Luminode Roller Coaster Still Riding the Rails!

It has been about 6 weeks since my last update and we’re still pulling out all the stops to get the Luminodes out the door and into your homes! It turns out that designing and building (and redesigning and rebuilding) a UL-approved electronic dimmer switch is no small roller coaster ride. The details required to meet specified guidelines and pass important safety testing go on and on and on, the extent of which we underestimated at the outset, but we are still determined to satisfy.

Since receiving 100 newly updated Luminodes from our manufacturer about 2 weeks ago, I have replicated the UL tests the best that I can (without the benefit of a full-fledged UL test facility). Through my testing, I have learned that an early design decision created a bottleneck due to the placement of the primary heat generating-component that will likely limit our rating to 400 watts for incandescent bulbs. Fortunately this will not effect our originally planned 150 watt rating for LED bulbs which is still in line with industry standards.

We are currently communicating with UL about test scheduling and will announce when we have that new schedule finalized.

As always thank you for your patience and support!

- Team Think Automatic

The Continuing Saga of the Luminode

It has been over a month since my last update on Luminode development, and quite a bit longer since delving deeply into the “saga”.  But for those of you simply interested in the highlights, this is where we stand today.

Status:

  • We expect to receive new, UL testable, Luminodes on June 20th.  This delay from earlier estimates stemmed from difficulties in obtaining two separate components needed in order to manufacture the new units with UL necessitated design modifications. All components are now in hand and Luminode manufacturing is underway.
  • If all goes well from here we could begin once again the week-long UL testing process by the end of July or the beginning of August.
  • The silver lining of these delays is that we have used this time to push hard on:
    • Refining the learning algorithm and moving it out to the cloud
    • Improving our web-based user experience
    • Adding advanced features in the Luminode firmware
    • Testing the simple process to integrate “things” into our learning system which as a result turns them into “things that learn”. We’ve started with the Ubi voice recognition device, ecobee thermostat and soon the Philips Hue, though integrating any “thing” with a reasonable API is generally a snap.
The results of these advances means I am able to configure my whole house from scratch in literally in less than 5 minutes, turning it into a true smart home that learns how to respond to my family’s normal patterns.  It conserves our time, energy and money while also letting us see what it has learned while interacting with it from anywhere in the world.
 
Technical Details of Recent Advances Over the Last 6 Months (TLDR version for those who want the gritty details):
  • The Luminode firmware is now bilingual!  They speak both XML and JSON, further simplifying integration with other systems, not just with our learning system.
  • Luminodes are now addressable by their attributes, which means that individual Luminodes may be given any number of attribute/value pairs which can then be used to send commands to arbitrary groups of Luminodes.  As part of the linking process each Luminode is given a location/room name, but that is just the start of the information they maintain about themselves and how they can be addressed.
  • Each Luminode maintains its own snapshot of the learned scene information, including time of day sensitive preference scores, relevant to its location and updated every few minutes by the learning system.  This enables each Luminode to be able to make intelligent scene selections locally, then issue commands directly to other Luminodes in the same room via attribute based addressing.  The net experience is that Luminodes seem to instantly know what you want them to do all with very few, simple and intuitive interactions.
  • Luminodes are now capable of super slow dimming of up to over an hour.  Instead of Luminodes abruptly shutting lights off when it seems no one is present, they can very gradually and pleasantly dim in case the room only appears unoccupied.
  • The learning algorithm now lives in the cloud as a secure service.  This means that not only is it now possible to access your home from anywhere in the world, but also custom or third party cloud based applications can begin to be developed utilizing our learning system.
Past Challenges and Future Hurdles:
  • Although there have been many challenges and setbacks over the last several, now years, the single biggest recent challenge has been satisfying UL requirements and the corresponding revisions and re-submissions.  The cycle of designing->building->testing->redesigning->rebuilding->retesting->… has been an expensive grind.  It would seem that we are finally getting close to UL approval, but this cycle pre-dates our Kickstarter campaign by several years.  The early origins of the Luminode date back to 2007, and the early learning algorithm development goes back to 2005.
  • Now that the Luminode has been under development for so long we are now bumping into an issue common to hardware projects.  The main chip that we use for combined networking and main processing unit (namely the Freescale MC13224) is being phased out of production starting late this fall. Fortunately this chip resides on a daughter board and is not expected to impact UL testing or approval.  Even so we are evaluating a replacement (namely the new NXP JN5164 802.15.4 integrated system on a chip) which may even be ready by the time we begin UL physical testing this summer.
Even longer story cut short, we are still going for it!  
As always thank you everyone for your ongoing patience and support from Team Think Automatic!

