Connected devices may offer convenience and new features, but they are also an ongoing source of expense. Because with connectivity comes costs — costs to create a cloud to handle customer data and costs to make constant security and software updates. But the team that worked on the first-generation smart home for British Gas’ Hive project, and was behind the launch of the first Lowe’s Iris hub, has created a startup that wants to solve one of those problems.
IMONT, a London-based company, was created in August 2016 to make connections between home devices happen at a local level. The firm makes software that can run on devices like routers and cameras (there’s a smaller version that works only with Wi-Fi devices as well). The software acts as a bridge connecting devices that run the IMONT software together.
The result is somewhat akin to Google’s plans for the original Weave protocol, which was designed to allow smart products inside the home to communicate to one another. It’s unclear what Google plans to do with Weave (if anything), but the idea is that companies that don’t want to spend a bundle on cloud costs to drag data from every device can spend less and let many interactions happen at the local level.
In some cases, a company might choose to handle everything locally, forgoing the collection of data entirely. IMONT CEO Nigel Pugh says that for years the focus in the smart home world has been on collecting as much data from a device as possible. The idea was that the data would one day be useful, in turn justifying the cost of building a cloud for collecting and storing that data.
IMONT is built for a world that acknowledges not all data will be valuable. And so it lets the device maker control whether they want to turn data collection on or off once the device is in the field. This means a connected device could still function even if the vendor wanted to ditch the cloud costs.
Of course, this doesn’t eliminate all the ongoing costs associated with connected devices. Security patches and keeping software up to date with the latest operating systems still requires attention. But it does provide manufacturers with more options — and flexibility — in their business models. Today a company that has to pay for the cloud costs associated with their devices has relatively few choices if it wants to lower those costs. And many of those choices involve the product becoming a brick after a few months.
IMONT’s software could change all that — if it gets onto devices. Currently the software runs on some security cameras made for Samsung as well as on a single D-Link hub device. Driving further adoption will require a big partner or a massive marketing campaign.
Another challenge is that many connected devices in the home “talk” to each other using cloud-to-cloud APIs. For example, if I want Amazon’s Alexa to turn on my lights, that command has to go to the cloud and come back before my lights can flip on. IMONT’s solution would be to create a cloud gateway for a device running its software. It will cost more than doing everything locally, but it won’t be used by customers who choose not to have that integration. It’s possible that device makers might charge customers for the privilege of using those more expensive integrations over time. We did see that happen with Chamberlain’s MyQ and IFTTT.
What’s heartening for those of us who want local control is that IMONT’s software could be loaded retroactively onto existing devices, provided they have the memory and processing power. (The full version of the software that supports the most radios requires 20 MB of memory and at least a 400 MHz processor.) Pugh says that IMONT is already talking to companies that have large numbers of connected devices, and that would like to reduce their current cloud burden by remotely upgrading their estate to replace their cloud-centric system.
So if you have your doubts about the cloud, IMONT may have an answer for you.
Correction: This article was updated on May 8 to correct the headline. The company the IMONT founders worked with was AlertMe not AlertLogic.