In theory, smart homes promise untold convenience. Controlling every upstairs lightbulb, bedroom blind, garage door lock, speaker, TV, and kitchen appliance from your smartphone sounds like a future straight out of science fiction. But in practice, the systems aren’t quite as plug-and-play as the flashy advertisements lead you to believe. Platforms like Samsung’s SmartThings and Wink’s Hub require a decent amount of troubleshooting on your part. And even once in place, most don’t solve the underlying dilemma — in many cases, controlling a connected lightbulb from your iPad ends up being much more complicated than flipping a wall switch.
That’s the usability problem that Paris-based company Sevenhugs set out to solve. “The smart home ecosystem is very fragmented. If you have five to 10 devices in your home, you need to unlock the phone, select the device you want to control,” company co-founder and CEO Simon Tchedikian told Digital Trends at CES Unveiled. The team of almost 20 employees spent the last two years developing an ambitious solution: the Smart Remote, a remote capable of controlling almost every smart appliance in a given room — more than 25,000, to be exact. “The home deserves a dedicated remote,” he said. “We’re proposing one interface for one device in the home.”
The Smart Remote is deceptively simple. Dominating the front of the elongated, rounded rectangular controller is a full-color touchscreen powered by a rechargeable battery. It connects to a nondescript base station via a USB Type-C port on the bottom, and automatically switches off when not in use.
But the Smart Remote’s minimalism belies its incredible magic trick: the ability to serve up controls for Philips Hue bulbs, Sonos speakers, Samsung TVs, and dozens of other connected products with the literal flick of a wrist.
It’s like a souped-up television remote. Point at a Wi-Fi-connected lamp, and you’ll see brightness and color settings for said bulb appear on the Smart Remote’s screen. Move it in the direction of a smart TV, alternatively, and a relevant collection of channel toggles, volume sliders, a power toggle, and shortcuts to cable channels will appear.
The Smart Remote performs its smart home magic with the help of sensors and radio tech. It ships with three emitters that beam the electromagnetic waves responsible for helping the remote get its bearings, so to speak. The sensors, affixed to opposite ends of a room’s walls, allow the Smart Remote’s onboard processor to triangulate its location. That positioning, in tandem with orientation data from the remote’s nine-axis accelerometer and gyroscope, lets the remote “know” when you’re pointing at a Hue bulb versus, say, motorized blinds.
Tchedikian showed Digital Trends a real-time view of the remote’s tracking tech: a three-dimensional grid populated with white dots representing the radio emitters, green dots representing the location of appliances, and an animated Smart Remote in the middle. Tchedikian said the algorithms took “months” alone to develop. “We’re pushing the boundaries of what tracking technology can provide today,” he said.
That grid’s how the Smart Remote knows the appliance layout of your room. During the setup process, you indicate the location of devices by establishing “trigger points” — you assign a Hue device to the physical spot in front of a Hue bulb, for instance, and a Sonos space in front of a speaker. It’s forgiving: in Digital Trends’ demo of the system, the remote never had trouble switching between controls.
Device integrations are handled through the Smart Remote’s companion app; set up a Hue bulb, and you’ll be prompted to log into your Philips account. Sevenhugs said it supports more than 25,000 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and infrared devices from Samsung, Nest, Hue, Lifx, Bose, Honeywell, Osram, Netatmo, Roku, and others, and that it intends to broaden integrations in the coming weeks. “It depends on who does the integration,” Tchedikian said. “We eventually want to support as many interfaces as possible.”
Perhaps more intriguingly, the Smart Remote supports services and apps, too. Uber’s the first. You can assign a spot on the wall that summons ride-sharing controls, or a particular window that shows a weather forecast when you wag the remote in its direction.
It works with existing hubs, too, including SmartThings, Wink, and the Logitech Harmony Hub. And the Smart Remote is shipping with an open API and SDK that’ll allow anyone to contribute custom device types and interfaces. “People will be able to do anything,” Tchedikian said.
The team has some refining left to do. The final remote will be larger than the prototype — “people were expecting something bigger,” Tchedikian said. It’ll have a larger screen, too, and one that’s in high definition. And the company’s toying with the idea of voice control; the Smart Remote has a built-in microphone that might one day accept commands for the device at which it’s pointing (think “tune to CNN” for a smart TV).
But they’re being careful not to get ahead of themselves. “We don’t want to make it anymore complicated than it has to be,” Tchedikian said. “It’s meant to be an intuitive solution — one interface for everything.”
The Sevenhugs Smart Remote launched on Kickstarter last year in bundles — which included a smart remote, case, charging cable, and three room sensors — between $100 and $200. It earned over $1 million in funding from more than 6,000 backers, and is now available for pre-order for $230.
It will cost $300 when it hits store shelves in June later this year.
Article originally published in November 2016. Updated on 01-04-2017 by Kyle Wiggers: Added news of successful Kickstarter funding.
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