Xerox PARC spinout company PowerCloud Systems is debuting a new kind of home networking solution today on Kickstarter, one that in some ways resembles the very successful Almond router, but one that also offers tremendous flexibility and granularity of control over home network access. The Skydog is a home networking tool that allows you complete control over who has access to your network, how much access they have, and what they’re allowed to access, and it can all be controlled remotely, too.
The Skydog consists of a router with 802.11n networking capabilities and simultaneous dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) operation. But the hardware is just one small part of the equation: it’s the software side that makes things really interesting, thanks to a powerful web-based dashboard that’s designed to be accessed from any Internet-connected PC, smartphone or tablet. The dashboard, unlike the firmware access panels of most routers, is actually a cloud-based service layer that provides simple, easy-to-understand controls for various network settings.
For instance, using Skydog, you can receive a text-based notification whenever a new device joins your network, complete with that device’s name. Skydog also shows you exactly how much bandwidth is being used by what device, and even lets you meter access by device or group, so you could allocate more bandwidth to a living room TV for video streaming, for instance, or limit the access of guests to prevent them running up your monthly traffic totals.
Skydog also has extensive parental controls, which allow for content filtering (you can tell it to block websites that fall into broad categories) and time limits on access to specific sites. Lock down Facebook during exam time, for instance, and have Skydog send you a notification when the user with the limit imposed hits their maximum allotted time. And if you need to diagnose a problem, there’s real-time monitoring, complete with remote outage alerts and remote router cycling, so you can spend less time on the phone with your ISP’s tech support department.
“In general, you can think about what we’ve done as taking enterprise-grade technology and making it usable for consumers,” PowerCloud CEO Jeff Abramowitz explained in an interview. “The idea for Skydog really came from employees of the company, friends and family of the company and even our investors taking our business products home, using them and realizing that they gave a level of visibility and control that no existing products really had.”
PowerCloud has been providing its CloudCommand technology for businesses, schools, hotels and other enterprise clients for a couple of years now, and the leap to the consumer market made sense in that it addressed a need that wasn’t really being filled by any competing products. Sure, Almond had simplified home networking by making its a process independent of computers, but in general home networking is still just about connecting devices to the Internet; there’s been very little innovation in terms of giving people more control over how and when they connect, which definitely seems like a missed opportunity given the explosion of the number of connected devices in any given home, and the changed role of the web in the lives of both children and adults.
Skydog is available as a $79 pre-order on Kickstarter, and will retail for $99 when it hits stores. The service it offers will be available free to users, though since it is a cloud service Abramowitz didn’t rule out the possibility of introducing paid premium tiers and features down the road. Asked why they went the Kickstarter route, he said that Skydog was looking for a new way to access the consumer market for this kind of product.
“Obviously Kickstarter is common for earlier startups, but not necessarily for a company that’s been around for a while,” Abramowitz said. “What we realized is that we’ve got a very disruptive and exciting product, but it really is a very large and mature space, and the existing paths to market are pretty well owned by the incumbents. Getting product on the retail sense is a very resource-intensive proposition.”
Going the Kickstarter route isn’t just about getting consumer backing, he said, but about promoting the Skydog community. The Skydog platform features a forum and is intended to promote sharing of network management strategies, so that people can exchange templates, tips and tricks for running their own household wireless. Kickstarter not only helps with funding, but gets that seeded early.
Skydog also works with your existing setup, as you can just plug in an AirPort Express, for instance, and get it running through the dashboard. The intended ship date is May 2013, so early backers won’t have to wait long for the device, which has already been extensively beta tested. If you’ve been looking for a way to make your home network easier to control and monitor, or you want to set your parents up with a networking solution you can manage completely even from across the country, this is a little project that could have a big impact on your lives.