Enchanting Products and Spaces by Rethinking the Human-Machine Interface

At the Gigaom Change conference in Austin, Texas, on September 21-23, 2016, David Rose (CEO of Ditto Labs, MIT Media Lab Researcher and author of Enchanted Objects), Mark Rolston (Founder and Chief Creative Officer at argodesign) and Rohit Prasad (Vice President and Head Scientist, Alexa Machine Learning) spoke with moderator, Leanne Seeto, about “enchanted” products, the power of voice-enabled interactions and the evolution of our digital selves.
There’s so much real estate around us for creating engaging interfaces. We don’t need to be confined to devices. Or at least that is the belief of Gigaom Change panelists, David Rose, Rohit Prasad and Mark Rolston, who talked about the ideas and work being explored today that will change the future of human-machine interfaces creating more enchanted objects in our lives.
With the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) and advances in voice recognition, touch and gesture-based computing, we are going to see new types of interfaces that look less like futuristic robots and more like the things we interact with daily.
Today we’re seeing this happen the most in our homes, now dubbed the “smart home.” Window drapes that automatically close to give us privacy when we need it is just one example of how our homes and even our workspaces will soon come alive with what Rose and Rolston think of as Smart-Dumb Things (SDT). One example might be an umbrella that can accurately tell you if or when it’s going to rain. In the near future devices will emerge out of our phones and onto our walls, furniture and products. We may even see these devices added to our bodies. This supports the new thinking that devices and our interactions with them can be a simpler, more seamless and natural experience.
Rose gave an example from a collaboration he did with the architecture firm Gensler for the offices of Salesforce. He calls it a “conversational balance table.” It’s a device that helps subtly notify people who are speaking too much during meetings. “Both introverts and extraverts have good ideas. What typically happens, though, is that during the course of a meeting, extraverts take over the conversation, often not knowingly,” Rose explains, “so we designed a table with a microphone array around the edge that identifies who is speaking. There’s a constellation of LEDs embedded underneath the veneer so as people speak, LEDs illuminate in front of where you are. Over the course of 10 or 15 minutes you can see graphically who is dominating the conversation.”
So what about voice? Will we be able to talk to these devices too? VP and Head Scientist behind Amazon Alexa, Rohit Prasad, is working on vastly improving voice interactions with devices. Prasad believes voice will be the key feature in the IoT revolution that is happening today. Voice will allow us to access these new devices within our homes and offices more efficiently. As advances in speech recognition continue, voice technology will become more accurate and able to quickly understand our meaning and context.
Amazon is hoping to spur even faster advances in voice from the developer community through Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Alexa Voice Service (AVS), which allow developers to build voice-enabled products and devices using the same voice service that powers Alexa. All of this raises important questions. How far does this go? When does voice endow an object with the attributes of personhood? That is, when does an object become an “enchanted” object?
At some point, as Mark Rolston of argodesign has observed, users are changed in the process of interacting with these objects and spaces. Rolston believes that our digital selves will evolve into entities of their own — what he calls our “meta me,” a combination of both the real and the digital you. In the future Rolston sees our individual meta me’s as being more than just data, but actually negotiating, transacting, organizing, and speaking on our behalf.
And while this is an interesting new concept for our personal identity, what is most interesting is using all of this information and knowledge to get decision support on who we are and what we want. The ability for these cognitive, connected applications to help us make decisions in our life is huge. What we’re moving toward is creating always-there digital companions to help with our everyday needs. Imagine the future when AI starts to act as you, making the same decisions you would make.
As this future unfolds, we’re going to begin to act more like nodes in a network than simply users. We’ll have our own role in asking questions of the devices and objects around us, telling them to shut off, turn on, or help us with tasks; gesturing or touching them to initiate some new action. We’ll still call upon our smartphones and personal computers, but we won’t be as tethered to them as our primary interfaces.
We’ll begin to call on these enchanted devices, using them for specific tasks or even in concert together. When you ask Amazon’s Echo a simple question like “what’s for lunch?” you won’t be read a lengthy menu from your favorite restaurant. Instead, your phone will vibrate letting you know it has the menu pulled up for you to scroll through and decide what to eat. Like the talking candlestick and teapot in Beauty and The Beast, IoT is going to awaken a new group of smart, interconnected devices that will forever change how we interact with our world.
By Royal Frasier, Gryphon Agency for Gigaom Change 2016

Open Sesame! Want to try an idiot-proof $89 connected lock?

