Following a trial run in the homes of 10,000 of its customers, British Gas has now launched its home-automation play: the Remote Heating Control, which will set you back £150. But for kit-provider AlertMe, the RHC could be more Trojan Horse than money-saving tech.
The Remote Heating product connects wirelessly to the thermostat of the house, plugging into the home's existing broadband, which allows the forgetful office worker to switch off the heating from a web browser (potently saving £140 a year, we're told), assuming the worker isn't too forgetful. But for AlertMe, which provides the kit, this is the killer application which will take home automation out of the uber-geek's shed and into the mainstream.
AlertMe's product, which British Gas will be selling for £229 including installation (that £150 figure is only up for grabs when bundled with new central heating), is a Zigbee hub which can communicate with a wide variety of home-automation kit. AlertMe's plan is to up-sell those British Gas customers on automatic door locks, smoke alarms and window sensors – all controlled from the hub and via AlertMe's cloud.
The company is using the same strategy in the USA, having signed a deal with Lowes in January. Lowes (a DIY chain) used to sell a range of home-automation products, but now only sells AlertMe's hub (rebranded "Iris" and with Z-Wave instead of 868MHz) along with motion detectors, light switches and so forth. It also sells pre-defined starter kits covering "Comfort & Control" and "Safe & Secure" to get customers buying in to the home automation concept.
Home automation is nothing new – the closing curtains, dimming lights and an automatic turntable primed with Barry White have been a staple of the comedy geek since the '70s – but despite the availability of kit conforming to X10 and Z-Wave standards, the market has never taken off. One might suggest that this is because home automation isn't something people want, but not according to AlertMe.
The company likes to compare homes to phones, pointing out that no one asked for mobile phone apps and that standards have driven phone handsets into applications never imagined. AlertMe has some APIs for its cloud, and reckons once people start deploying the kit then creative applications will drive adoption.
Home automation certainly needs a killer application - something which will make people stump up the cash for the kit - and British Gas seems convinced that remote-control heating will be enough to sell it. If that's true then one can imagine other applications being developed, but £229 still seems like a lot of money just to be able to turn down the thermostat from the office. ®