Mother is a smart home platform that adapts to your needs

I’m kind of tired of testing the varied smart home hubs out there. The mix of radios and software smarts that tie lights, locks and varied sensors together gets a bit old after a while, so I wasn’t too keen to set up the Mother system by Sen.se in my home. But I’m glad I did. This product is entirely different and could actually appeal to a much more casual user who wants to make their homes smarter, as opposed to automating an entire house.

Mother launched back on September 1st, costs $299 and is the brainchild of Rafi Haladjian, who had previously founded Nabaztag, a connected rabbit that was a design darling for a while. Like the Nabaztag, the Mother is an anthropomorphic design featuring a hub that looks like a Russian nesting doll, replete with a smiling face. Along with the Mother you get four “cookies,” which are slim 2-inch by 1-inch motion-tracking and temperature sensors that can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks.

The smiling Mother hub.

The smiling Mother hub.

Change your hardware as needed

The thought process behind Mother and the “cookies” is that instead of a series of dedicated sensors, you get a pack of generic sensors that you can program to do what you need at any given time. The “cookies” can be programmed to track your activity, sleep, medicine intake, doors or windows opening, toothbrushing and a few more options. Other apps such as tracking how often you water a plant or how much water you drink are on the way.

When you open the package, it takes about 30 minutes or so to set everything up. Setting up the hub is easy, although the app is called Pocket Mother, which threw me for a loop thanks to the search challenges one finds in the Google Play store. There’s support for iOS and Windows 8 as well. Once the hub is plugged in, you pop batteries in the sensors and start deciding what you want to monitor.

My daughter helped me, so she decided to take one sensor to measure her sleep and another to help me remember to give her allergy medicine in the morning. To program a “cookie”, you select the app from a dashboard of options, answer a few questions and then set the motion “cookie” by the hub and wait two minutes for the motion sensor to accept the programming.

A few quibbles and one bonus

A couple of notes here: I wish the sensors would show when the program was accepted, instead of having me track the two minutes myself. I also thought the attention to design in this hub was awesome, but the twee names given to each cookie were a bit too cute. The blue-colored cookie was called “elegant lavender,” green was “zippy mimosa,” orange is called “shiny rose,” and the yellow is called “blue nut.” At least keep the colors somewhat aligned with the names.

A motion cookie on a bottle.

A motion cookie on a bottle.

You can change the names (like to the thing you are monitoring), but the cutesy name is written on the actual sensor. The “cookies” can attach to things via putty, velcro and a keychain string, all of which are included. The Mother also came with three cases to wrap the “cookies” in as well. I wish it came with a clip to clip it into a belt for the activity tracking portion, but Haladjian said the next batch will have those.

A definite plus is that my orange sensor that I was using as an activity tracker managed to go through the wash and still worked. It was in its case and I separated it to dry, but it seems worth noting since washers are a common killer of fitness trackers.

Shiny rose went through the wash but is still functional. It's still not rose, though. Or even red.

Shiny rose went through the wash but is still functional. It’s still not rose, though. Or even red.

How does it do?

As far as the data gathered, my medicine app ran like a charm for the first three days, reminding me and texting me if I forgot to give my daughter her meds. But after one day where we forgot, it never registered it again. So I paused that app and used the motion tracker as a motion tracker on my jewelry box for a bit. It worked.

The sleep measurements are also a bit different from what I have been used to with my Fitbit and my Withings trials, but I wasn’t wearing a direct competitor on either activity or sleep tracking to measure the difference. It “felt” accurate enough, and Haladjian said that the focus is less on a day-to-day measurement than on getting an aggregate of many days’ worth of sleep data to help build up a sense of how you are doing.

There is a setting in the app to have your phone wake you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle. I tried it, but I woke up on my own a bit earlier. I am generally a crummy sleeper, so your mileage may vary. The activity tracking was on point with my previous experiences, and Mother does nag you throughout the day to walk a little farther if you aren’t on a path to meet your goals.

The dashboard that lets you monitor your apps.

The dashboard that lets you monitor your apps.

I found that between my lack of physical movement (it’s been a rough few weeks) and the malfunctioning medicine monitor, Mother nagged me quite a bit. I can see how it might get overwhelming if you had more of these things activated. That being said, the simplicity and flexibility of the platform made me want to stick these motion sensors on everything. You can buy an additional four sensors for $159 on the Sen.se web site.

I’m curious how this approach, which strikes me as more in line with the theory that the apps make the product, will resonate with consumers who are intimidated by the current home automation focus of the smart home. Perhaps adding intelligence to various things (you could pop a motion tracker on your mailbox to know when letters arrive) might get more people involved in playing with the internet of things in a way that connected locks may fail to do.

Mother may be indeed, something that your mother, or your father might want to play with. Even if they aren’t terribly tech savvy.