zDevice - let skynet into your home

2012-01-24 14:59:52 -0500

Originally posted on tumblr

zDevice (alternate link) is in the same space as the wildly successful Twine box - a "micro appliance" with WiFi and a bunch of sensor/actuator interfaces. Both are trying to be easy to configure; the zDevice looks like it wins more on openness (talks to a local server instead of a "cloud" one, for one thing.) The zDevice kickstarter project is actually including the rest of the kit needed for some "real" applications, including a smart garage door opener - it's hard to "sell" a platform, but starting with a use case gets you the attention of people who realize that they really want something close to that, and with the "bias for tweaking" that these things encourage, you can capture the people who want to make something physical from an idea but don't think they can (or simply don't have the time to) start from scratch.

The downside of "priming" the reader with existing projects is the fear that it means that people will look at the device too narrowly. I think in practice that too many options will confuse people up front, and there's plenty of opportunity for followup once it's off the ground.

I've had my own list of projects in mind for years but never really wanted to put even a mini-tower PC in every room, just to drive some sensors. The EEEpc almost made the perfect platform, except they ended up being too useful for other things - and they kept putting out newer models every couple of months with increases in price and feature set, instead of pushing the price down on the original version - at $100 each for an EEEpc 701 (fanless, ssd, webcam), you could put one in every room, enabling things like

If one of these devices gets really popular, and the price goes below even the current kickstarter prices, then I hope to see more kickstarter projects for experimental sensors - localizing microphones/vibration sensors, imaging thermal sensors, airflow detectors of some kind? Ad-hoc home environmental automation would be a fun field to be in.

And given a cheap netbook and a pile of sensors, the obvious next step is to drive them around :-) The OCULUS telepresence robot (hat tip to ladyada for reminding me of it) is still a little mispositioned in that it's mostly about you remotely driving a camera around, instead of the netbook observing and reacting and reporting - after all, the first useful thing you could do with one isn't "torment the cat from ground level", it's "Use Bundler and SLAM to produce a full interior model of your house, so you can finally figure out how large a ball-pit you can install".

Or figure out if there's room for the shark tank under the trap door after all...