In the pursuit of the smart home, designers have dreamed up smart fridges, smart door locks, smart air conditioners, and even a Wi-Fi connected toaster that prints the day's weather forecast on your morning slice of toast. But if you want to embrace the Internet of things without replacing every appliance you own, there's another option: New technology that automatically recognizes your dumb gadgets.
"We are trying to create one sensor that can make every home smart," says Ali Kashani, co-founder of Neurio. "It creates that intelligence for all of the dumb products that are already in your home and that you don't want to replace."
The $250 gadget installs inside the breaker box in a house or apartment, and then learns to recognize the electronic signature of every device you own, such as air conditioners or lightbulbs. Some of that happens manually—after installation, you walk around your home flipping switches and telling an app what's on. Eventually, that process will happen automatically through an algorithm.
"We're crowdsourcing that information," Kashani explains. "If you want to know what a microwave looks like as a signature, we have our current set of users who are basically providing that information to us by introducing microwaves to the app. Once we see enough signatures, we don't need that help anymore."
As soon as Neurio recognizes everything you have plugged in, it can start feeding information back to you. You might realize, for example, that your stereo is sucking up power even when it's turned off, or that you're wasting money by leaving lights on in a particular room. The company says that some customers have saved 44% on energy bills.
It hopes to go beyond energy. "The industry has been really focused on energy saving," says Kashani. "But when that's optimized, what do you do next? We've had customers use it to find out their kids got home from school, and know if they're playing Xbox or doing their homework. Others use it to make sure elderly relatives are cooking regularly, or whether they're getting up several times in the night."
"If you really think about the home, tracking hasn't changed in the 100 years since we connected electricity," he adds. "Everything you use everyday is connected to the grid. From that, you can learn a lot more than just energy consumption."
By connecting with apps like IFTTT, a web service that creates simple programs, the device can also start to control your home. If a load of wash is done and Neurio notices that the dryer hasn't started, it can be programmed to send you a reminder—maybe through a simple text, or maybe through changing the color of a smart lightbulb in your living room.
The device can also hack solutions for other smart gadgets; the Nest thermostat, for example, has sensors that struggle to accurately tell if someone's home, and whether it should turn on the heat. "Neurio can tell if somebody's actually home or not, because Neurio sees the context of entire home," Kashani says. "By sharing that intelligence, Nest will become a better product as a result."
Neurio isn't unique in what's it's trying to do. Another new device, called Smappee, uses similar technology to monitor the house. But while Smappee is more focused on energy consumption—giving detailed charts and graphs of which gadgets are using how much power—Neurio has positioned itself as a gateway to the smart home.
"People have been trying to connect our homes with smarter technology, but it's been difficult to retrofit or add sensors everywhere," says Kashani. "It's hard to smarten every device. The way to do that is to monitor signals and patterns coming into the breaker box. Our sensor acts like the brain of the home."