When it comes to the smart home, we’re still missing vital context about the location and identity of people in a room. A smart home system may recognize that people are at home thanks to a presence sensor on a Nest thermostat, or by tracking smartphones as they hop onto a Wi-Fi network, but these systems can fail if people aren’t in the same room as the thermostat or if they don’t have their smartphones with them.
Today’s smart home needs more context to deliver true intelligence, and that context usually involves a person’s location and identity. That’s why Austin, Texas startup Inlo is building a mesh network-based system that relies on Bluetooth in order to locate and identify people in homes. Unlike many Bluetooth-based systems, the Inlo software can use a wearable device such as a Fitbit to identify a person. Many platforms default to smartphones, which causes problems for people who don’t carry their phones everywhere.
Inlo’s plan is to deploy “satellites” that cost around $40 each into every important room in the home. Once these satellites are combined with an app, they will identify devices that have Bluetooth radios and link those devices to their owners. To log a Bluetooth device into Inlo’s system, you’ll pair it using the Inlo app or by placing it near the satellite. So far, Inlo has made 100 of these devices and has tested them in its employees’ homes.
By using the app to store your preferences and media accounts, Inlo will create a link between your digital stuff and the physical world. So if you downloaded the Inlo app and walked into a room that has its satellite, you’d be able to play your music and maybe even see the lighting change to your preferences. Inlo’s co-founder and CEO, Jon Martin, says he wants location to become an essential user interface in the smart home, much like voice has. Martin, who has worked at several IoT startups but is a first-time CEO, says he started Inlo because he didn’t see anyone else solving the problem of getting a smart home working seamlessly with the user.
He says that most of the attempts to build a smarter home today are built on conditional programming rules (if this, then that) which are too simple and don’t really address the problems people want to solve. I agree with him, although I don’t know if Inlo’s is the solution that will win when it comes to providing location context for smart home platforms. My hunch is that we’ll see Apple offer something along these lines soon, based on the UWB chip inside the iPhone (and likely tied to the Apple Watch as well).
There’s also Intellithings’ RoomMe, which tries to track presence in the home to help control smart devices. Our experience with that product was that it still needs work. It’s a hard problem. But it’s a big one, so we’ll wait and see what Inlo’s tech can do. Inlo plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to sell its satellites in mid-July, and plans to ship the devices in December.