Personal automation hits and misses

Among the dozens of companies showing their stuff at CES Unveiled tonight were several targeting the personal and home automation space. Some get it, some don’t.

Samsung, Greenwave and Zomm get it, more or less. Each showed a product that enables someone to extend his or her personal information and control network, without being too reliant on closed platforms or particular service providers.

Samsung debuted the SmartCam, an Internet protocol camera with motion and sound sensors, and two-way audio conversation capability. Its particular selling proposition is that it takes a lot of the work out of setting up a remote monitoring camera.

The SmartCam uses a peer-to-peer scheme. You pair the camera with a computer, anywhere on the Internet, via Samsung’s included peering service and then watch and record the video as you please on that computer. The  motion and sound sensors can trigger alerts and high bit-rate video streams automatically, and you can use its two-way audio capability to “chat” with whoever is causing the commotion. Price point is $149.

Greenwave is selling a home automation gateway that controls home lighting via Philips’ NXP technology and power outlets via the Z-Wave standard. If an electric utility buys in, you can also connect directly to a Zigbee smart meter or, if not, they have a meter reading gizmo that will get you some of that functionality on your own.

Although Greenwave has a consumer selling proposition, their primary focus seems to be on utility companies and, failing that, anyone with an ongoing customer billing relationship: telcos, solar power installers or home heating and cooling companies. Basic kit is $200 and after that you can spend as much as you want on add-ons.

Zomm debuted its Lifestyle Connect product, which makes its possible to monitor an elderly or disabled relative (or maybe your kids, but they aren’t exactly saying that) using any Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. The little gizmo hangs on a lanyard and, when triggered, dials a “personal safety concierge” that instantly knows the location from the integrated GPS chip and can talk back and forth via the built in speaker and mic.

They’re working on a wide range of triggers, both in-house and through third party developers. Ideas include a detector that can tell if an elderly parent has fallen down or a blood glucose meter that can safeguard a diabetic. They didn’t mention breath alcohol meters or GPS analysis that knows when your daughter’s car is parked at the submarine races. The trigger is pulled, the “concierge” is called and a trusted circle (child, sibling, parent, probation officer) is notified. Cost is $199 for the gizmo and $15 a month for the service.

Alure Energy nearly got it and might yet someday. Their Eversense system consists of a thermostat and a linked iOS or Android app. The app runs in the background and tells the thermostat where you are. When you’re close to home or some other tripwire is hit, the thermostat tells the furnace to heat up the house, so it’s warm when you get there. On the plus side, it has all the usual programmable thermostat features and it’s more or less standards-based (e.g. the thermostat uses existing home WiFi networks to connect to mobile phones). On the minus side it’s still a one trick pony.

Liftmaster was the loser of the night. They took a standard garage door opener, built in a proprietary radio link that talks to a proprietary Ethernet device that plugs into a home router and tells you whether your garage door is opened or closed. And lets you open or close it via the Internet. You have to buy a whole new garage door opener – you can’t just add it on to the one you have – and it doesn’t do anything an X–10 or Z-Wave system can’t do, but it does come with a nice logo. Cost: if you really want to know, you’re dumb enough to buy it.