From Silicon Labs: IoT Hero IOTAS Brings Smart Home Experience to Apartments
Last month, we spoke with the co-founders of IOTAS, Sce Pike, CEO and Jeremy Steinhauer, VP of Data Services and learned how multi-family residential buildings, otherwise known as apartments, have recently stepped up their smart home game. IOTAS, which stands for IoT as a Service, has been a key player in making this happen after creating a smart home platform for apartment renters several years ago. The platform, built for residents, property owners and installers, provides residents with a seamless IoT solution that monitors apartment unit systems, including thermostats, motion detectors, security and lighting. The solution is so easy to use renters have been asking to take it with them when moving out of their apartment.
IOTAS has grown rapidly since its inception four years ago and was recently recognized by the Bay Area’s Start-up Grind as the 2019 Start-up of the Year. The company’s install base has grown to 100,000 smart devices in more than 70 communities.
Read more below about our conversation with IOTAS and how the company tapped into a major new market opportunity for smart home technologies.
How did IOTAS get started?
Sce: In 2014, a real estate developer in Portland approached me and explained he was looking for technology differentiation for his apartment property. My background is in mobile design development, and I had recently sold my first mobile consumer company, so the idea of focusing on the technology experience in the real estate market was intriguing. I quickly realized the $5 billion real estate market had the potential to scale a new technology extremely fast.
I went ahead and recruited Jeremy as my co-founder and we immediately built out a technology solution focused exclusively on apartments. We installed 40 smart home devices in a 1,000 square foot apartment unit to create a true smart home experience, not something that was cumbersome to put together. We wanted to create a move-in ready solution that just worked. We then took the idea out on a real estate conference roadshow, and it became obvious fast that we had created the next amenity commercial property owners were seeking. Property owners knew they had to provide technological advancements in their buildings to meet the demands of millennials and GenZ.
Once we received this feedback, we scaled the solution exponentially over the next few years, with our installs growing by 500 percent last year alone. We see the potential of disruption for all multi-family properties within five years, with all of them having some level of smart technology.
How did the real estate market know they needed this?
Sce: The real estate industry is 13 percent of the U.S. GDP and does a great deal of collective research. Property companies understand their own demographic very well, and at the time they were seeing technology become pervasive across their tenants’ lives, but the shift wasn’t reflected in apartment buildings. The industry saw this void as an opportunity to create an edge for their properties. Five years ago, when we first entered the market, the conferences were only starting to talk about smart home technology, but now smart apartments are mainstream, and the vast majority of properties are allocating budgets to incorporate smart home technologies.
Tell me about your product.
Jeremy: We’re focused on making the smart home experience extremely easy for residents and property managers. We work with property developers and managers to install smart devices in apartments with a suite of applications, including door locks, thermostats, light switches, power outlets and sensors to monitor leaks, motion, temperature, etc. Residents simply download the app to their phone and get a smart home out of the box. We also created automated defaults, like “out for the day” or “welcome home,” which set up preferred systems for that specific time period.
The second application is geared towards property managers to improve efficiencies – it’s the tool managers use to link the residential units and create their own automations for vacant units, such as temperature, appliances and lighting. Property managers can use it to immediately set-up for tours of certain units by turning on lights, setting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature, etc. on and off before or after. The application also has alerts for property managers if something is amiss, such as extremely high or low temperatures or humidity levels for vacant units.
The third application is the installer and/or auto-provisioning application. During our initial foray into smart apartment, we were installing 40 devices and quickly learned that commissioning that many devices to a gateway was a painful process and not scalable. We then spent the next few years perfecting the provisioning process. Now we have several auto-provisioning patents, where we have reduced the time to install devices for an installer from one hour to 15 minutes.
The final application is our internal application – how we administrate the system and create the data around the buildings and users.
Have you ever thought about going beyond multi-family homes?
Sce: From the onset, we have been focused on the multi-family market, for a variety of reasons. The economy of scale is a big reason – we didn’t want to sell one device at a time, we wanted to sell to buildings and make installations quickly. It’s much easier to design a solution for multiple homogenous units versus custom homes.
Though we have had many residents leave their apartments and ask how they can take IOTAS with them – so much so, that we’re now working on a way for residents to be able to upgrade their systems and go on a subscription basis to take IOTAS into their new home. This new solution is on our roadmap and we’re hoping to offer it by the end of this year.
How does Silicon Labs fit into your product?
Right now, we’re using the Z-Wave 500 Series Module solution and we are using the Z-Wave 700 Series for our next generation product to be rolled out later this year. We’re also considering using Zigbee in the future for wireless, so we’re using a Silicon Labs Zigbee module as we figure out a potential software stack for a Zigbee-based application. All of the end nodes are controlled by Z-Wave; we don’t have any internal connections over Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi is purely used to connect the hub to our cloud.
Why did you decide to use the Z-Wave hub?
Jeremy: We started with Zigbee, but the standards were not there yet, as the devices weren’t all interoperable. The decision to use Z-Wave was also driven by the cost of each product. Having the ability to work with something like Z-Wave right out of the box with standardized protocols was a big selling point, as well.
Where do you IoT going in the next 5-8 years?
Jeremy: We’re extremely focused on the user experience, and we knew early on that we didn’t just want to be remote control for the home. In that same vein, I think that’s where IoT is headed – the more interconnectivity among devices, the richer the home experience can be. We see this going beyond the home, where people can take the experience with them. The smart home experience isn’t just about building profiles around people within the four walls that they live in, but taking the experience everywhere they go in the living world, such as their car, workplace, hotels, and even vacations.
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