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Smart Homes from smartphones

Posted by pakin On December - 3 - 2014

A look at six exciting start-up apps set to bring convenience, safety and lower energy consumption in the coming year

A new innovative and free mobile app, called Wattcost, is set to turn ordinary homes into smart homes of the future, while helping save the energy consumption of households.

With the use an affordable wireless beacon that connects to an electricity meter, residents can now track and control the cost of electricity in their house via their smartphone.

Created by a start-up company from Australia, Wattcost beat out five other finalists from India, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, at the SingTel Group-Samsung Regional Mobile App Challenge staged recently in Singapore.

The six finalists were selected from a pool of over 500 start-ups comprising over 1,000 participants. The challenge aimed to identify innovative start-ups in Asia and help them accelerate their development, while improving the smartphone experience.

By simply attaching to the home’s electricity meter, the beacon analyses energy use by using advanced machine-learning algorithms and sends personalised real-time alerts to help users optimise their energy consumption and save electricity costs. The Wattcost Beacon with its unique “stick-on” electricity meter sensor is battery-operated, and designed for use with AA long-life batteries or optionally from a 5 VDC micro-B USB plug adaptor. An alert is automatically sent when it’s time to replace the batteries.

Once users download the Wattcost mobile app, from the App Store or Play Store, follow the installation instructions and complete the simple Wi-Fi set-up, they will be able to track electricity cost in real-time, Wattcost CEO and co-founder David Soutar explained.

The beacon’s low-power Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n machine-to-machine technology sends data via the internet to the company’s secure cloud-based servers for real-time analysis and sends saving alerts to a user’s smartphone.

On the smartphone screen, users can see the energy consumption of each appliance in the house, e.g. washing machine, fridge, air-conditioning and television. Users can set a target for your next power bill to control the number of savings alerts you receive to make your goal a reality.

“You can do direct comparisons of your energy use, by comparing old bills with new ones, to see how much the electricity costs today and have fun competing for the most energy smart home with your neighbourhood or friends on Facebook,” Soutar said, adding that this smart technology automatically calibrates and sends messages to help manage your home more effectively.

On its trial run, Wattcost worked with partners in Australia to run a pilot programme of 10 houses and the results were impressive.

“We are focusing on the development and pilot programme and are improving the software and whole architecture and are working very hard to ensure system accuracy as we’ve designed the product for the world and aim to save energy consumption by up to 20-30%,” said Soutar.

He noted that the company will work with three groups of partners: telecommunication operators, electricity companies and solar companies. As the winner of the challenge, Wattcost will also work with SingTel Group and Samsung to market its app to over half-a-billion mobile customers across Asia and Africa. The winning app will also enjoy prime product placement on Samsung content and services platforms.

In different countries, the model of working with partners may differ, said Soutar, noting that one of the models Wattcost will use from March is subscription, at about 100 baht per month, per house. At the moment, the application is in English, so needs to go through a localisation process to be functional in other countries. The company is therefore currently working with several partners in Thailand, China and Taiwan to manufacture the hardware.

One of the biggest challenges for now, according to Soutar, is running a Wi-Fi network on an AA battery, which is all very new technology.

The other start-up finalists from the competition include Catch It from India, a mobile app that enables users to share information, photos, video, contacts, documents and more with people around them. Jepret Story, from Indonesia, allows users to collect photos published on social networks and organise them into a special video story, helping them access and share their treasured memories with ease.

Fiuzu is a mobile app from Singapore that plans smart trips via a mobile app and on the web that plans travel activities by generating itineraries that match travellers’ time, budget and interests. Epic Life from the Philippines has been designed exclusively for Samsung smart watches. The adventure game can be played entirely from the customers’ wrists, while helping gamers stay in shape by syncing with the smart watches’ fitness data to unlock enhanced features and gameplay.

Nugrean, which translates as students, is a mobile app from a Thai team which provides a total solution for parents and teachers who might be worried about their child’s whereabouts after school. The app allows parents and teachers to supervise the safety of students as they travel back and forth between home and school via a hand-held monitoring device that comes with two applications: one for teachers to check the list of students using school transportation and the other enabling parents to monitor children in real time.

The gadget, which is attached to a student, is comprised of two tracking technologies: a wireless beacon and a cellular track and trace SIM. The team won AIS The StartUp 2014 and are currently in talks with AIS for the first prototype evaluation with some selected pilot premium schools to be operational in the first quarter of next year.

According to Pratthana Leelapanang, AIS executive vice-president of marketing for Nugrean, the app promises to be highly competitive in the marketplace because of its unique appearance and ability to offer end-to-end products with total solutions (for teachers, students and parents) and ease of being able to be replicated in other countries. AIS has become a channel for start-ups to present their ideas, as well as working together on co-development, co-marketing and co-investing.

The strength of Thailand lies in its people, said Pratthana, whom he believes are smart in both programming and design, but weak in bringing something new to market.

“We lack breakthroughs in the market and have been focusing on the local market, so it’s hard to compete in the global market,” he commented.

“Many start-ups today are at the stage of demand for funding and have to join the pitching process. The important thing is to have those who are at the seeding stage and who can reach the customers, but they have to be really new.”

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