Alex Hawkinson (all photos by Asa Mathat)
Founder and CEO, SmartThings
Your smart phone is a remote control for your life, waiting to be programmed and capable of integrating profound intelligence into the “dumb” objects you use every day. Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings, aims to bring this control to the average, non-technologist consumer, and push the possibilities of connectedness. “Anything that can be connected for a purpose, will be connected,” Hawkinson explains, showing how a light can be triggered by an opening door. Beyond demonstrating basic features, Hawkinson describes his vision for a safer, healthier, more energy-efficient life, in which you can “automate the whole arc of your day in sort of a Jetsons-like way.” Read the full transcript below.
Hawkinson: I want to spend a few minutes and open up some thoughts about the Internet of Everything. We talk about it as the physical graph, but the world of connected—all of the everyday objects coming online, and the implications for that. So I’ll spend a minute or two just to give you a little bit of context on SmartThings, my company, so that you have the background and where I’m coming from. And then I’ll show you a very quick demo. It’s very hard to talk about the Internet of Everything without having some connected things. And then we’ll give you our perspective on some of the industries that I think are going to be touched by this technology wave over the course of the coming years.
Our vision at SmartThings is we’re trying to build an open platform for the Internet of Things. So a place where users and all of their connected devices can come together in one spot and be joined together with device makers that are inventing new types of connected objects, and by developers that want to build software that sort of operates the physical world in new and creative ways. And our effort with that is as an open platform to help society, those groups come together and make the world smarter together. And as David was saying, it’s a very big ambition, and we’ve been very fortunate to have the support of a large and growing community around our platform so far.
So a lot of these technologies are intersecting; we’ve been trying to make them accessible to the everyday consumer. And this is my real phone projecting up here, so we might get some texts from my wife and other things as we go along the way. [We’re] trying to make it easy enough and elegant enough for everyday non-technology people to begin to use this in their own life. So our sort of internal mission is in five minutes taking some things out of a box and being up and running and solving sort of a life problem, for a consumer. And you don’t need to be a technologist. Just have a smart phone and take one of these kits and, for a few hundred dollars, solve a meaningful life problem, and then grow from there. I think the opportunity in this space is to add intelligence in the cloud. It’s not stuck on the end devices, but to bring the power of the Internet and the connected world to bear into the smallest and simplest of connected objects. As I said, we’re making an open platform to both developers and device makers, with several thousand device makers and developers already up and running on the platform.
So I thought I’d switch over and give you a very live sort of context for it, very quickly. And just give you a sense, an inkling of what’s possible and happening every day out there right now. So we provide an open platform. You can get a kit that you take a few things out of the box and there’s ways for those to automatically connect to the Internet, and in a few minutes make a consumer’s smartphone into the remote control for all of their everyday stuff. This is a simple view of the SmartThings interface, simplified for the stage. I could show you my house as well, but there’s a few connected device examples on the stage here. This is a little simple sensor that knows I’ve picked it up, and it’s called the jewelry case, so I’m getting a notification that somebody moved my jewels. I could have, as an example, another device that is my front door, which it will know if that is open or closed from anywhere. And I could be, again, anywhere in the world for that to be happening. Of course, it’s an open platform, so there’s already more than 1,000 connected device types that can work with SmartThings. There are examples of off-the-shelf of locks of all different sorts, where I could remotely lock my door from anywhere in the world. Of course, lights that I can turn on and off and so on and so forth. Sense moisture, sense anything about the environment, and control anything in the environment within a few minutes from my smart phone.
On top of that, we think the programmable world and bringing software and intelligence to these everyday objects is one of the most profound aspects of this wave. And so we’ve created a platform for what we call SmartApps, where an open community of developers and device inventors are creating all sorts of new applications of all different sorts for controlling these everyday world objects in different ways. So I’m going to show you a very, very simple example. I’m going to pick an application called Let There Be Light. I can tell it when the front door opens, I’m going to turn on a specific light, I’ll turn on the foyer light, which is this one here. Sort of discover and install a SmartApp, and then if I were to just come home and open the front door, now, as a result of that activity, once my foyer light is going to turn on in response to that event and turn off when I shut it, in this case. So through this sort of open catalogue and developer platform, we see developers building applications of deep complexity in some cases¾in other cases very simple—that can go in and reach into this physical world of data and abstract information and control these things in all sorts of different ways. So automate the whole arc of your day in a sort of Jetsons-like way, and impact lots of different things.
