New smart home controller Welle turns gestures into IoT commands

There’s a new entrant in the race to control your smart home devices. A Chinese company called Maxustech has made a pretty good impression in the Kickstarter world with the Welle — a new smart home controller that uses sonar to recognize gestures as commands. It feels a bit like using the Force to turn your stuff on and off, which is pretty cool by itself.

The developers claim the Welle is the first device of its kind to use embedded sonar to detect human motion for the control of smart devices and apps. It’s the same kind of tech that is used for high-level sensing in drones and currently being tested for self-driving cars by a variety of tech giants. Because it’s meant to be a universal controller, the Welle can be used to control a wide variety of devices including lights, televisions, speakers, door locks, thermostats, fans, and more.

More: Researchers add gesture recognition to nearly everything

The early bird price on Kickstarter gets you one Welle for $69, and Maxustech has raised over $30,000 based on a $20,000 goal. The product will be in beta testing by May 2017 with production beginning in September. Maxustech expects to start shipping in October 2017.

In contrast to hands-free devices like the Echo and Google Home, Welle uses hand signals rather than voice commands to control smart home devices. It works by emitting low-level ultrasonic waves and collecting echoes that bounce back within its sensing areas. Then the device translates those echoes via software algorithms into commands for IoT devices, software applications, or other controllers. Because the device is designed to utilize the latest Bluetooth technology in concert with the latest sonar tech, it also consumes very little power.

The Welle will detect gestures out to about a meter, and recognizes at least a dozen simple gestures. In a nifty programming trick, the Welle developers integrated a function where a letter of the alphabet can be assigned to a unique device. In other words, just dash out an “X” in the air, and you can fire up the dishwasher or turn on certain lights. The developers are also using an open application program interface to encourage software and hardware to redefine gestures and invent new functionalities.

“Our goal was to create convenient control for people that could be used anywhere,” says CEO & Founder Mark Zeng. “Our team creates technology that adds pleasure to life by amplifying natural human ability. The feedback has been amazing.”

The development of the Welle could also be the cusp of a new age in IoT control. A recent study by Juniper Research forecasts that by 2020 there could be more than 400 million motion- and gesture-tracking devices. The technology could also have a fundamental connection to rising technologies like virtual reality.

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