Serial entrepreneur and seasoned integrator launches new company featuring products that improve dealer efficiency and put consumers in control of the user experience by using cloud-based technologies.
CR: With a successful integration business in Florida (Tempus Electronic Lifestyles), what prompted you to start Clare Controls?
Brett Price: Like other integrators around the country, with the downturn of the economy, we began looking at ways to improve the efficiency of deploying luxury home automation solutions at Tempus. We analyzed our costs for jobs of all sizes and assessed our deployment and service costs for home automation systems. The root cause of our high costs was not related to to skills of our techs, but rather to the labor-intensive nature of deploying, customizing and servicing home automation systems. Case in point: for something as simple as upgrading DVD players to Blu-ray players, the programming costs were significantly more than the actual cost of the equipment.
At the same time, consumers became more exposed to smart phones and the immediate gratification of controlling their user interface by adding new applications. Frankly, it is difficult to respond to a customer when he whips out his iPhone to show you an app he just downloaded for 99 cents and questions the cost to change his control panels to support new Blu-ray players.
That’s when I began researching alternative home automation solutions, both to decrease costs at Tempus and to deliver on the expectations of our luxury residential consumers. After an exhaustive search of the platforms and solutions available in the home automation market, I began researching the latest technology in other markets. I did this with our CTO, the VP of Engineering in my former company, Cheetah Technologies, which provided network management solutions for telecom/cable operators worldwide.
Fast forward: two years and 35 man-years of development later, here we are. Clare Controls is launching the ClareHome automation solution.
CR: How is ClareHome different than other home automation solutions out there?
Price: ClareHome is the first home automation system managed from the cloud and run on a Mac. This is a cloud-based home automation solution that is significantly different. Integrators will configure, deploy, service and monitor the ClareHome solution from the cloud, while the system runs locally in the home.
Not only can consumers control their homes through Apple iPads, but they can also modify their user experience within the system. By accessing the cloud-based Applet library, the user has the ability to customize their interface instantly without the help of a professional programmer or technician – a feature that is unique in luxury home automation systems.
CR: What is the difference between “managed from the cloud” and “hosted from the cloud?”
Price: There’s a big difference. In the luxury home segment, customers have resoundingly told us that they do not want the control of their home to leave their home, as in traditional hosted home solutions, such as iControl. Customer rationale is based on the unpredictable latency and potential downtime that is experienced due to dependency on the Internet and high-speed network providers.
For many hosted systems, the focus is on alarm monitoring, lighting and energy management. Latency with single-press interfaces, like lighting, is tolerable. On the other hand, latency with multi-press interfaces, like channel changing or volume control, is not. Of even greater concern is the inconsistency of the latency. Users may grow to tolerate 500ms latency on a volume control interaction but they will not grow to tolerate 250ms to 1000ms, depending on time of day, day of week, phase of moon, etc.
The bottom line is that predictable and acceptable response times from hosted services are very difficult to achieve, so our decision was to strike a balance.
The ClareHome solution balances the needs of the homeowner with a solution that is autonomously run on a Mac in the home, yet managed from the cloud to increase dealer productivity. Managed from the cloud means it is configured, deployed, serviced and monitored from the cloud. Running locally means that if a system loses Internet connectivity, the consumer can still control their home.
CR: How does an integrator decrease his deployment costs by using the cloud?
Price: We have taken all the tools necessary for integrators to manage ClareHome and put them into our cloud, accessible from anywhere, 24x7x365. The greatest efficiency is gained by the introduction of our configuration tool to design, debug, deploy and service the ClareHome solution.
This means no more updating design tools or searching for the customer’s latest system deployment files by checking on the laptop of each tech. It’s in the cloud, always up-to-date with the customer files, safely stored with built-in version control features. It’s called the
Fusion Configuration Tool.
