Spend any time in the tech world and someone will bring up scale. The concept of how to serve more people or produce more goods without a corresponding rise in people and costs is the secret sauce powering many Silicon Valley success stories. But in the smart home, technologists may have met something that can’t scale.
But the smart home is stubborn. Its real value lies in getting a bunch of disparate objects to work together, especially in cases like connected appliances. Few people will see a lot of value in a connected washer that sends you a notification when the load is done. More would see value in a connected washer that communicated with your utility or water company to find the cheapest times to wash clothes — or with your dryer, to set the appropriate dry time for the items it just cleaned.
Getting things to work together is a never-ending job. While the mobile phone has an OS and a corresponding app store to drive innovation, the smart home requires a homeowner/renter to buy a bunch of different products from different makers and then somehow weave them together without any underlying software or tech know-how. The smart home today combines the difficulty of networking your printer with the frustration of programming your VCR.
That’s why the myriad companies trying to gain a foothold in the home are either failing or getting purchased by larger names. And even those larger names aren’t entirely sure how to solve the problem of scale. Amazon, for example, has the highly successful Alexa platform, but it also now offers a cadre of experts who come in to install and program a smart home for consumers. Meanwhile, ISPs and alarm companies have seized on the connected home as a way to put one of their more difficult assets — their installers — to use in order to compete with tech firms.
Axius, a startup founded a year ago in San Francisco, wants to solve the smart home’s people problem. And like any Silicon Valley startup, it wants to use AI to do it. The company offers a router and a platform of software and people to help set up, manage, and monitor gear in smart homes. CEO Colin Barceloux says he thinks AI will solve the scaling challenge in the smart home by helping consumers figure out what they want to do with connected gear and then making it happen for them.
For example, Axius will install a box that’s connected to the home’s router. The box monitors network traffic, providing security while also offering Axius insight into the gear inside the home. An Axius technician acts as the home’s IT manager, providing ideas on automations and devices, as well as standing by as an on-call technician when things go wrong. Customers buy a service plan from the company.
Axius is aiming its products at landlords, systems integrators, and builders.
Whatever AI Axius will use, it will have to be exceptional to truly eliminate most of the people component associated with installing, programming, and managing a connected home. Professional installers who deal in higher-end home automation are already struggling to incentivize their dealers to support interested customers. The pros are simply too busy.