It’s a familiar adage in the tech world that hardware is hard. After all, a single coder can ship an app, armed with just a computer. But a new piece of hardware has to go through design revisions, materials tests, and manufacturing regulations before it sees the light of day.
This is why Ville Ylläsjärvi thinks Thingsee One, the open source, Internet of Things gadget his company is Kickstarting, will have staying power. Thingsee One isn’t just a sensor-stuffed piece of hardware, it’s a developer kit for other hardware makers. “We’re solving the hardware equation for them,” he says. “Startups can develop their solution using Thingsee One, get on with tests and pilots on the field using Thingsee One, and in many cases get their first customers using Thingsee One.”
Thingsee looks like a spiffed up pager, and is packed with sensors for light and pressure, plus an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. Together, these sensors allow Thingsee to constantly collect data on its surroundings—like temperature, the speed at which its moved around, the amount of light, and so on—that all get translated into a graphics and icon in the app. In the app, users can set up profiles for where the Thingsee lives (the garden, the basement, a set of skis, etc.) and then monitor that micro-environment, through both data and pre-programmed notifications pegged to certain kinds of information. So, for instance, if Thingsee lives on an owner’s motorcycle, and the motorcycle gets moved while the user is out of town, he’ll get an automatic alert. Or, Ylläsjärvi says that a parent who wants to monitor their newly licensed kid’s driving behavior can program a Thingsee One, stick it on the dash, and then get notifications if the kid is speeding past a certain limit, or crashes the car. This means it lacks an easy selling point (You’ll get healthier by counting steps!) in favor of myriad, do-it-yourself applications—and that’s all by design.
Longer Battery Life Is Key
Instead of connecting to the phones via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, it uses a 2G radio, and it has a battery life that can last up to a year—two reasons Ylläsjärvi says Thingsee One is a more accessible device than its Internet of Things predecessors like Twine or the Spotter from Quirky. The less you’re constantly charging or connecting a smart device, the more use cases you’ll wind up with. Developers will get access to an SDK, so with all the physical sensors already in place, they can quickly begin prototyping new ideas for connected gadgets apps or services without worrying about the costs and pitfalls of manufacturing new hardware.
Haltian, and therefore Thingsee, wouldn’t exist if Nokia hadn’t sold their devices and services division to Microsoft. Ylläsjärvi and the other Finland-based Haltian founders all worked at Nokia, creating new mobile products. They ran a group that operated like its own start up within Nokia: hand-picked talents that could handle industrial design, or software. After Nokia axed their group in 2012, they quickly reorganized around doing pretty much the same thing: coming up with new, future-facing gadgets. Thingsee One is like a startup within their startup; the founders hope to one day spin it off into its own fully-fledged company, once the marketplace for the Internet of Things is stronger.
The “fuzzy nature” of the Internet of Things, as Ylläsjärvi puts it, has to do with how companies have so far presented it to consumers. It will take off, he says, once more and more users get exposure to use cases. “Nest did it for homeowners concerned with energy usage, Smartthings for home accessory developers,” Ylläsjärvi says. “Visibility drives the adoption of the Internet of Things. If you can see things happening around you, you are able to act on them. Visibility brings comfort, It builds a feeling of security, adds more flavor to everyday adventures.”