Instead of focusing on a single startup this week, I thought I’d offer an update on several I’ve covered in the past, starting with some sad news on Thington. This startup, which launched last October, was developing a user interface for the smart home centered around a chatbot.
I have visited with the two founders, Tom Coates and Matt Biddulph over the years, and loved their focus on thinking of smart devices as part of a home that hosts multiple family members and also friends. This influenced many of their design decisions, including the decision to use Twitter as an authentication platform.
Unfortunately, according to Tom Coates, the company couldn’t see a way to build a sustainable business amid all of the changes happening in the industry without more funding. Coates and Biddulph have now become part of router company Eero which confirmed it had brought the two founders on as part of an acqui-hire.*
In happier news, I also touched base this past week with the crew behind Belkin’s water sensing startup Phyn. I covered them last May in a newsletter. Last week the company opened its new headquarters and briefed me on the findings of some of its trials. The company is making a water sensor aimed at the professional plumbing market. The sensor goes on the main water line leading into a house and uses algorithms to determine if there are leaks inside the home and what’s causing them.
In trials they discovered a surprising number of leaks caused by improperly fitting toilet flaps. These seemingly tiny leaks can waste 1,000 gallons of water a day. An average home uses 190 gallons a day without counting irrigation. So 1,000 wasted gallons is a lot. Unfortunately, the executives on the call declined to share the pricing for this new sensor or when it will be available for the market. However, it’s good to hear that these sensors are still in the works even if we have to wait longer to see them.
One other note from the trials. These sensors use Wi-Fi to communicate data from the water main to the cloud. Since most water mains are outside or in basements, Wi-Fi coverage can be spotty. However, only 5% of the homes the sensors were trialed in had problems with Wi-Fi range. Since many of the trial participants are friends and family of Belkin employees, which owns the Linksys router brand, that number may be a bit skewed.
Finally, as part of my annual summer trip to Seattle, I met with smart light switch maker Deako, which was profiled in my very first newsletter. Every time I mention lighting or home builders, someone pops up in my email or Twitter feed to tell me how awesome Deako is. The building market apparently agrees. The company is getting ready for massive production for customers that will include housing communities by DR Horton, Toll Brothers and others.
The first community featuring Deako lights will open this month in Seattle, followed by larger availability in January. The company sells three different types of lights: an of/on switch; a dimmer; and a programmable switch that can handle three scenes. They will cost $19, $99 and $79 respectively. Deako’s big innovation is its ability to easily swap out the switches from its box, which means builders can swap in more advanced options for customers who want a fancier set of upgrades in their homes. Or consumers can swap them out after the fact.
The switches depend on a Bluetooth mesh network that will upgrade to the formal Bluetooth Mesh standard within the next 6 months or so. The Deako network supports a “theoretically unlimited number of bulbs,” said its CEO Derek Richardson, although its largest deployment so far is 250 bulbs.
The other innovation Deako has pioneered is the programming of each switch in advance of shipping it to the builders. When the switches arrive, the electricians on site just toss them in the appropriate room and the contractors install them. It also offers a similar pre-programmed switch-delivery to consumers through a web-based portal. The switches look nice, and while Deako doesn’t plan to market to consumers, I imagine it will see a lot of interest from them come January.
*This section of the story was updated from the newsletter with information about the Eero acqui-hire.