Benki is here because it's 2013, we use our smartphones for everything, and we should be able to control all our appliances and devices from mobile apps as well. No matter where we are.
Siri should be able to turn on our rice cooker, not just give us search results about rice cookers. We should be able to tell our appliances what to do once and have things run smoothly from then on without us thinking about it. Our appliances and devices should be assisting us and then staying out of the way.
Benki exists because no one seems to be getting connected devices (aka "the internet of things") right.
Here's our vision:
We should be able to control our devices no matter where we are.
We should be able to tell our appliances what to do once and have them do it automatically in the future.
We should be able to rock Rdio/Spotify/whatever up to 11 on our headphones and be notified when the baby is awake, rather than hovering over a monitor.
This should all work through the smartphone we already have with us and actually be intuitive to use.
We shouldn't need to know what "GPIO" or "port-forwarding" means in order to turn off the iron from Disneyland or make sure the garage is closed from Park City.
We all have Wifi, so NO EXTRA BASE STATIONS!
No expensive installation.
No subscription fees.
And, our devices should look good.
We think we know how people really want this stuff to work and we need you to tell us we're right.
Three Initial Products
We're launching with three products that cover a surprising number of uses.
The Socket is Benki's [super] smart outlet that plugs right into your existing outlet. It has a light sensor, temperature sensor, and microphone. You're still left with the two outlets you had before, only now you can control them.
You can turn the power on/off to each outlet individually and you can have it controlled automatically based on settings you decide.
Want the lamp to turn on automatically from 6-8am and 9-11pm and off otherwise? Done! Want it to just come on if it's dark? Yup. Want the fan on when it's 74º+ and off when it gets below 70º? We got that.
Or, "in one hour, send my son the message 'start your homework'. Then, 10 minutes later, turn the Xbox off and send another message 'seriously!'." No problem.
Want to be notified when the microphone detects a loud noise? That too (This is how you use the Socket as a baby monitor.)
There are tons of things you can do with the Socket!
We'll keep track of power usage through the device so you can see how much you're consuming over time.
Installation takes 3 simple steps…
1. You plug it into your existing outlet.
2. You're Done!
3. <-- Somebody delete this because seriously, that's it.
It covers your existing outlet completely for a clean, integrated look.
The View is a small, battery powered device with a camera, light sensor, and temperature sensor.
You can stash it anywhere in your home to get info about the area and check in visually.
If you're on vacation and the temperature drops below freezing, you can check in to make sure the basement isn't flooding.
When you're at the store, you can see what's left in the fruit basket or pantry.
You could put one in the baby's room and check in whenever you want.
Check in on your pets to see how much food and water they have.
It also has an LED to help with pictures taken in the dark.
Installation is almost nonexistent. It has reusable adhesive on the back so you can just stick it to the wall, fridge, whatever.
It lasts for over a year on two AAs and you'll get notified when the batteries are getting low. And, of course, we made it look good.
The Break is a simple open/close sensor that you can put on doors, cabinets, windows, etc. You put one side on the door and the other on the frame. We can sense when the two halves are together or separated.
This one is pretty simple but we've integrated a temperature sensor so you can know if energy is being wasted heating or cooling the outside.
Like the View, installation is simple and it lasts for well over a year on two AA batteries.
All your devices show up in one unified app (iPhone and Android). This not only makes it easy to manage things, but allows your devices to interact with each other. We call these “Formulas.” Sensors, timers, and device functionality can all be linked into chain reactions making the combination greater than any single element.
Adding a device is also incredibly simple. New devices are automatically detected. All you need to do is select your Wifi network and enter your password.
Where We Are
Over the last few months we've accomplished a lot.
We're finally happy with prototype designs after tons of iterations.
We've got the internal electronics and Wifi connectivity nailed down.
The iPhone app is coming along nicely.
The Android app has connectivity with devices.
So, we felt it was time to take it to Kickstarter and get your help to overcome a few more hurdles.
UL certification. Everything that plugs into your wall needs this.
FCC certification. A requirement for things that communicate.
Tooling for injection molding mass production.
More work on the server-side infrastructure.
Lots more to do on the mobile apps.