What light bulbs and thermostats were to the smart home in 2014, connected locks are shaping up to be in 2015 — basically, they are the big connected gadget people are adding to their networks. Already, we’ve seen the entry of big brands such as Kwikset, Yale and Schlage, as well as smaller startups such as August Locks, Goji and Lockitron. On Wednesday we’re getting one more with Sesame, a $149 Bluetooth-based lock launching with a Kickstarter campaign priced at $89 for the first 500 locks and then $99 for the next 500 locks.

The Sesame lock is worth a look, especially for renters, because it’s the closest I’ve seen to the original Lockitron design that just slips over the existing deadbolt to install. Of course, that design had some problems for Lockitron — on some locks it caused the bolts to slam into the door jamb too hard or wore out the mechanism too quickly, according to Lockitron co-founder Cameron Roberts, who spoke to me about those issues back in January ahead of Lockitron announcing a new design and its own $99 base lock. It’s possible the Sesame could experience similar problems with its design.

iPhone_Silver_1

However, for those concerned about price (other connected door locks can cost between $175 to $250) or in-depth installations (installing a full lock replacement can take about 30 minutes or as little as 10 for a deadbolt replacement design like the August or Danalock) the Sesame has a lot to offer. Che-ming Ku, the founder of Candy House, which makes the Sesame, is also pledging to ship in May — that’s pretty soon and could either be a sign of confidence in his manufacturing or incredible hubris.

Ku said via email that he plans to ship at least 5,000 units per month and hopes to get early feedback before shipping all of the locks. This sounds suspiciously like beta or preview hardware to me, so if you aren’t willing to be a hardware guinea pig, perhaps you should wait for the lock to hit retail stores. Ku plans to initially sell the Sesame on Amazon and eBay and then branch out to the usual suspects of Apple Stores, Home Depots and Best Buys.

For those who are interested, here’s how the lock works. After you pop it on over your lock, it operates using Bluetooth, allowing you to open your door using the app running on your phone or via a special knock on the phone or on your door. Ku decided not to enable the automatic unlock feature when you’re near the lock that some other lock makers offer because he didn’t think it was secure. You can also continue to use your keys.

The lock comes with a lithium battery that lasts about 500 days. You can pick up replacement batteries in stores or order them on Amazon. You can also buy a Wi-Fi bridge that will connect your lock to your home network and offer remote capabilities, such as seeing if your door is locked from outside your home. The bridge-and-lock package costs $139 (it will retail for $199), and I like how the design doesn’t appear to block both outlets.

Like other locks, the app notifies you of the comings and goings in your home and lets you offer invites to people. My current smart locks are radio-enabled onl,  so there’s no app that lets me offer other people access to my house when I’m not there unless I give them a code to punch in or they call and I trigger the lock from my app. I think guest access is a pretty nice touch, which is why August, Lockitron, Sesame and the newer generation of locks are so compelling.

So keep an eye out for Sesame, although be warned, that this is a Kickstarter and still appears pretty experimental for the initial backers.

How to design security into your connected product

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We often talk about designing security into a product from the get go, but we don’t often discuss what that means. In today’s podcast John Kestner, a principle with Supermechanical, the company behind the Twine sensor and the Range thermometer, shares his thoughts on how he designed Twine and range to be more secure but also how we might design our devices to indicate that what was once a humble lock is now a connected computer with all the pros and cons that entails.

Before Kestner and I dig into security, Kevin Tofel and I talk about my experience playing with the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote and home hub and then we dig into CSRMesh and the Bluetooth SIG’s creation of a working group to add mesh networking to the Bluetooth Smart standard. That could put Bluetooth in closer competition with thread, Zigbee and Z-wave. So kick back and listen up.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: John Kestner, principal with Supermechanical

  • Thoughts on the Logitech Harmony Hub and remote (it’s pretty nifty, guys)
  • The Bluetooth SIG is forming a working group on mesh technologies. Why this is cool!
  • Should you rely on security by obscurity or hope your device doesn’t do much that’s scary as a way to be secure?
  • Thinking about how to convey connectedness in design

 

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PREVIOUS IoT PODCASTS:

Insurers may subsidize your smart home, but which device?

