2014-08-26

Co.Labs

Turn Your Place Into A Smart Home On The Cheap With These Beacons

Don’t have tens of thousands to spend retrofitting your dumb home’s infrastructure to make it smart? No problem.



Most of us dream of the day when we can have a smart home like Tony Stark’s in the Iron Man movies or George’s from The Jetsons. A smart home that reacts to us without us having to lift a finger. One that knows where we are in it and then configures that room to meet our needs. But while we are slowly inching our way toward having homes full of smart devices, outfitting an entire house’s infrastructure to become a true smarthome costs tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

Until now anyway.

A startup called airfy have begun pre-orders on Indiegogo for the airfy Beacon, enabling people to convert their “dumb homes” into smart homes without the need for ripping up walls to install costly infrastructure.

The airfy is a hardware beacon that you place around your house--it looks like a smaller, slicker, futuristic version of the wireless routers we’re all familiar with. Once installed in the various rooms in your home, the airfy Beacons can enable virtually any device in those rooms to turn on or off based purely on your micro-location--that is, whether or not you’re in the room.

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For example, you arrive home from work and enter your house through your kitchen. As soon as you step in your kitchen all the lights there turn on and your coffee machine activates. You grab your coffee and move into your living room. When you do--thanks to airfy Beacons--the lights in the kitchen shut off to conserve energy and the lights in your living room automatically turn on, as well as other devices like your television set and Blu-ray player.

The secret to this automation magic is a combination of hardware technologies refined by Apple with some clever coding and integration with existing third-party hardware.

Inside each airfy is a micro-computer combined with a Bluetooth 4.0 chip (also known as Bluetooth Low Energy or “Smart Bluetooth”). Together this microcomputer and Bluetooth chip allow each airfy Beacon to act as an iBeacon. An iBeacon is Apple’s standard for Bluetooth Low Energy devices. These devices--or beacons--allow transmission of data between the beacon itself and your iPhone, which in turn allows your iPhone to know where it is on a micro-location level. Think of it as hyper-local GPS for inside your home.

Previously iBeacons have only been rolled out in places like baseball parks, museums, and retail outlets in malls--you walk in front of a Gap and a Gap coupon appears on your iPhone. But the people behind airfy Beacon decided to apply iBeacon technology to bring low-cost smart home infrastructure to the masses.

Place one airfy Beacon in each room in your house and it connects with most smart devices that support iBeacon technology, like the Philips HUE switch, Philips HUE smart lights, and the Nest smart thermostat. Now when you walk into any of those rooms the airfy app on your iPhone will seamlessly communicate with the airfy Beacon in the room, which will automatically turn on or off any of the smart devices you have wired up. And because a Philips HUE switch, which is supported by airfy, can make any device with an On/Off switch into a smart device, it’s easy to make your existing electronics automated smart devices thanks to airfy--no costly upgrades needed.

Besides the ease of bringing automation to all the devices in your home, airfy also has the (arguably more compelling) benefit of drastically cutting your energy bills because it will no longer be a pain to turn off all the lights and devices in a room when you have to quickly run out or go to another room in your house.

But for Steffen Siewert, founder of airfy, the most exciting aspect of the technology isn’t what he’s built it to do--it’s what others will build to work with it. That’s because Siewert has used an open source firmware called RIOT for the chip inside airfy, meaning the device is very hacker friendly.

“Developers can solder on their own hardware like sensors and combine it with the RIOT firmware and send it out through our Beacon,” says Siewert. “So airfy is like Raspberry PI for the smart home.”

In addition to its open nature and support for the devices listed above, Siewert says that he is planning both Wimo and other smart light support in the future and notes that “We are open to suggestions and have big ears for our crowdfunding supporters [and want to know] what they [would] like to have.”

The airfy Beacon successfully completed a $39,000 round of crowdfunding on Kickstarter last month and is now available for pre-order on Indiegogo. One airfy Beacon will cost you $79, while $249 gets you three. The airfy Beacon will ship in October. Jetson’s smart home, here we come.

[Townhouses: Westeastphotography via Shutterstock]




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