Imagine coming home to the dorm after a long day. Once you’re in, you activate your phone and with one swipe, the lights turn on.
With a new product developed by two UW students and local software and hardware developers, that scenario may become real. The group developed Hook, a smart home hub that connects lamps, light bulbs, coffeemakers, air conditioners, and heat -— anything powered by electricity — to the Internet. Users can then monitor and control the apartment from their smartphone from anywhere in the world.
“Our vision is not to just sell Hook,” said Ani Goel, the group’s software adviser. “Hook is our first example of how we approach making existing dumb things ‘smarter.’”
To make the home “smart,” Hook connects remote-controlled outlet adapters and bulb sockets, which are already commercially available from Amazon, Home Depot, or Costco for as low as $5 each, to a mobile phone. Without the app, an appliance plugged in to the adapters can be powered on and off with the click of a remote.
However, the existing technology only works from inside the house, and only through the remote.
Goel said whenever he needed to use his remote-controlled outlet, he often couldn’t find the remote in the first place.
“If this was a problem, why can’t the remote be on your phone?” he said.
Goel talked to Rahil Jain, UW doctoral candidate in electrical engineering and the group’s hardware designer, who then designed a basic circuit that could copy the remote into a hardware. Goel put the hardware technology on a software that would link the existing home electronics or appliances, the hardware, and the software together.
“My role has been looking at it from a software and application perspective,” Goel said. “What would our custom remote then need to make it easier to use on [users’] phones, what kind of technology would it need?”
Robert Moehle, a masters of business administration candidate from the Foster School of Business, was responsible for commercializing the product and partnering with firms during the development and marketing process. In addition, Maxwell Wheeler, with the help of 3-D printing, designed and manufactured the Hook hardware. The team formed Hack-a-Joe Labs, LLC, filed a patent for radio frequency to Wi-Fi technology, and developed Hook.
Moehle said Jain did some research on the existing home automation products in the market to create a new and improved product.
“Rahil did some data analysis of some Amazon reviews and found out that people are buying [the products] … but they’re not happy with it,” he said. “What attracted me [to the venture] was that there is a market need … and the team has such complementary skills.”
The product is currently available on Kickstarter, and customers can either buy just the Hook hardware or a kit with several sets of outlet adapters and/or bulb sockets resold from retailers like Etekcity and LED Concepts. When the Hook hub ships, the Hook app will be available for iPhone, Android, and a web-based application and allows users to “clone” the remote to their phones. Once cloned, the app controls the bulbs and sockets connected to the Hook.
The app lets users name appliances and is enabled with a system that can send notifications to users if they accidentally leave an appliance like a curling iron or space heater on. In addition, it can also schedule operations of routine tasks like “operating holiday lights between sunset and sunrise and create rule-based scenarios like turning your coffee maker ‘on’ when the alarm goes off,” according to the Hook Kickstarter page.
“The [app] is able to ‘talk’ with the Hook and say, ‘Hey, this is a remote and you should remember this, and this is what to do with on and off [orders],’” Goel said.
Moehle said the product is suitable for students because the appliances be controlled from outside the residence or even outside the country. When students move houses, they won’t need to reprogram Hook and can just take all the devices. In addition, students will also be able to personalize and automate their dorms or apartments.
He added that the Kickstarter platform is ideal because it allows them to get direct feedback from their backers to see what kinds of improvements can be made. The group can also evaluate the production time between assembling the product for domestic or international backers, and assess the threshold between having the capacity to produce the hub themselves or hiring a separate team to help with production.
In the future, the team hopes to create and sell their own brand of outlet adapters and bulb sockets. With the existing technology, they want to develop home security or other existing products that they can make “smart.”
“It’s just a starting point of a mission that we’re trying to accomplish,” Moehle said, “and our mission is to make dumb things smart.”
Reach Podcast Editor Imana Gunawan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @imanafg