Let’s learn about blockname, a decentralized version of DNS

Connected apartments may be smarter than connected homes

This week’s podcast unravels the secrets of Thread and HomeKit

The internet of mi. Discussing Xiaomi, Yonomi and smart homes

Wall Street’s perspective on IoT and the plague of CES

Smart coffee makers, cheap light bulbs and better voice control

Hanging with my husband: His thoughts on our smart home

Exploring Amazon’s Echo and the retailer’s home automation channel plans

Looking for an architecture for the internet of things? Try DNS.

Building networks that can expand and survive the internet of things, plus some tips on crowdfunding

Why the internet of things should be designed with efficiency in mind

CSR will give Bluetooth gear in the smart home super powers

This year is going to be a big one for Bluetooth technologies in the smart home. Thanks to some updates in the Bluetooth standard from a year ago, we’re seeing products such as light bulbs, outlets and more using the radio technology to connect devices. But it’s not just the standards update that’s helped; a few firms have also introduced software that have allowed companies to turn their Bluetooth radios into a mesh network that offers more resiliency and range for the technology.

The Bluetooth SIG will embrace mesh

One of the more popular is CSRmesh, the software designed by CSR, the company that helped invent Bluetooth and is now in the process of being acquired by Qualcomm. Now a year old, and primarily used in lighting products like those out from Samsung or Avi-On, the CSRmesh tech lets you group up to 64,000 bulbs or devices together.

But it can do so much more. And soon it will. I took some time to discuss the technology with Rick Walker, who is in marketing with CSR to discover what’s next for the technology and whether we may see it integrated into the official Bluetooth standard anytime soon.

The answer on that last question is a solid maybe. Tuesday, the Blueooth SIG will be announcing the creation of a working group chaired by Robin Heydon, the creator of CSRmesh to study the addition of mesh networking to the Bluetooth Smart standard. While it may not adopt the CSR standard exactly, it’s likely that we will see a mesh technology added to the Bluetooth standard and some aspects of the CSR attributes win out.

Sleepy sensors and actuators

In the meantime, CSR is pushing ahead with the launch in April of a new Home Automation version of the CSRmesh technology that will add new capabilities to the tech to preserve the battery life of sensors and things like door locks in the home. the update will let sensors using the tech wake only when there’s new information to be sent and when they do send it, they can send it to a proxy device, such a light bulb that’s plugged in if the receiving device isn’t online.

csrmeshplan

The second capability it adds is a different wake pattern for actuators such as a door lock or a vent control. These will wake often for a very short amount of time to listen for a message and then go back to sleep. The idea is is should take between 30 milliseconds and 100 milliseconds for a message to hit and flip the bolt, vent or other piece that requires movement.

The goal is to save as much power as possible, without sacrificing responsiveness in the network. Other elements of the CSR mesh that are pretty exciting from a home and building automation point of view are the grouping features and ability to use proximity to trigger events. These won’t be out until the October time frame when the next iteration of the home automation version of the CSRmesh standard comes out, but I want them today.

The asset model looks promising

Because Bluetooth radios are very distance sensitive, you can use them to understand how close you are to a particular item. So when your phone or key fob, for example, is within 20 feet of a lock it might open it. Certain devices can do this today. But as part of the CSRmesh standard that could become much easier to implement, and one could do it for a variety of devices. So your locks could open, or your lights you turn on (or off). It’s part of what Walker called the asset model, where each device with a radio is tagged as an asset and devices respond to it.

Also as part of the asset model, the devices in your home could find a particular asset. So if your keys have a fob, you could issue a command asking your home to find your keys and all of the BLE devices on the mesh could send out a signal. Your kitchen lights might send back a message saying, the key fob is nearby, while a Bluetooth outlet on the counter gets the strongest signals and signals that they are closest to it.

All of these sound pretty awesome, although there are other mesh networking technologies out there including the older ZigBee and Z-wave radios that are in millions of devices. They don’t have the advantage of being on people’s handsets, which is something Bluetooth has going for it. And to get the benefits of CSRmesh, all one has to do is download an application that uses the CSRmesh software on top of a radio running Bluetooth 4.0, which is what current generation iOS and Android handsets are using.

On the security front, the CSRmesh uses AES encryption to stop eavesdroppers and authentication at both ends to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks. It also prevents replay attacks where someone can copy messages and replay them, by inserting a numerical sequence at the beginning of each radio transmission that is then replayed out of sequence if copied.

