SmartThings’ Kickstarter project lets developers hack the real world


Credit: smartthings

Guess what! There’s another Kickstarter project that pushes the Internet of Things forward in a fun way. For as little as $10 you could pledge money to SmartThings, which wants to develop sensors and an application environment that lets people who may not be comfortable programming an Arduino board tie the physical world to their virtual one.

SmartThings is trying to raise $250,000, and it just got a boost in the form of a tweet from Kevin Rose, the co-founder of Digg and now at Google Ventures, that has helped it raise $60,000 in just a few hours since its launch. SmartThings has an app environment, a SmartHub that connects and houses the intelligence for the sensors and will develop sensor kits. One plugs into a wall outlet and will then turn things on or off when a certain online is taken (every time you get a new Twitter follower your lights blink on and off).

Other kits include a presence sensor (is your hamster still in his cage?), a motion sensor (the hamster must have run into the upstairs bedroom) and an open/shut sensor for doors, windows or cabinets (quick that bedroom window is open, don’t let Fluffy escape). The plan right now, according to the Kickstarter page for SmartThings, is to use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-wave, Zigbee (and maybe cellular) for connectivity. So if Fluffy leaves your yard, he may be lost if SmartThings can’t work a deal with a carrier.

SmartThings promises more sensors and kits, and as you can see the system is designed as both a home automation-style system where you use your connected devices to control physical elements, but also as a link between the real and online world, where actions taken online can have a physical impact. Another Kickstarter project called reaDIYmate tried to link the online and offline world with a line of toys that took action when certain online events triggered them.

I think these sorts of projects are one of the most interesting areas of the web (real world?) right now because they will help bridge the places where we spend most of our physical energy to the place where many of us expend our emotional and mental energy. They also represent the beginning of user interfaces that are based on context. Earlier this year I wrote:

And yes, there are probably far more complex ways to cross the Web–real world divide. But by bringing this to a wider audience and by making it fun, these companies are on the bleeding edge of how we’ll interact with our devices going forward.

So while we’re busy trying to make computers intelligent, projects like this one are an alternative step to making people feel like their computers are intelligent, by giving our machines more context about where we are and what we’re doing without ever sitting at a keyboard or touching a screen.



I’ve seen a number of such projects come up on Kickstarter over the past couple of years, including Twine, Node, Sensordrone, and others, using a variety of interfaces, including Wifi, physical connection, various generations of Bluetooth and such. In addition, there are previous efforts, like the various sensors available for the Lego NXT, the Arudino and others. Unfortunately, the lack of standard connections between each of these projects is an issue … let’s hope standardization happens pretty soon, otherwise we’re going to end up with some serious interop difficulties.

Paul Teich

Let’s let the Darwinian stew of innovation work for a while before we invite the standards folks into the kitchen. Eventually this will settle down to a couple of reasonable and well-funded approaches, and they’ll be better than a committee could have produced.

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