The march of sensors into our homes to furnish and flesh out the concept of the automated ‘smart home‘ continues apace, rallied by the advent of device certification programs like Apple’s HomeKit initiative.
To that end meet Notion, a smart home focused hardware startup — currently in TechStars’ Boulder program and now raising crowdfunds on Kickstarter with the aim of putting an app in your pocket that will deliver automated reports on your domestic comings and goings.
Loop Labs, Notion’s makers, are building a HomeKit-compatible network of sensors that can be positioned around your home in order to detect a variety of domestic events — from doors and windows opening and closing, to lights being left on, to a smoke alarm sounding, to your washing machine springing a leak, your fridge losing its cool or even how much gas is left in a BBQ propane tank.
Each Notion device includes an array of sensors so it can be used to detect and report different these types of events — allowing the user to customize the system’s function to their home and lifestyle. The user can choose how many sensor units they want to buy, and site and customize each one to a particular task. The sensors will have an adhesive backing so they can be stuck to various domestic surfaces.
Customizing their function is done within the companion app. An Android app will also be available in addition to iOS. And there’s also the pre-requisite API being offered to drum up interest from third-party developers to extend the usefulness of the hardware.
The high level of customizable flexibility should give Notion a better shot at adoption than more dedicated sensor systems that have focused narrowly on a particular target characteristic (such as, say, detecting motion or acting as a wireless eye).
The full array of seven sensors contained in each Notion devices is as follows:
- Ambient light sensor
- Temperature sensor
- Piezoelectric transducer
- Proximity sensor
- Water leak probes
The piezoelectric transducer, in case you’re wondering, measures natural frequency. Specifically it can detect whether a propane tank is full or if a smoke alarm is sounding, so has a few obvious domestic use-cases. Loop Labs’ audio processing algorithms are also apparently smart enough to adapt to the noise profile of your home at different times of day, so screaming kids in the morning hopefully won’t results in a warning missive fired at your phone.
Elsewhere, the accelerometer and gyroscope obviously allow for detection of doors and windows opening, including garage doors. While the proximity sensor can be used to prime an area next to a particular cabinet or safe to trigger an alert when someone is trying to open it. But note there’s no general motion sensor in this product.
The sensors ferry data to a wall-mounted hub unit that connects to your home Wi-Fi so it can send the data up to Notion’s cloud platform for processing and storage. The connectivity tech used in the sensors themselves is less thirsty than Wi-Fi so day-to-day operation can be power efficient enough for each individual sensor unit’s battery to last up to two years under ‘normal use’.
As mentioned above, there is a cloud platform in this smart home loop. So if you have concerns about privacy then Notion may not be for you, given that the cloud element is currently a requirement. Loop Labs claims high levels of security, with AES encrypted data transfer protecting the sensor chatter. But if you don’t like the idea of even one third party having enough sensor-based insight into your domestic environment to know when you are home or away then Notion and its ilk won’t be for you.
In a comment to a backer raising security concerns about the cloud aspect of its system, Loop Labs noted: “We do require cloud connectivity in order to access data. While we’re certainly aware cloud storage can be a point of contention for some folks, we very much believe we can provide a secure, encrypted, redundant solution to meet everyone’s needs. We use full AES encryption for data transmission. The hubs cannot connect with our backend without proper credentials and we have checks in place to make sure a hub is actually a hub and a sensor is actually a sensor. This approach prevents spoofing and MITM attacks.”
The cloud element provides Loop Labs with future revenue potential beyond selling hardware, although it’s not providing much detail on this aspect of its business model yet. Although it is evidently considering subscription elements, noting in another comment: “Our current launch strategy is only to require a monthly fee for those looking for cellular backup in the hub.”
How much does the hardware cost? The most basic unit — one Notion hub and one sensor — currently costs $99. If you want three sensors plus a hub the price is now $199. Or $249 for the hub plus five sensors.
Loop Labs says it’s aiming to ship Notion kits to backers by July 2015, adding that it’s currently on its fourth prototype of the device, and plans to kick off alpha testing this month.
Loop Labs also says it’s considering whether to add Nest and IFTTT integration to the product. They’ve blitzed their original Kickstarter goal of raising $50,000 already, with more than $135,000 pledged at the time of writing (and still 24 days left of their campaign to run), so shouldn’t be short of funds to add such stretch goals to their project.