We’ll have to wait for some of the cool features, although the security elements are already in the mesh today. What I take from all of this is that we’re going to be able to solve many of the problems of the smart home many different ways which means standardization is probably a ways off. And that in turn means, it’s hard to go out there and shell out a lot of money for new devices. Although with Bluetooth I guess you don’t have to spend all that much.

What will happen to the smart home hub?

Last week’s acquisition of UK-based smart home platform provider AlertMe capped off a smart-home acquisition spree that includes Nest picking up Revolv in October and Samsung taking out SmartThings in August. If the last six months have shown the market anything, it’s that a number of leading consumer IT giants, including Google, Samsung, and Apple, plus a utility here and there, feel they need a connected-home platform to stay competitive.

The reasons for this are complex. For hardware providers like Apple, which should launch HomeKit this spring, the reasons relate to needing to keep users’ interaction with the home within the iOS ecosystem in order to maintain competitiveness in mobile. For utilities like British Gas, which picked up AlertMe, there’s an opportunity to engage customers in ways never possible before, which could be important in deregulated and competitive utility markets. And for a hardware design leader like Nest, there’s value in having some of the best home-networking engineers in-house since the company intends to use the Nest thermostat as a springboard on which to build a full platform that plays well with third-party devices.

Just a year ago the smart home market was still a startup, venture-financed one. Now it looks like a market full of players with deep pockets, global sales channels and major brands.

When I caught up with AlertMe’s CEO Mary Turner the evening of the acquisition announcement, she commented that she felt the timing of the deal was right. “It was starting to get quite noisy and there were some very large players with deep pockets entering the fray. The vision [for AlertMe] was to not service one or two million homes but tens of millions of homes globally. To effectively deliver that vision, we felt we needed the firepower to get us into the next stage of development. This is no longer a market for tiny small startups.”

The question going forward is, What happens to the physical hardware hubs in the home? The answer to that question indicates how users will control the smart home. When Nest bought Revolv, it immediately discontinued the attached hardware hub Revolv had built with its seven radios. And AlertMe has always argued that the value of its service is in its software platform, which also powers the Lowe’s Iris hub.

Turner and I looked to a future in which the hardware hub disappears and the “hub stack” is absorbed by another piece of hardware in the home, like a wireless router or a set-top box. Currently the smart home market isn’t big enough to warrant putting additional radios into a router or set top box, but that picture may well be different in two years. There is no shortage of Apple fans, for example, that believe the Apple TV is ripe to absorb the hub stack, and along with HomeKit, act as a control center for the home.

If consolidation of communications protocols follows the absorbing of the hub stack into a more mass-market device that’s in most homes, building out the connected home will get easier and will push the connected home toward the mass market.

Whether it’s Apple, Samsung, or even a utility like British Gas, there’s value in being in control of the software that will control that home. Which may well explain how almost every major hub maker with a solid software platform atop which big IT players could build services got acquired in just six months.

Check out this cool connected water shut-off valve from Lowe’s

Updated: This post was updated on Feb. 24 to reflect new information from Lowe’s. The company clarified that it had given me the wrong information originally and that this product does not use Z-wave. It uses Zigbee (specifically Zigbee’s home automation 1.2 profile).

Lowe’s has added a smart water shut-off valve that you attach just inside your water meter to its selection of connected devices, which means for about $500 or maybe a bit less if you’re truly a DIYer, you could leak-proof your home. Take this valve, a few strategically placed moisture sensors and a hub that can send notifications to alert you or trigger the water to shut off if the sensors detect leaks, and you’ve just saved yourself from a real mess.

The valve costs $159 in the store, but you may want to shell out for a plumber for the install because you’re basically putting this thing on the pipe running between your water meter and all the water flowing into your home. That may set you back around $150, according to the pricing set by Kris Bowring, the director of new business development for Iris who showed me the device this week at an event in Austin.

The valve works with the Iris system, which is the Lowe’s connected home hub, but it also uses the Zigbee HA 1.2 radio protocol, which means it should work with other hubs, such as SmartThings, Staples Connect and event Wink, which supports the ZigBee HA 1.2 profile as well. That said, the Lowe’s Iris system sometimes runs Zigbee profiles that don’t always play nicely with other hubs. I haven’t tried it because I do not have $300 at the moment to prevent floods in my home, but it’s a perfect use case to submit to my home insurance company should it ever decide to start offering discounts for connected devices.