 

Quick Luminode Update

We have received UL design approval on the recent changes and have already manufactured new blank circuit boards and mechanical components. After we receive the final electronic components within the next week or two we will complete this build of 100 units enabling us to repeat the UL physical tests. Once we have the UL physical testing scheduled we will post another update with the new timeline.

As always thank you for your continuing patience and support.

- Team Think Automatic

Continuing Progress Towards UL Approval

UL confirmed with us last week that we had a couple minor remaining issues related to our recent Luminode design modifications.  We have since fixed those issues and resubmitted back to UL.  Since the fixes were merely to re-route a few circuit board traces we are confident that we will receive design approval very soon.  Meanwhile, our manufacturing partner in China is ready to begin production on new units as soon as we get official approval from UL so we can restart the physical tests as quickly as possible.

As always, thank you for your continuing patience and support.
- Team Think Automatic

OMG: talking to your smart home beyond the text message

At the international Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas earlier this year, you might think that “smart homes” and “smart phones” were synonymous.   Here’s a roundup of just a few examples:

  • NDTV reports from the show floor that Samsung and LG were out in force. “We are texting friends and family throughout the day. Why not do the same thing with your air conditioning system or your vacuum?” asked LG national product trainer Randy Overton.
  • Samsung Electronics introduced Smart Home, a service for managing its smart TVs, home appliances and smartphones.
  • The Canary security system.

    The Canary security device.

    Engadget profiled the Canary, who displayed their beta home security console. Equipped with a camera and a mic, it texts you should it see or hear anything odd in your home when you’re away. Pretty cool stuff.

    wally

    The Wally home sensor.

  • We’re big fans of home-town favorite, Seattle-based Snupi and their Wally Home sensors that alert you to water leaks and temperature changes.

At Think Automatic, we know that having a killer mobile app will help bring smart homes to the masses. Heck, I’ll admit to enjoying being able to turn my lights off from bed.

But when we think about the smart home of the future, we get more excited about sensing and learning than programming and controls. And a smart home doesn’t have to mean you’re constantly communicating with devices via text message.

ubi

The Ubi. And yes, it *can* hear you now.

That’s why we’re excited about Ubi. This “ubiquitous computer” recognizes voice commands, connects to the internet in your home, and holds a wealth of possibilities for connected devices. And, like Think Automatic, they have a learning algorithm. “The Ubi gets smarter. Updates are automatically pushed to it and it learns over time. ” They’re speaking our language, and with two Ubi’s in the Luminode beta home, we’re excited to integrate them into our platform as part of our “plays well with others” promise.

Stay tuned for updates on that integration, and the meantime, check out the Ubi for yourself!

 

 

 

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The “Internet of Things” isn’t the new hotness

The world of connected devices has certainly been the media darling of late– and rightly so. Nest was just acquired for a whopping $3.2B by Google. Snupi just raised over $7.4M in Series A funding. And 2013 was a banner year for venture capital investing, with big data, mobile, digital health and the internet of things topping the charts. Hot off the press!

Dick Tracy's super-cool video watch dates back to 1931.

Dick Tracy’s super-cool video watch dates back to 1931.

Still more (digital) ink has been devoted to this increasingly popular trend; just today, a Forbes’ headline touted a “new perspective on the Internet of Things. ” Thinfilm’s Davor Sutija describes that “about a trillion sensors are required to power [a] billion connected devices.” Sutija defies industry giants Cisco and IBM with an alternative definition of the “internet of things,” espousing a peer-to-peer device-centric definition of this term of art (vs. the “traditional” definition, centered on the network).

But if you’ve been on the sidelines or in the trenches with IT developments of the last 30+ years, none of this is new, or even news.

The debate between centralization and decentralization is as old as the information technology industry itself. Much (actual) ink was spilled as the pendulum swung between peer-to-peer and client-server architecture. But at the end of the day, from where we’re sitting, there is no “pure” peer-to-peer, nor “pure” client-server universe. The heart doesn’t think and the brain doesn’t pump blood, so the body needs both.