We strongly believe a five month timeline is sufficient to complete remaining tasks and deliver the envisioned end-product. That puts us at Nov.-Dec. for project completion. So, you'll be able to get your Benki on by Christmas!
We like spending our time working on interesting problems and hanging out with friends and family. We shouldn't be stressing about whether we turned something on or off or constantly running around keeping an eye on stuff. There are so many things around us that could not only be accessible over Wifi and controlled remotely, but be more intelligent and helpful to us.
While we're pretty excited about our first three devices, with your help, this will be just the beginning. We have a pretty specific roadmap of what needs to be done to take consumer appliances to the next level and we're ready to get to it.
Makers (it gets nerdy from here)
Note: This next section is about a standalone PCB and not a typical consumer device. If you're not familiar with terms like "PCB" or "GPIO" feel free to skip this. The following is not needed for the devices above.
We're not just trying to make things better for the average Joe. If you like to hack on hardware, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc. we want you involved.
Link (the fourth product)
The Link is the core of all our products and it maintains a persistent real-time connection to Benki. We're giving you the same thing we use ourselves. Here are the details.
We're using TI's cc3000 for a solid Wifi connection.
Let us stress that we are maintaining a persistent real-time connection between the Link and the Benki service. This is very important to us. We don't want people having to wait for a long time to have a command from their phone received by the device.
We are spending a lot of time on the connection between devices and Benki, we just thought you should know.
Super low power usage:
We are absolutely dedicated to low power usage for battery-powered devices and Freescale's surprisingly capable, power sipping Kinesis M0+ micro is key in achieving that.
12 pins are available from our micro for you to control from your phone or connect to your device. Those pins have the following functionality.
All 12 can be used as GPIO
2 pins of UART (Rx and Tx)
2 pins of I2C (SCL and SDA)
6 pins can be mapped to two independent timers for PWM and other controls
This will all be available and configurable through an advanced menu in the smartphone app. No Arduino, RPi, or other micro necessary.
So, with no other hardware, you could wire the Benki Link up to a garage door and have it open/close based on your GPS location.
You could raise/lower a home projector or control other motors and servos.
You can hook it up to a hot water heater and intelligently control it to save energy.
We'll be posting up cool stuff people are doing with just the Link on our GitHub wiki.
And, if you really want to get crazy, bring your Arduino/Raspberry Pi/micro-of-choice to the table and take it from there. We'll have C libraries for Raspbian/Linux and example sketches for Arduino on our Github repo.
All development IO are routed to a standard 10mil header so they can easily be plugged into your device.
Your Device Rides First Class
The Link is detected and setup just like other Benki devices.
Your device shows up in the smartphone app along side ours.
You can select a custom image for your device's icon and set the device name.
The UI for your device gets intelligently pre-populated with the right controls based on what you're doing.
Integrate into Formulas just like Benki devices.
We'd like to see people building the Link into all kinds of things and making formulas to really show what can be done when devices can interact with each other.
Because the Link doesn't involve plastics, molding, or UL certification, the maker kit will be the first to ship. Let us know if you want to be in the super early beta group.
Risks and challenges
There are always difficulties in bringing prototypes to mass production. Both UL and FCC certification can require multiple submissions before acceptance, component assembly usually has kinks that need to be worked out, and the fit and finish of injection molded parts needs to be dialed in. Also, our server-side infrastructure and API need to be refined.
While we have relationships with Chinese factories, with the quantities we are dealing with at this stage, we will pursue domestic manufacture and assembly of the PCB and other components. Also we will likely utilize aluminum tooling instead of hard steel at this stage.
Aluminum molds will easily hold up to the quantities we anticipate and be much less expensive. Domestic manufacturing and assembly of PCBs and other components is very competitive with China in lower quantities. This will also give us very fast turn-around, and allows us better quality control.
We have dealt with and successfully navigated these hurdles in our previous work and, while this is not insignificant, we have the utmost confidence that we can achieve the stated goals in the proposed time.
We have built in the costs for these issues in our goal and, while we don't anticipate major problems, we will have the funds to iterate and overcome these challenges.
THE INTERNATIONAL NERD: If the Socket won't work in your neck of the woods but the View and Break are right up your alley AND you're a Maker that loves hacking, this one's for you. 2 Views, 2 Breaks, 2 Links.