In my last blog post, I wrote about hackable hardware and how we are entering a golden age of Internet hardware. Earlier in December, we sponsored the Mobile Monday Silicon Valley event in San Francisco, which included a panel discussion with leading venture capitalists.
This threw up some very interesting discussions.
On the panel was a good friend, Rob Coneybeer of Shasta Ventures (his blog 280.vc is worth reading). Rob was one of the early investors in Nest, a learning, Internet-connected thermostat designed and built by Tony Fadell of iPod fame.
On an aside, I’ve seen and used the Nest and suffice it to say – I never in my wildest dreams imagined that a thermostat would become a sexy, consumer electronic item but hats off to Fadell for making something so stunning and easy to use.
During the panel session, Rob said several times that he sees the arena of Internet-enabled hardware as a relative white space and he is a huge believer in the Internet of things. Looking at the Nest, it’s easy to understand why. It represents the next paradigm for hackable hardware. To date, most Internet-enabled hardware has primarily served either as an extension of control or as an information gathering system. The Nike Fuel Band, for example, captures motion activity and provides simple feedback on the phone.
The Nest is different in that it is also a self-aware learning platform, which grows smarter over time. Intelligence hosted on the company’s servers observes user behaviour for a few days or weeks and parses patterns. It then replicates the user behaviour. Translation? In a pretty short time, your thermostat knows how hot or cold you like your house to be, when you turn the temperature up and down, and when you are home (it incorporates a motion sensor).
And that’s not all. Because Nest is Internet enabled, the intelligence platform on the server-side can look at local weather station metrics regularly posted for your neighborhood on www.weatherunderground.com. From that information the Nest (or a network of Nest’s in your home) can determine when it needs to turn on or off in order to heat the house to, say, 65 degrees Fahrenheit by 6 p.m. when you arrive home for dinner. On summer days when the sun comes over the hill by 7 am, Nest would know it does not need to turn on until later in the day, if at all.
This is the future. We will be surrounded by intelligent, learning devices that constantly adjust our environment to suit us, or to optimize our lives for cost or safety or comfort.
Of course, I cant predict if or when we’ll all be reclining in Google Cars whizzing down the freeway while reading a magazine or watching a movie. But I think Coneybeer’s prediction that 2013 will be a fantastic year for Internet hardware startups is safe as kittens as dozens of startups like Nest seek to blow up old, stolid hardware platforms waiting to be disrupted and re-imagined for an era of ubiquitous connectivity.