Smart homes are here.
You can use motion sensors to trigger smart light switches. You can program smart thermostats to warm only the rooms that people are actually using. You can even control smart power outlets with your mobile phone, setting appliances to turn on and off at certain times of day.
The problem is that all this gear is pretty expensive. And generally, you’re forced to install each system by hand—or hire someone to do it, which makes things even more expensive. And if you’re renting? Forget about it. These devices are almost completely out of reach you’re not allowed to retrofit your home.
All those barriers make it particularly difficult for young people to embrace what we now call the Internet of Things—and they’re typically the ones who are most interested in experimenting with new technologies. Sce Pike, the co-founder of the Portland, Oregon-based startup IOTAS, points out that only 36 percent of people under the age of 35 own their own homes, according to the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
IOTAS is starting simple, with motion sensors, light switches, and power outlets. Using the company’s mobile app, you can create custom rules for your apartment. You could have IOTAS turn off all your apartment’s lights when you go into your bedroom after 10pm. Or maybe even tell it to blink your kitchen lights when you get a text message from your boss.
The system operates via a central online service. This could be included with your rent, or offered for an additional fee, like a utility. If you opt-out of the service, all the lights and outlets would still work just as they do in a normal apartment. And if your internet connection goes down—or if the cloud service can’t be reached—existing rules will still work. You just won’t be able to create new ones or use the app as a remote control.
That may seem limiting, but the cloud service does offer some intriguing possibilities. If you move houses, your rules and settings could follow you from apartment to apartment. And eventually, if IOTAS can expand far and wide enough, your profile could follow you to hotels and Airbnbs as well. Users will also be able to share custom rule sets, so that if someone comes up with something really clever, everyone else will be able take advantage of that ideas well.
The Old and the New
IOTAS hardware is wireless and designed to plug right into standard light switch and power outlet fittings, so that there’s no need for construction contractors to receive special training to install and maintain the gear. It’s already installed in 100 units of the Grant Park Village apartment building in Portland, Oregon, where the service is being offered to residents as a free trial for now.
Chris Nelson, the principal of Capstone Partners, which developed the property, says the installation process was very simple. “It was just a matter of taking out the old outlets and switches out and putting the new ones in,” he says.
Grant Park Village is a new building, completed just last year, but Pike hopes to help retrofit existing properties as well. “That’s a much bigger market,” she says. According to Nelson, there aren’t many other companies trying to woo real estate developers into installing smart home technologies—at least not in the Portland area. But IOTAS is a start.
And it hopes to take these efforts even further. Eventually, Pike says, the company wants to offer integrations with other smart home products, such as smart locks, Google’ Nest thermostat, or wearables such as the Pebble smart watch, so that IOTAS can become a central hub for the connected devices in your home. So many other companies are making the same pitch—including Google—but that’s what the Internet of Things needs: Many companies pushing the market forward, in many different ways.