While tech analysts and fans are excited about the potential that home automation brings, most consumers aren’t yet feeling the vibe.
Sure, products like Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN) Echo device and the imminent arrival of Google Home from Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) have generated a lot of press and excitement, but the kinds of products they control haven’t taken off. Sales of connected light bulbs, for example, have been disappointing.
It’s a classic case of technological “pre-adoption” – i.e., the idea has been conceived, it’s viable, and it’s gradually pushing its way into the market, but mass adoption is some way off yet.
Within the “connected home,” many home automation devices and products can be expensive and the benefits fairly small. I mean, if you’re running a nightclub in your basement, you might want expensive connected lights that can set a variety of different moods at the touch of a button. But most of us just want to turn the lights on and off – and there’s a cheap switch right on the wall to do exactly that!
But a tiny startup aims to change the playing field now, with relatively cheap home monitoring devices that can easily change their tasks, depending on where they’re placed, and can let homeowners know about potential dangers in the home, too.
How Notion Senses Motion… And More
The company is a tiny startup called Notion. How small?
Well, it only shipped its first products in April, and just raised $3.6 million in venture capital funding.
That’s small potatoes compared to companies like Nest, which have had the backing of a money-laden giant like Alphabet. But sometimes, size really doesn’t matter – and for such a small company, it’s already accomplished a lot. And more is coming.
The Notion sensor is a single device with multiple detectors on it. It senses temperature, sounds, light, liquid, motion, and more.
It means that a single sensor can do multiple jobs, depending on where it is and what the user tells it to do. For example…
- It knows if a door or window has been opened or closed. Imagine knowing instantly if someone has opened your gun safe, shed, or liquor cabinet. It also knows if a window has been broken.
- It knows if your hot water tank is leaking, or if your basement is flooding. And because a single sensor can accomplish multiple tasks, the sensor on your basement door can tell you if anyone has opened it and whether water has seeped in.
- It knows the temperature of a room far from your thermostat. It can monitor the temperature of your wine fridge, too.
- It knows if a smoke alarm has gone off – and tells you even if you’re not in the house.
- Notion’s sensor will soon do more, too. It will know how full your propane tank is – no more ruined barbecues because the gas tank is empty. It will also sense the vibration of your washer or dryer to let you know when the laundry is done.
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The idea of Notion is that not everyone necessarily needs all of these things monitored… but many of us want at least a few things monitored.
A Sensor to Suit All Needs
For example, parents with teenagers in the house might need sensors with different applications from someone living alone.
Or users with limited mobility might require different functions than someone without disabilities.
And those in high-crime areas would want applications for that more so than those in safer neighborhoods. The single Notion sensor can fulfill all these needs.
Plus, the variety of sensors and Notion’s open development philosophy will allow tech-savvy users to devise their own uses and share them.
So how does it all work?
The Next Entrant to the Connected Home Market
The Notion system requires a controller for the devices – a “bridge” – that costs $80.
Each sensor costs $37.50 when purchased in quantities of five or more.
But there’s no expense after that – the price includes the cloud service necessary to keep you connected to the sensors from your smartphone, no matter where you are.
To be sure, there are drawbacks to Notion, as is to be expected from a new product.
- It doesn’t yet work directly with important home controllers like Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo, or Google Home. But it does work with Nest and has a protocol called “If This, Then That (IFTTT),” which will allow some control from those devices.
- It relies on an adhesive that the company doesn’t replace, so once you’ve decided where to locate a sensor, that’s it – you can’t move them around as your needs change.
- It’s only a monitor – it can’t actually control anything.
- While a sensor knows when a window has been moved, it doesn’t know whether it was closed or opened – just that it was changed from its prior position.
- And honestly, even that $37.50 price per sensor is a little high for some applications. To succeed in the long run, Notion will have to lower that price. But that should be easy as the company increases production.
Down the road, expect Notion to work with more devices, too – not only convenience devices like Echo, but also with home security systems.
Once that happens, the system may even help homeowners save on their insurance costs. In fact, two of the lead investors in Notion’s recent financing were the venture capital arms of insurance companies.
Just One Piece of the IoT Puzzle
Conceptually, Notion is taking its cue from the industrial Internet of Things (IoT), which has proved more successful than the home IoT so far.
In today’s connected age, providing remote monitoring of important or vulnerable areas of the home and empowering existing controllers – i.e., homeowners – to take care of any necessary adjustments is the next logical step.
But even building on that successful approach, you shouldn’t expect Notion to usher in a massive increase in adoption of home automation on its own – it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
However, it looks to be an important and relatively inexpensive piece of that puzzle – one that continues its push to convince homeowners of the value of the IoT.
To living and investing in the future,