With the “internet of things,” or in the case of Think Automatic, in the “smart home,” or back in the 90′s when I was in Microsoft Research, for what we called “ubiquitous computing,” the heart is the user experience. The brain is the learning algorithm software. And the nervous system is made up of the network of “things” that benefit from and respond to the intelligence of the brain.

jetsonsWhatever you want to call it, the “Internet of Things” isn’t new. With the benefit of Moore’s law (such that every 18 months technology is twice as powerful at half the cost), micro-controllers are now as powerful as the supercomputers of 30 years ago, and the notion of a trillion sensors can become an affordable reality. Eighty years ago, Dick Tracy’s creators had the imagination. Fifty years ago the Jetsons and Star Trek had the vision. Today, enabling technology, the investment community and the consumer are finally catching up.

Luminodes Back in the UL Pipeline

The design to fix the Luminodes for UL re-submission were completed on January 24th and the design files have been submitted once again to UL. It should take about 2 weeks for UL to review the design changes, after which will will need to manufacture new test units to resume the UL physical testing. Exact timing is still difficult to determine, but rest assured we are working as hard as we possibly can to get through this important testing process.

As always, thank you for your continuing patience and support.
- Team Think Automatic

Luminode Fixes for UL Approval are in Progress

Late last fall, after almost making it through UL, we were hopeful that a trivial hardware fix was all that would be needed in order to resubmit for testing. This turned out to be not quite the case.

Based on my experience at UL I was able to reconstruct a very accurate test apparatus for the Luminode and determined that a slightly more involved hardware fix was necessary. I was able to isolate two heat sources secondary to the triac component that controls the lighting load. These secondary heat sources were related to our UL required feature called an air-gap switch.

I hand modified a Luminode to test a slightly different approach with the air-gap switch. Then using a test “stub wall” that I built, similar to what is used at UL, I was able to verify that this new approach brought all of our temperature readings down significantly.

We expect to have these changes incorporated into our design by January 17th, at which point we will resubmit to UL asap for design approval, followed immediately by producing more parts in order to restart the physical tests. Exact timing of those steps is still to be determined.

Meanwhile we are still refining all aspects of the system and plan to have live video demos available in the coming weeks. Spoiler alert: I am literally able to configure, from scratch, every room in my home and all 20 Luminodes in 4 and a half minutes using my phone!

For those interested, below is a photo of the test stub wall. The wires coming out of it are temperature probes attached to internal components and surfaces of the Luminode.

As always, thank you for your continuing patience and support!

- Team Think Automatic

TestLuminode

Luminodes in the House!

Since our UL setback last month we have been revising and refining our course of action in order to get the Luminode successfully through UL in a timely fashion, which we are determined to do. Meanwhile I have installed 18 Luminodes in my home (with light loads since they’re not UL approved yet) and I have finally experienced Luminodes learning my patterns in a real world setting and I love them! I know, of course I would say that since they’re our invention, but they really work!

After just a couple of days they learned to come on softly on the first tap when I get up in the middle of the night, a little brighter over morning coffee in the kitchen, and then in the evening the sink and counter top zones automatically get triggered from the same Luminode that triggered soft coffee light in the morning. And on top of all that I configured the whole house in less than 5 minutes using my smartphone which also presents me with auto-generated scenes that the system configured and figured out that I like.

So in a nutshell. The learning algorithm works, UL is still getting closer, meanwhile the phone UI is getting better all the time. Hopefully by next week we will be able to shoot a live demo video in my home showing how simple it really is to setup and powerful to use.

As always, thank you for your continued patience and support!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the folks in the US!

UL, Interrupted

I’m nearing the end of my week here with UL in Melville, NY. The folks at UL here are a great group of people who love what we’re doing and are really rooting for the Luminode. They are helping us make the Luminode the best it can be by ensuring that it is safe and reliable through rigorous testing. And today during part of that testing we unfortunately had two test units temporarily stop working likely due to heat issues. We believe this is due to a coil operating close to its rated current combined with potential ventilation issues. Therefore I made the decision to halt the tests while we investigate replacing the coil with a higher rated one that keeps cooler. We are hopeful that this combined with minor ventilation changes will remedy the issue. If all goes well we may be able to resubmit to UL within 2 weeks since we can likely make the changes ourselves without going back to the manufacturing plant.

Thank you from all of us at Think Automatic for your patience, support, and understanding as we navigate this important safety approval process.

Stay tuned as we learn more… Next update likely by the end of next week.

Smart Grid For the Home