Addicted to home automation and other web-connected gadgetry, such as Lockitron or Unikey door locks, Nest or EcoBee smart thermostats, Belkin wemo switches, Dropcam, Fitbit, Jawbone, Sonos and more? Then you’re going to like this: A recently launched mobile app called Shortcut is offering you a way to control your devices using voice. As co-founder Duy Huynh puts it, it’s like “a Siri for the Internet of Things.”
The 500 Startups-backed company, founded by Huynh (CEO), along with Justin Lucas (Biz Dev), and Binh Nguyen (CTO), was prompted by Huynh’s longtime interest in the connected devices space - something he found a passion for after working at Fujitsu several years ago. “Back in 2004, that was the first time I began to learn about how to use the phone as a remote control for home. It was way early, but I learned a lot from that,” says Huynh. “It was really hard back then; there was no iPhone,” he adds.
Huynh and Lucas later teamed up on a startup that would have helped to introduce hardware makers to retailers, but they ran into scaling issues.
But Huynh, who has a lot of connected devices himself around his New York apartment, knew first-hand the pain points involved in adopting this kind of “Internet of Things” technology.
“There are a lot of new devices coming out every day, and that’s great, but the missing part is the user interface,” he explains. That is, with each new device, there’s a new user interface to learn and a new app to download. “That just doesn’t scale,” he continues. “Today, I use 10 apps to control 10 different things. Tomorrow, I’ll have to use 20 apps to control 20 different things,” Huynh says.
The idea with Shortcut is to offer users a single interface they can talk to in order to control any of the gadgetry in their homes, or, such as with the Fitbit, even those they wear on their bodies. Huynh demonstrated how he could speak to the Shortcut app in order to add his lunch details to Fitbit’s calorie counter, switch on and off the lights, coffeemaker and other items at a remote location, and turn on and off his Dropcam camera.
The company uses public APIs to connect to the gadgets when available, or works directly with the company when they’re not. Currently, Shortcut is working on a number of connections not publicly launched just yet, including several of the above mentioned integrations, like Sonos, Jawbone, EcoBee, Unikey, and those for other lesser-known devices, like the PebbleBee, MyRocki, BTMATE, OBD LINK, Greenbox, and Rachio.
Like Siri, Shortcut understands natural speech – meaning you don’t have to phrase your commands in a particular way in order for them to work. But unlike Siri, the idea is not to have a conversation of sorts with the app. Instead, the team built a natural language processor that’s specific to understanding short commands related to the “Internet of Things,” training it with new words like “temperature,” “unlock,” “door,” “lights” and more.
You can also talk to the service to post updates to various social services, including Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, but this is not Shortcut’s main focus.
Initially available on Android, Shortcut is also planning apps for iOS, Google Glass, and even smartwatches. In fact, the latter is the most natural fit for the technology, as watches would offer the easiest way to interact with the voice-controlled service.
Huynh also notes that they’re working with at least two smartwatch makers on deals related to this, but these are still under NDA.
The company is currently raising a seed round, expected to be in the $1.5 million range.
You can download the Android app here.