Butlers & babysitters & bots, oh my! 3 French startups making homes smarter

Mar 29, 2016
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smart remote

There was a great showing at Hacking de l’Hotel de Ville last week from the Internet of Things, including French startups that stole the show at CES 2016. From babies and entertainment to indoor lighting and air quality, these startups are setting a new bar for the quality of home life.

The Smart Remote is a universal device by SevenHugs that was unveiled at CES 2016. SevenHugs calls their device “the world’s first contextual remote” which operates via a pioneering “point-and-click” technology that is able to recognize the object and adapt its behaviour accordingly. Currently, the Smart Remote is compatible with Philips Hue lights, Sonos speakers and the Nest Learning Thermostat – but with an open SDK, the possibilities for compatibility are extensive. Co-founder and CTO Lionel Marty said at Hacking, “Point to your window to check the weather, or get an Uber by simply pointing to your door.” The proposition certainly is intriguing, though my covetousness conflicts with guilt at the prospect of becoming lazier than I already am.

smart remote 1

As well as being a super-slick little number, the device resolves the friction that currently makes IoT in the home kind of a pain in the, um, app. For every smart device, explains Louise Plaquevent, SevenHugs Marketing and Communications Manager, there’s a separate app; in US households where, according to Plaquevent, the average number of connected devices is nine, hopping around between a separate app for each device is way more of a hassle than just flipping a switch. The Smart Remote simplifies this arduous process for managing all devices, and you don’t even have to so much as operate the device itself – just point, et voilà.

The Smart Remote isn’t yet available for pre-order, but we’re already taking bets on this baby flying off the shelves sometime in the next couple of months.

Speaking of babies, a connected device that’s already turned a prototype into revenue is Oliba, “the smart buddy” for kids, that’s already won the Best of CES award this year. Oliba is a “smart owl” designed to soothe and comfort children by multitasking as a GPS, storyteller and nightlight – it’s the babysitting accessory you never knew you needed, but it addresses the cause of many a boohoo.

Designed to be fitted onto your child’s favourite plushie, the smart owl primarily functions as a storytelling device that can be filled with up to 20 stories of 3-5 minutes each, recorded by the parent. It can be controlled remotely via the app – whether you’re just downstairs, or if baby is with the sitter – and the child can listen to more stories by pressing the owl’s face.

Oliba PK 1 English

The owl is also a glow-in-dark nightlight, and contains a GPS tracker that alerts parents if the toy is dropped; within a 100-foot range, the device will call the connected mobile so it can be retrieved before, let’s face it, all hell breaks loose. The device can also be found by ringing it from a mobile, a useful feature for those times when a toy gets lost at home and you end up losing your wits trying to find it as you run out the door.

Founders Marc Forster and Pandora Samios certainly seems to be covering all bases – and parents clearly agree, based on over 650 pre-orders on Indigogo. Retailing for $49/46€ from October, Oliba is initially launching in France and English-speaking markets (75% of its backers were from France, 25% from US, Canada and UK), and forging partnerships with global publishers for an extensive library of content available for parents to record to the device. Soon, we could also be seeing versions of Oliba as your child’s favorite character – Forster and Samios are keeping their fingers crossed that they get the green light to join the next batch of the Disney Accelerator in LA.

Another startup looking out for the well-being of its users is Partnering Robotics, the creator of Diya One, an autonomous mobile robot that purifies indoor air. Founder Ramesh Caussy explained that 90% of modern life is spent indoors, where air is polluted and rarely, if ever, circulated for purification. The neuro-inspired Diya One detects information through its “eyes” (two cameras on its head), which it processes through AI  to learn tasks and navigate its environment.

Caussy’s explanation of Diya one’s technology made it sound considerably more simple than it is: air is taken in at base, processed upwards through a purification chamber, and the clean air is released through vents at the top of the robot; all the while, Diya One scoots herself around the space ensuring that air is purified and distributed evenly throughout the environment. Entirely autonomous, the robot even recharges its battery alone; the only time you’ll hear a peep (probably more like a beep) out of it is once every seven months or so when its filter needs changing.

Caussy built the robot based on research model developed 20 years ago (echoing what the creator of another AI robot told me last week about today’s tech existing far ahead of its time). Caussy reinforced its algorithm to adapt the concept to a commercial product, adding external technology and software to transform the robot into an energy-saving solution. An SDK is available on a commercial license for those who want to replicate the robot for their own use, with the caveat that the product must be validated by Partnering Robotics before release.

The great thing about IoT is that it makes life so much easier, more efficient and, in this case, healthier. The less great thing is that solutions like these highlight problems you never even knew you had. I mean, now I’m going to feel disgruntled every time I have to actually open an app on my phone to digitally order my private chauffeur to cashlessly transport me from A-B. I don’t know if I can live like this anymore.