It's 2013, and while we've given up on flying cars and jetpacks, it isn't asking too much for our homes to be a bit smarter and more connected. My co-founder Uzi and I share a lifelong passion for home automation, as well as a frustration about how long it's taking for it to become accessible to the average household, in terms of both cost and usability. One way to be smarter? How we water our lawns.
Our company recently launched a product on Kickstarter called Greenbox. It's a smartphone-controlled home irrigation system, designed to conserve water, save money, and help maintain grass and plants. Our goal is to bring smart irrigation to the masses.
With all the computing power we carry in our pockets, we have reached the tipping point where home automation shouldn't cost consumers thousands of dollars anymore. We're seeing great progress on this front, with products like SmartThings leading the revolution.
Existing 'dumb' controllers don't use weather data to determine watering programs, and the smart controllers are too expensive for most homeowners, retailing at $500 and above. Both types of controllers provide some of the most outdated and cumbersome user experiences found in any consumer product, and are absolute eyesores. We saw an opportunity to out-design the overall user experience of any existing product.
Our premise was simple: people love using their smartphones and tablets. They come with amazing processors, displays, and touch interfaces. They're superior to almost every other user interface out there, and they're always within arm's reach. Since we think every appliance in our home should provide a seamless, efficient, and fun user experience, programming the irrigation controller through a smartphone or tablet was the obvious solution.
Instead of making a controller that comes with its own display and keypad, which are invariably much worse than those that we carry in our pockets, we created a device that is simply a wirelessly-controlled box with no physical UI—just a “brain” inside. The entire interface is delivered through the user's smartphone or tablet.
The obvious advantage here is the vastly improved user interface. People are already familiar with the design patterns and gestures for smartphones and tablets, so there's zero learning curve involved. But there are other benefits, too. Building a display-less, keypad-less device reduces its production cost dramatically, allowing us to price Greenbox very attractively, at 60 percent less than the cheapest alternative in its category. It also reduces the amount of future electronic waste generated. So it's a win-win for the consumer and the environment.
When a relevant local weather event is expected, such as heavy rain, our back end (Greenbox Cloud) notifies the system with the recommended updated watering program. The user can then confirm or reject the recommendation. If confirmed, the Greenbox controller is updated with the new program.
What we've done with Greenbox wouldn't have been feasible even 5 years ago. Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets in recent years, we were able build a product that utilizes resources that the user already possesses, hence saving the need to reproduce them.
Technological advances will continue enabling access to functionality and convenience previously reserved only for the wealthiest homeowners. We look forward to seeing what other devices like Greenbox will challenge the traditional user experience and improve the quality of life for all of us.
Greenbox is now available on Kickstarter here.
Dori Dayan is co-founder and VP, Product for 22seeds. Images courtesy of 22seeds.