The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Ashutosh Saxena, chief executive officer of Brain of Things, a smart home technology company based in Redwood City, California. Saxena discussed how smart home devices can transform everyday activities as well as the new AI assistant Brain of Things developed named “Caspar.”
This interview has been edited.
Joshua New: Brain of Things develops technologies to make all of a home smart, rather than just thermostats or appliances. Could you walk me through all of the components of a house that you make smart?
Ashutosh Saxena: Homes developed by Brain of Things have motorized roller shades, smart lights, climate control, smart door lock entry, voice controlled speakers, fans, appliances, and more, all as part of standard installation.
With a fully-integrated platform, Brain of Things is able to deliver cross-cutting behaviors across devices. When we talk about lighting, we do not think just in terms of a few “bulbs,” but instead of lighting experience as a whole. This includes functional lighting via bulbs, natural lighting via curtains, automatic circadian lighting—for example, in the evening, lighting for romantic dinner is different than for studying, and in the afternoon, lighting experience needs to be different if it is bright outside compared to when it is darker.
New: What kind of applications can these smart devices enable that people might not expect?
Saxena: Every activity that people do in a home can be an “application” in our platform. For example, “waking-up” involves curtains, lights, music, and climate, and “watching a movie” involves sound, lighting, and curtains. Brushing your teeth in the morning may become a news-update-via-voice “application” for some residents.
New: Smart home technology is increasingly seen as a potential way to help people live more autonomously in their own homes. Could you give an example of this?
Saxena: For senior residents, another application could be that our home can remind them if forgot a toaster running in the kitchen and went to sleep; for this application the devices include power meter, motion sensors, lights, speakers, and others.
New: To help people interact with their smart home, Brain of Things developed an AI assistant named Caspar.AI. How does Caspar.AI differ from existing smart home assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa?
Saxena: We are compatible with existing voice interfaces such as Alexa. The challenging part here is to map the intent of the resident to a home control. As an example, if a resident says “I’m reading,” or “make the room brighter,” Caspar.AI has to decide which lights to turn on—the living room surrounding lights, lamps, or recessed lights—or open the curtains. So in this sense, Caspar.AI’s value complements voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Home.
New: You’ve written about the challenges of developing smart home systems without an easy-to-use operating system that could allow the average person to install and use these devices. Could you describe this challenge, and the solution you came up with?
Saxena: Most of current solutions are designed as do-it-yourself. One can buy a “hub” from a store, and attempt to connect different devices. A tech-savvy person can possibly connect to these different, sometimes incompatible devices. However, for a normal person this seems quite challenging. In more detail, even if a resident manages to connect all devices, it is even more challenging to program them for the desired behavior. For Brain of Things home, the whole home is move-in ready and the resident can simply start using it without needing any configuration.