Back in December of last year, we saw an interesting proof of concept of being able to control smart home devices simply by pointing your iPhone at them. Now a startup called Fluid One has brought that developer on board, and added the missing piece of the puzzle: hardware.
The video demo below looks extremely slick, but setting it up for a typical home won’t be cheap, coming in at $800 at the Kickstarter price …
The U1 Ultra Wide Band chip in the iPhone gives it the capability to tell how close it is to other UWB devices, and figure out their distance and direction. This is the method used to precisely locate AirTags within the home.
I was incredibly impressed with this when I tested it.
I tested this by asking my girlfriend to hide my keys, and then went searching for them with the Find My app.
The way this works really does feel like magic. I wandered along the corridor until it picked up the signal, then it told me both distance and direction with incredible accuracy. It literally guided me to their precise location at the back of a shelf without any need to activate the sound. I was blown away by how well this worked!
I was originally inspired by the way “Find My” gives you a direction and distance from the device you are looking for. If you redefine the problem from “where is the tag” to “where am I relative to the tag” and ensure that the tag doesn’t move you end up with very good indoor positioning.
The “field of view” that iPhones have when it comes to UWB is pretty limited though, so to allow the user to roam freely I had to combine it with ARKit. Basically the U1 chip provides a known location in the room and from there ARKit takes over and keeps track of your movement relative to that point.
The problem was the lack of suitable UWB hardware, and that’s where Fluid One comes in. It brought Andelefski on board, and then created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the hardware.
The Fluid One system effectively uses a bunch of over-sized AirTags called Smart Nodes. By placing one of these on each wall within a room, the app knows which way you are pointing it. You can then point at individual smart home devices, and mark their locations.
The app creates an augmented reality model of your home to “see” where each device is, and then the Smart Nodes plus the map of your home allow the app to identify each device you point to.
You can also dispense with motion sensors, as the system works out where you are from the location of the iPhone in your pocket, and can therefore do things like switch lights on and off as you approach and leave.
The result, says the company, is a truly smart controller.
At Fluid, we aim to seamlessly connect your actions, your decisions, and your home – making the environment around you its own responsive interface.
To bring this vision to your home, we’ve built Fluid One, the next generation of smart home control and automation–all on your smartphone. It’s the first smart home system to allow intuitive interaction with your surroundings, by pointing, gesturing, or moving around your home. No need to carry extra remotes or set up other bulky hardware around your house […]
Our holistic dashboard automatically renders a custom, virtual replica of your home, enabling you to access, monitor, and control the states of all your devices from anywhere. To ensure the interface is intuitive and easy-to-use, we support customizations of the rendering to match the unique details of your home. Quickly access and view the states of all your devices, in a realistic, bird’s-eye-view of your home, and monitor summaries of your devices in each room with a single double-tap
But… it’s a Kickstarter, and it’s hugely expensive
We don’t normally cover crowdfunding campaigns until a project is fully funded, and they can provide a working prototype for us to test. That’s because it’s unfortunately all too common for things to go wrong, and for backers not to receive their promised kit.
This one, we’re covering not because we suggest you back it, but because it’s an interesting idea.
Even if you are happy with the risks, Fluid One is incredibly expensive. While options start at $249, that only covers one room. To cover even a modestly sized apartment, you’re going to need the Pro kit, which starts at $749.
Here’s the compromise I’d like to see
Personally, I’m not interested in pointing my iPhone at something to control it, even it were far more affordable. That feels too much like going backward in time to infrared controllers.
What I would like, though, is for the Home app to know which room I’m in, and display the relevant screen for that room. Although I do sometimes want to control devices in other rooms, I’d say that 98% of my smart home usage is controlling things in the room I’m currently in. So if Apple could use this kind of tech to simply figure out where I am in the home, and default to displaying the Home app screen for that room, I’d be very happy.
What’s your view? Check out the video below, and please share your thoughts in the comments.
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