So that’s a little taste of the platform. I’ll move on from that and talk about the big picture for a few minutes, which I think is the theme for this conference and I’m excited to interact with all of you on it. So what’s really happening here is that basically the entire world of objects is going to be connected over the next five to ten years. The technologies are available and so inexpensive that the everyday objects, anything that can be connected for a purpose, will be connected. And through that the big implication is that suddenly all the previously sort of dumb objects that have been offline for millennia in the world will become controllable with software, and we can sort of make the world much more intelligent and crazy in lots of facets of life.
So the reason this is happening now—there are a lot of facets to it. Certainly the maturation of networking technologies that makes it cheap and possible to put a radio in any sort of device, connect it up and interact with it from anywhere. I think the smartphone revolution, personally, is sort of the biggest wave to why this is happening now, because this has put the perfect console for interacting with an intelligent and connected world into your pocket. And users expect, when they use a smartphone, to use it as a remote control for the rest of your life, and when they see the types of things that we’re doing, they expect to be able to remotely control everything in their life from this device. And then finally, because of robotics, manufacturing, and 3-D printing and other things like that, there’s a hardware renaissance occurring, where it’s easier and easier to create new types of connected objects and disrupt space after space. And I think Fitbit and Nest and so many other examples of that are out there.
So why now? So some of the big implications¾just for a second, let me give me you some real data points. So my house, right now, has a couple of hundred connected devices in it. It can sense who’s home, which rooms we’re in, the temperature and the humidity and motion. It can turn anything on and off and it can control the thermostats and the door locks and so on. And so in a fairly mature connected home like this, on an average day right now there’s 75,000 messages going between my house, all of these everyday objects, and our cloud platform. It’s an enormous amount of data. And that sort of little snippet on the right hand side is 90 seconds of data coming from my hub that exists in my home.
So what are the opportunities? If you can listen to anything and control anything with open, web-based software, what are the things you can go after? It’s just an enormous opportunity that affects every facet of our life. Going into some examples of this, security—any human that you interact with, if you ask them if they’d like some form of lightweight security system in their life, around their stuff, they will say yes; 85% of people will say yes. Only 15% of people in the population have some form of security system, and of those, maybe half are active and mostly all of them hate it, right? There’s a big open space there to build, in a lightweight way, a hyper-intelligent, connected, secure systems that let you be aware of an environment and not worry about what’s going on. So there’s a big opportunity there.
In energy, without changing any behavior, the things where you tell people you have to turn off the lights yourself, and adjust the thermostat and all that, on your own, they never end up changing human behavior. In this hyper-connected world, it can do it for you, without it even being visible at all to the user. When you leave, things turn off, when you’re back, and in anticipation of your arrival, they can turn on in the right ways to adjust the environment. That sort of impact—there are lots of studies out there, but 18-30% tends to be the range of immediately accessible energy efficiency and savings to go after in households and businesses. That is half the carbon footprint reduction goals, on a planet-wide basis, that are easily attackable through lots of these implementations of these connected, little, and smarter things.
Another example of an industry: insurance. An average household will spend $5,000 a year on insurance of different forms. What happens to the insurance industry, which is built around actuarial risk, when you have perfect information from the environment? What happens to flood insurance when you have a little detector that you can leave on your floor and it will know immediately if there’s actually a flood or not. So that’s another industry ripe for a lot of change with this Internet of Everything.
And I won’t go through all the facets, but other phases of life too. Connected to health, what amount of information is there in the environment if my family has a history of heart troubles? What will the pattern recognition be that can help me live a longer and healthier life? Premeditated crime should be nearly impossible in this sort of hyper-connected world. There are other downside risks of that as well. An aging population, can they live independently for a longer period of time as a result of these things? Yes.
So it goes it goes through every facet of our life, and I think it’s the biggest wave coming in technology coming in the next ten years.