​RoomMe wants to bring your smart home to its senses

CEO explains how his sensor takes the connected home to the next level

Interview with RoomMe founder Oren Kotlicki
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In the tech world, if you develop a product like the one Bill Gates built for his own home, then chances are you're onto something. And that’s just what Oren Kotlicki, founder and CEO at Intellithings, has done.

RoomMe is a smart, personal location sensor that works on the same principle as a system the Microsoft founder devised for his $147 million mansion in Washington. Only Kotlicki’s device doesn’t require a whole home server to work, it just needs your smartphone.

Gates first envisioned the idea of a personal locator that tracks you in a home, adjusting lighting, temperature, and entertainment to your preferences as you move from room to room, in his 1995 book The Road Ahead. Back then though, the technology to do something like this in a normal home just didn’t exist.

Today, Kotlicki has created RoomMe - a Bluetooth-powered sensor that not only knows when someone comes into a room, but who has come into the room, who else is in that room, and how it should adjust the home’s systems to accommodate those people. No need to pull out your smartphone or shout at your digital assistant, your room just changes - like magic.

RoomMe wants to bring your smart home to its senses

RoomMe is a puck-shaped device that attaches to your ceiling

Gates’ system works using a small pin you attach as you enter the house, but Kotlicki - who didn't actually know about Gates' personal project when he developed RoomMe - didn’t see a tag as a viable solution for the mainstream smart home. Beyond the inconvenience, it also requires a significant deployment of computing power.

Biometric sensors were ruled out because of privacy concerns. “We didn't want to be in a position where we need to send data over to the cloud," Kotlicki said in an interview with The Ambient. "So we came up with this idea, which is patented, where we have a sensor that actually governs the entry to the room. It sits above the entrance and looks for your smartphone to pass underneath it, then it connects vis Bluetooth to the app on the phone and tells it where it is.”

For smart home devices to be truly smart they need to identify you and react to you

Once it identifies a smartphone, RoomMe changes the connected devices in that room to your personal preferences, based on time of day, day of the week or even “special” days.

In multi-person households a “Parent” takes priority over a “Child,” and a “Room Master” over anyone else in the room (for example a child would be a room master in his / her own room). If two parents enter a room, the first one takes priority.

RoomMe, which was a successful Indiegogo campaign, was developed because Kotlicki identified that while smart home devices such as smart lights and thermostats were popular, most people were still controlling them with an app or with voice. “They end up with a device that they can control manually, but in a different way,” he says. For smart home devices to be truly smart, he thought, they need to be able to identify you and react to you.

RoomMe wants to bring your smart home to its senses

Avner Arbel, Director of R&D at Intellithings, and Oren Kotlicki, founder and CEO

But wouldn't a regular motion sensor do the same job? Kotlicki knows sensors. He worked for Visonic for 12 years – a company his father founded that is a major supplier of security and safety sensors to cable operators in the U.S. - and he knows their failings.

From a privacy perspective, RoomMe doesn’t know who you are

While motion sensors can react to someone’s presence, the experience can be spotty, plus they'll also react to a dog or a curtain flapping in the wind. “Also, with a motion sensor, the next person that comes in will re-trigger the lights," points out Kotlicki. "But with RoomMe, say you’ve put it in your bedroom, you’ve entered the bedroom, and it’s set the room to how you want it for sleeping. When the next person enters the room, it won’t trigger the lights to turn on." That's pretty smart.

RoomMe currently, works with Philips Hue and LIFX lighting, Ecobee and Sensibo thermostats, and Sonos and Bose speakers. It's HomeKit-compatible and works Wink, plus it can control hundreds of Z-Wave and Zigbee devices, and there are more smart home hub integrations in the works.

The device can also fit into Control4, ELAN, RTI, and URC systems, and an open API means any developer can write a custom application.

RoomMe wants to bring your smart home to its senses

Today, you can control lighting, climate, and music with RoomMe, and if you integrate it with a smart home system such as Wink, you can have any Wink-enabled device react to RoomMe.

Kotlicki says support for smart shades and more entertainment systems, such as smart TVs and set-top boxes, is in the works.

As a solution to a very common problem in the smart home – personalized control – RoomMe has a lot of promise. Its open nature is also good to see in a space that is increasingly becoming sectioned off.

Plus, from a privacy perspective, RoomMe doesn’t know who you are, it only knows where your phone is, but as there is no cloud dependency that information isn’t transmitted beyond your home.

While the idea of having to keep your smartphone on you to make your devices work may sound like a throwback to the early days of the app-controlled smart home, in practice we can see how this could work quite well – considering most of us have our phones on us 90 percent of the time.

Plus, if you walk out of the room and come back in, it won’t change your settings until you connect to a RoomMe in another room, so a quick trip to the bathroom isn’t going to change your whole living room ambience.

For family members without a smartphone, tablets and iPods will work, but Kotlicki recognizes that carrying a phone isn't the most seamless experience possible. So, they are working hard on smartwatch integration. A device strapped to your arm that knows who you are, where you are, and what you want? We think Bill Gates would approve.

TAGGED    smart home

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