Not so handy? There’s a connected device for you, too

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Credit: Signe Brewster

I love the idea of the internet of things, I really do. But as a renter I don’t want to buy a Nest or any other device that I would need to wire into the wall. Plus, my building is really, really old. I have a feeling it would be an arduous process.

That’s at odds with the internet of things’ big promise: simplicity. Connected devices are supposed to streamline our lives, but that doesn’t matter if we can’t figure out how to integrate them into our homes.

“Those are huge friction points,” said David Genet, co-founder of connected peephole maker Building 10. “If you can’t install it without calling tech support, you’re not going to buy it.”

Peeple attaches into existing peepholes.

Peeple attaches to existing peepholes.

I spent Tuesday morning at the third biannual Highway1 demo day and noticed something unusual: a group of connected devices that don’t require any rewiring at all. There was Lagoon, which straps onto homes’ main water lines to track usage. Peeple, a connected peephole that snaps a picture when someone knocks, fits into the existing hole in your door. Switchmate snaps over any light switch. Oh, and Fishbit, the connected water monitor, just drops into your fish tank.

No wires calls for a battery

So, why were we wiring devices into our homes in the first place? One reason is power. Those cords carry sweet, sweet electricity to the electronics, meaning they never have to be charged. All of the devices at the demo day need to be charged every 6 to 12 months.

If 6 to 12 months sounds like a long time, that’s because it is. Only recently did it become possible to build battery-powered products that can collect data and communicate it without frequent charging.

The Lagoon water monitor wraps around existing water meters with a strap.

The Lagoon water monitor wraps around existing water meters with a strap.

The Highway1 startups started with very little physical movement. There are no motors or moving parts to suck battery life. Then they added low-energy communication: Peeple uses Wi-Fi, Switchmate relies on Bluetooth Low Energy, Fishbit is compatible with both Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi, and Lagoon’s device comes with an unnamed radio technology. As my colleague Stacey Higginbotham has outlined extensively, this will be more and more common.

The future needs to be wired (or something totally different)

OK, so, you have your connected peephole. Now imagine a few years from now, when you also have connected light switches, water monitors, appliances and so on. That’s a lot of charging.

The Switchmate device sits on top of traditional light switches.

The Switchmate device sits on top of traditional light switches.

Switchmate CEO Robert Romano acknowledged that would be annoying, but added that most people are not yet connecting their entire homes. In these early days, people might adopt two or three devices for areas of their home that are especially important to them. That’s not such a big commitment.

When we do start connecting a larger portion of our homes, we might have to suck it up and do those often difficult installs. Or we might have some totally new ways of providing power. Romano suggested solar. Or, even better, we could skip ahead to wirelessly charging everything in our homes.

Until then, I’ll embrace the battery-powered connected devices trickling into the market. I know my landlord will thank me.

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