In today’s so-called smart home, you can dim the lights, order more toothpaste, or tell your children to go to bed simply by talking to a small Wi-Fi-connected speaker, such as Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home.
But not everyone thinks the future of communicating with the Internet of Things needs to be vocal.
Several major appliance makers have turned to a small Singapore firm, Unified Inbox, which offers a service that can handle ordinary text messages and pass them onto appliances.
With your home added to the contacts list on a messaging app like WhatsApp, a quick text message can start the coffee machine; turn on the vacuum cleaner at 5 p.m.; or preheat the oven to 200 degrees at 6.30 p.m.
“It’s quite fun actually, if you look at your Whatsapp list, for example, or your Viber, or your Telegram right, so see that here, I was texting with my wife, with my family, and this is my vacuum cleaner. It becomes quite personable, likeable, so the device becomes an avatar of the brand,” Ruckert said, adding: “By the way, this is something manufacturers love—they have distributors, but they never have contact to the end consumer. In this case, they can finally talk to the end consumer directly.”
Unified Inbox connects the devices on behalf of the manufacturer, while the consumer can add their appliances by messaging the serial numbers to a special user account or phone number. So far it supports more than 20 of the most popular messaging apps, as well SMS and Twitter, and controls appliances from ovens to kettles. Other home appliances being tested include locks, garage door openers, window blinds, toasters, and garden sprinklers, said Ruckert.
The company is just a small player, funded by private investors, but Ruckert said its technology is patent-backed, has been several years in the making, and has customers that include half of the world’s smart appliance makers, such as Bosch.
For those who often have problems with vocal command systems, Unified Inbox offers a welcome alternative.
“I don’t like to use my voice, because sometimes they may detect the wrong thing. Like, for example, Google: sometimes you say something, then they will do something else, so it might interpret the wrong thing, so with texting you can see, and you can send first, so it’s more accurate,” said a Singaporean who gave her first name Kamsinah, 22.
Ruckert is also working with Singapore’s Nanyang Polytechnic to send updates to family members or staff direct from hospital equipment attached to patients.