Updated: This article was updated on Feb. 23 to add a link and more specific pricing.

Smart devices can make the insurance biz proactive, not reactive

Insurance companies are looking for ways to reduce the amount of money they have to pay out on claims, and one promising way to reduce that risk is through connected security and home automation devices. In this week’s podcast I spoke with Dan Reed, managing director at American Family Ventures, the venture capital arm of American Family Insurance. AmFam as it is known, has 10 million policies and offers home, auto and life insurance.

Reed shared with me a bit about how he’s looking for investments in the space and also how the insurance industry is thinking about the smart home and about data privacy. “For the insurance industry in general [IoT] is essentially an extension of smoke detectors and seat belts. These are inexpensive products that can help keep people safe,” Reed said. “And from a strategic point of view, as a a strategic participant in the venture industry it offers the opportunity for a new type of engagement with our policyholders.”

He added that this changes the model of the insurance industry from a reactive to a proactive model and added that he believes that the industry not only has an economic incentive but also a moral incentive help prevent bad things from happening to its customers. Within that context he thinks the insurance industry will subsidize devices such as water leak sensors or connected smoke detectors much like they already offer discounts to homeowners that add alarm systems to their homes.

But once insurance companies start subsidizing connected devices, what claim will they have on the data those devices generate? Connected smoke detectors can offer not just low battery warnings or smoke alarm notifications, but can share details about people in the home or even temperature data. A connected security camera could share much more. On cars, data might include speed and location data that the insurer might want for setting pricing, but also might have to provide in case of an accident or legal demand.

When asked, Reed explained a program that AmFam implemented in 2007 that was aimed at teenage drivers and reducing their accident rates. The program put a DriveCam in cars that activated when a car accelerated or braked too quickly and then sent the footage to the cloud where independent analysts and the teen’s parents could see the images. The analysts rated the footage to make sure the program was helping reduce accidents and the parents saw the footage so they could talk to their kids about the choices they were making behind the wheel.

The program was opt-in, and it did help change driving habits and cut accidents. Reed said that program exemplifies how his company thinks about privacy and user data, and how he hopes the industry thinks about it as well.

“We are very conscious of this notion of Big Brother and of privacy within your own home or your own vehicle, and I think it is something that the insurance industry and the startups in this space have to be very cognizant of and very transparent about,” he said. “They have to tell users how they are going to use the information that is coming off of these devices and right from the start take a benevolent position about the partnerships you have with your policyholders. I think the worst thing that could happen is that a company would collect information that the policyholders don’t know about or approve of. I think that would be a major setback to the deployment of some of these safety technologies.”

For more from Reed or to hear Kevin Tofel and I respond to some of our reader questions, take a listen to this week’s podcast from earlier this week. It’s a long show, but chock full of good stuff.

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Get ready to spend. The way we buy home improvement is changing

How did you buy your last thermostat? What about your last door lock? If you don’t know, the odds are that’s about to change. If you do know, the odds are you purchased a connected device in the not too distant past. And as more people embrace the smart home, spending patterns on a whole new class of products is about to shift.

Consumers used to buy a new lock when their old one broke, when they moved into a new place, or maybe during an overall remodel. A new water heater or light switch was the same kind of purchase; not often. A thermostat was likely bought from an HVAC technician as part of a repair or picked up after a repair or energy audit at a home improvement store. But as devices get smarter, consumers are buying them differently.

“The new features we’re adding to traditional home devices changes the way the consumer shops and that changes where they buy it,” said Stuart Lombard, the Co-CEO of Ecobee, a smart thermostat maker. Lombard was in Austin, Texas on Tuesday at an event where we chatted about the company’s new retail shift. He said since the launch of Ecobee’s retail channel in November about 30 percent of its sales are from stores such as Apple, Amazon or other places outside of the traditional HVAC retailers that used to be the primary way consumers purchased the company’s devices.

The new Home Depot thermostat aisle (Ecobee is on the far right.)

The new Home Depot thermostat aisle (Ecobee is on the far right.)

As of Monday, Ecobee is part of the newly revamped thermostat aisle in 70 Home Depot stores, and it expanding its devices to all 800 Best Buy stores by the end of April. This is a pretty big opportunity for the thermostat, which had been sold in Apple stores and on Amazon since November. Lombard isn’t the only executive I’ve spoken to that is noticing the shift.