Once the ClareHome configuration is defined, debugged and tested from the cloud-based Fusion Tool, a single click of the mouse deploys the system to the Mac mini in the home. So, as integrators customize scenes to the user’s preferences, all the tweaks are done in the cloud, with automatic version control of the customer files. Integrators can update the files, deploy and test from the cloud while the system is running in the home, with no downtime. The customer can test the changes and accept them, or tell the tech to roll back to a previous version. It’s all accomplished in minutes using the Fusion Configuration Tool in the cloud.
This cloud-based configuration and deployment methodology enables integrators to respond to user requests quickly and efficiently, and has been shown to reduce deployment costs significantly.
CR: What are the skills required for a technician to configure and deploy a ClareHome solution using the Fusion Configuration Tool?
Price: We designed the Fusion Configuration Tool so that non-programmers can configure and deploy the system by creating AppModules and drivers within the tool. Each AppModule is designed to perform a specific function, such as lighting control, multi-room audio and entertainment, etc. These are out-of-the-box applications that jumpstart the deployment of common user requirements, with a library of hundreds of drivers for third-party products, as well as hardware from other automation suppliers.
If the integrator wishes to further customize the AppModules, he may create custom scenes and rules within and across AppModules using simple conditional logic.
CR: What are some examples of drivers that the AppModules support now?
Price: The Lighting AppModule supports Lutron, Crestron and Vantage. Our Audio AppModule supports Crestron and Nuvo. And, in general terms, we have hundreds of drivers for consumer electronics. Our development teams can create new consumer electronic drivers in a matter of days, and new system drivers in weeks.
CR: Will Clare Controls allow integrators to create their own drivers?
Price: Absolutely. We believe in the collaborative, open-source model of software development. In fact, our engineers are currently using the cloud-hosted driver development tools that we will be launching to our integrators in 2012, as the tools mature.
Within the ClareCloud, dealers will have the ability to collaborate and share code while developing new drivers with our team and other integrators. Significant system drivers will be vetted and certified by our team.
CR: You also mentioned that ClareHome is monitored from the cloud, can you tell us more about that, and about how it differs from other monitoring solutions on the market?
Price: We are also rolling out a network monitoring solution that is accessible through the ClareCloud. We call this solution ClareAssure. It enables integrators to proactively troubleshoot and service luxury residential electronic systems by providing continuous visibility into the health of the end users’ home, from the home network, IP devices, servers and routers to the systems managed by ClareHome.
It works by placing a network appliance in the home to gather status and performance information and forward it to the ClareCloud. In the event of a critical issue, the system will notify the tech with an email or SMS text. This prompts the on-call techs to log into the ClareCloud portal to troubleshoot and diagnose problems before the customer calls.
ClareAssure is offered in a multi-year contract with the ClareHome solution, because nearly every customer we spoke with didn’t want to be bothered with monthly payments.
CR: The cloud enables the dealer to efficiently configure, deploy and monitor the ClareHome, but how does the consumer benefit from the cloud?
Price: A fundamental requirement of the product was to allow users to create and update their own interfaces, without requiring a programmer.
The iClare user interface contains three basic features: room navigation, room launch bar and a user-defined room workspace. Based upon the AppModules that are deployed onto the ClareHome system, the user will automatically have access to all the controls defined for that particular room by navigating room-by-room and using the launch bar. More importantly, the user will be able customize their workspace, on a room-by-room basis, by selecting Applets from the Library, right from the user interface. For example, a user may wish to place a CCTV applet in their kitchen workspace and configure it to their front door camera. The user can accomplish this task in seconds.
The most powerful Applets in the Library are the area summaries and summary controls. These provide the user with a comprehensive view of the conditions within the home, as well as, the respective controls. For example, in the kitchen, a user may wish to place a summary of the multi-zone audio application that would provide information on what’s playing in each zone, give the ability to control volume and more.
By empowering users to create their own interfaces, we are delivering a very Apple-like experience.
CR: What have been some of your early successes?
Price: We’ve targeted and signed reps across the country; companies that truly understand our technology and vision. We’re particularly proud that we’ve been selected as the home automation system provider for the 2012 New American Home. We will partner with Architectural Electronics to implement ClareHome in a state-of-the-art home in Orlando.