Do you remember the rush of excitement you felt holding your first smartphone in your hands? All the possibilities of the Internet in your very own palm?
The birth of digital connectivity
Since the first generation of Apple’s iPhone appeared in summer 2007, the digital world became more exciting and promising than ever before. We suddenly got the chance to manage our finances and edit out personal music libraries anytime and anywhere, play online games with our friends and even let our social network of people sit at our table while having dinner by sharing photos of the meals we are about to eat.
The Internet and smartphones have focused on connecting the world, but so far mostly by combining communication and information tools in individual applications. Of course this has changed modern life. But it’s definitely not the end of our online adventures.
We were already given a first glance of a new world of technology. There are beautiful smart applications that connect to sensors in our running shoes and wrist bands, which allow us to monitor our work-out closely in order to become faster, stronger and more efficient athletes. But what about all the other physical items that surround us on a daily basis?
Connecting your everyday objects
SmartThings, a startup company based in Washington D.C., has set out to do exactly that: their goal is to simplify our life, by connecting everyday things to the Web and allowing access and control through our smartphone. The bigger picture of connecting appliances and other physical items to a network is, that once these average objects are linked to a digital ecosystem, they become easily controllable and eventually programmable.
Imagine your bed knew the moment you got up in the morning and without the touch of a button, the window blinds opened, the coffee maker started and your air conditioner regulated itself depending on the weather outside?
The company’s main product is called the “hub” – you can think of it as the central brain of the SmartThing ecosystem. This hub is connected to the Internet and can be linked with a collection of different sensors. These sensors are attached to devices in order to let them communicate with each other. Being connected within one ecosystem gives users the possibility of remotely controlling but more importantly programing these everyday objects.
How does it work?
A starter set consists of the main hub, two motion and presence sensors, an open/closed sensor and one electrical-outlet overlay.
So far you might think that this is just a nice bundle of tech-gadgets. The beauty of the SmartThing concept isn’t the smart hub nor the variety of sensors, but the fact that they have created an open-source ecosystem. They developed a universal smart system allowing multiple devices from different manufacturers to act within one ecosystem, and many devices to be controlled by the one SmartApp. The possibilities are endless. Every user can continue to adapt any physical item and integrate it into their SmartThings system.
By making things easier to use and providing clear solutions, more consumers are likely to pick up on the trend. But the team at SmartThings didn’t stop there. They further created an open software development platform that allows anyone to create apps to connect with SmartThings. By creating this open intelligent system, developers and product creators can share and upgrade their products rather than locking them down in ways where objects only do the one thing they were initially designed for. This is, what differentiates SmartThings from the handful of other companies that have created similar concepts in the field of smart home technology.
Installing apps created by user is easy. After the download, the feature will be automatically integrated into the main SmartApp. For example adding the “My Stuff is Secure” app will help you to monitor a sensor on a cabinet or drawer that contains valuables and the app will send a message notifying you when it is opened. Alternatively by adding a different app and putting a presence sensor on your dogs’ collar you get notified when it leaves the yard.
Apart from the hardware, the plug-and-play feature and the innovative open-source platform, the strongest selling point of SmartThings is the price tag. The basic set, one hub and several sensors, currently starts at $199. Considering that home automation systems have been around for some time now, the biggest breakthrough is making it affordable for many users.
Connecting physical with digital
Looking at the approach, the team behind SmartThings has taken on smart home technology, it becomes quite clear, that the technology needs to be simple, affordable and easy to use. As the world continues to make improvements with tablets computers and smart phones, systems like SmartThings will surely bridge the gap between physical and digital environments. Once enough objects are connected within a coherent system, they can be coordinated and operate as if they were a single machine. SmartThings is changing the way we think about the division between the virtual and the physical world.