In a conversation with Mike Watson, the VP of Product Strategy with Cree, a maker of LED light bulbs, after the company had just launched a connected $15 light bulb, I asked about the longevity of LED bulbs and whether or not that would be a problem for consumers wanting to replace them with newer connected versions. He didn’t foresee an issue, saying that he expected people to upgrade when they saw new features worth upgrading for.

As someone who actually has a box of used incandescent bulbs from my various LED upgrades that I use to replace my dumb lights when they burn out, and who views forced obsolescence as both an insult to my budget and the environment, the idea of changing the way we purchase and possibly upgrade our home’s fixtures worries me a bit. By making them smart we may possibly be making them less fixed.

Insurers may subsidize your smart home, but which device?

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The wealth of data and convenience a connected home can offer is impressive. Saving energy or adding security are primary reasons consumers are buying connected products today, but businesses are interested as well. One of the earliest industries to investigate the promise of connected consumer homes is the insurance industry, which is looking at the benefits of getting consumers to put water sensors around leak-prone areas or even just add additional security products or better smoke detectors in a home to help improve safety.

In this week’s podcast I spoke with Dan Reed, managing director at American Family Ventures, the venture capital arm of American Family Insurance. AmFam as it’s known, has 10 million policies and insures homes, cars and small businesses. Reed has invested in several internet of things companies and is looking to make more investment sin early-stage companies, so we talked about what he’s looking for as well as what role the interest of things will play in the future of the insurance industry. Before Reed and I chat, Kevin I answer a few questions from the mailbag and discuss Gizmodo’s terrible experience with the Wink hub, and why it’s such a blow for the industry.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guests: Dan Reed, managing director, American Family Ventures

  • The smart is still really dumb and that hurts everyone.
  • Kevin and I answer your mailbag questions on presence, Insteon and more.
  • Insurance companies are testing connected devices in the home. Will they subsidize them?
  • What data should an insurer see from your home or your car?

 

Internet of Things Show RSS Feed

Subscribe to this show in iTunes

Download This Episode

 

PREVIOUS IoT PODCASTS:

Let’s learn about blockname, a decentralized version of DNS

Connected apartments may be smarter than connected homes

This week’s podcast unravels the secrets of Thread and HomeKit

The internet of mi. Discussing Xiaomi, Yonomi and smart homes

Wall Street’s perspective on IoT and the plague of CES

Smart coffee makers, cheap light bulbs and better voice control

Hanging with my husband: His thoughts on our smart home

Exploring Amazon’s Echo and the retailer’s home automation channel plans

Looking for an architecture for the internet of things? Try DNS.

Building networks that can expand and survive the internet of things, plus some tips on crowdfunding

Why the internet of things should be designed with efficiency in mind

Mother may I? Building hardware that can change with the flip of an app.

Smart home management firm AlertMe bought out by British Gas

The British smart home outfit AlertMe has a long history with British Gas – back in 2009 it scored its first trial with the country’s biggest energy supplier, and in 2012 it was chosen to provide the software for British Gas’s smart meters across the country. Its technology also underpins British Gas’s Hive Active Heating system.

Now the two have formally tied the knot. On Friday British Gas announced it was buying out AlertMe, in which it already held a 21 percent stake, for a net cost of £44 million ($68 million). AlertMe said the deal was worth an overall $65 million ($100 million). British Gas parent company Centrica said it expected the transaction to be completed by the end of the quarter.

Centrica said the purchase would give it a connected home boost in its other territories, such as the U.S. (where it owns Direct Energy) and Ireland (where it owns Bord Gáis.)

AlertMe provides a modular connecting home system called Omnia, comprising an energy analytics software service, energy monitoring and control, and home automation – covering everything from surveillance and various alarms to remotely controlled door locks.

The company makes the smart home management system sold by Lowe’s in the U.S. under the “Iris” brand. Then there’s its AlertMe Cloud, running on Amazon Web Services, which ties the whole caboodle together and comes with APIs for device and application partners.

AlertMe also has customers in other energy providers such as Essent in the Netherlands, which is part of energy giant RWE. I asked the company where such non-Centrica deals will stand, and a spokeswoman told me that “as far as existing customers are concerned, there’s no change.”

“The intention in the global market is selling the product as a platform-as-a-service — there are opportunities beyond the Centrica group companies,” she added. AlertMe currently has 70 full-time employees and made £17.8 million in revenues in 2013.