, sound, temperature, humidity, movement, and contact closure, and can also set up infrared tripwires.
IPhone users can incorporate new smart devices into their WigWag network by scanning a QR code while Android phones automatically detect devices. "It’s as simple as choosing a sense, like motion, or temperature and then choosing a device to help," says cofounder Ed Hemphill, an ex-military signals officer who named WigWag after a flag-waving protocol the army used to signal artillery and infantry across a battlefield.
"When you build a rule, you’re talking about a light. You’re not talking about a brand of light," says Hemphill. "You can swap bulbs out and, as far as the rules are concerned, the lights continue to work."
So what does a conditional rule look like? WigWag has many Kickstarter backers fitting out entire houses with sensor blocks, usually one per room. We asked Hemphill, his design team, and their merry band of Kickstarters to share how they’re hypothetically plotting to WigWag their home.
Here are some use-cases to help ignite your home-automation brainstorms:
Kickstarter backers are building custom alarm & alert system so devices can "send" their owner texts and emails.
One backer is interested in monitoring their 92-year-old mother-in-law who lives on her own. They’re looking to receive messages or changing light colors based on her movement.
Another backer helps a quadriplegic disabled person on a daily basis. WigWag will automatically turn their lighting and home components on and off.
A dog-loving backer wants to keep their pets off the sofa when they aren’t home. The combination of the Presence Tag and Sensor Block will let them know if the dog sneaks onto a "no-no" spot.
Hemphill’s cofounder's wife wants to use the Presence Tag to warn her if she leaves her bag at home while driving away.
And some from the design team:
"I would make an alarm clock—a rule that turns on my speakers and presses play using the IR blaster at a certain time. I would enhance the alarm clock by making another rule that blasts the volume if it detects that I'm not up and about during the few minutes after it rings. This would be my first reliable alarm clock."
- Ben Lozano, WigWag Lead Mobile Developer
"When I wake up, I get the news or the TV comes on, the lights come on, coffee starts to brew. As I walk through the house things come on."
- Patrick, WigWag’s social media intern
"When you’re driving home from work the WigWag app knows your location and sends a message to the cloud commanding that your oven, A/C, and lights turn on. When you arrive, you can eat, your house is chill, and you do not need to find a light switch."
- Diego, WigWag’s Android developer
One backer told Hemphill’s team about a problem in Hyderabad, India with water levels and pumps. The backer’s envisioning a way for the city to save large amounts of power by enabling individual pumps to only run exactly when required based on WigWag sensors in each house.
WigWag’s raised $237, 008—nearly five times their project goal—since its Kickstarter launch on June 19. Over 1,100 people backed the project. All WigWag circuit boards are manufactured in China, with final product testing and assembly in Austin, Texas. Hemphill’s looking to use funds to refine how the product looks in the lead up to November—WigWag’s target shipping date.
From taming dogs, to monitoring old ladies, Hemphill thinks WigWag’s got the power to pull the thread linking the expanding, but fragmented, Internet of things together. "When a pie’s growing its not so much about fighting with other companies. Its really about helping the pie grows and getting a slice of it," he says. "The main issue is the 99% of people that don't know anything about any of this."
[Image: Flickr user Derek Gavey]