The smart home is fine, but I’m still waiting for the anticipatory home. A home that not only accepts programs and can be controlled remotely, but that also has the intelligence to anticipate my needs based on content and my family’s past behavior. Today I have modes and time-based rules. But a connected home effort out of Miami, Fla., is trying to bring a smart, more anticipatory home with a hub and associated accessories.
The Webee hub and the affiliated hardware (called “bees”) is seeking $50,000 in funding over at Indiegogo, although Cecilia Flores, a product evangelist with Webee, says the company is bringing the product to market in late April regardless of the Indiegogo success. I asked Flores why the market needed another hub, when there are products out from large vendors like Staples, Comcast and Lowes, and smaller shops like SmartThings, Revolv and NinjaBlocks, but she still believes there is an opportunity in adding not just automation but intelligence and data affiliated with a hub.
Webee calls its hub “the boss,” and it has the expected radios a hub should have, but it also has some processing power that lets it track data and perform calculations to let your devices learn how they should perform. It also can offer Chromecast-like web-to-TV functions if you plug it into a television with an HDMI cable. The hub works with Webee-branded sensors, security and plugs, and will eventually work with other connected devices.
The idea is that Webee learns how you live and then starts adjusting your thermostat to save money, or cycling on and off appliances based on energy consumption (or at least alerting you to trouble spots). If this sounds like the Nest thermostat, that’s because it is. Both Webee and Nest rely on learning algorithms to offer the consumer automation without programming. Webee doesn’t have a thermostat, but the idea is it would work with other connected thermostats included Nest.
But in a crowded and nascent market, I’m skeptical that algorithms are the way to sell the connected home to consumers. It’s pretty hard to say one algorithm is better than another without living with a device for a while. And many of the existing vendors are testing their own learning functions, with an eye toward adding more and more intelligence to the smart home.
Still, I like that Webee is focusing on learning, and on a more anticipatory home as opposed to one based on programmed automation. Algorithms are a hard sell, but they could provide the magic experience that helps brings mainstream consumers to the smart home. So I can’t wait to try out Webee or any other products that manage to get this right.