The challenge of developing a true smart home has always been for the systems in the home to anticipate the needs of the occupants. Actions in a smart home have typically been triggered by time and motion. Unfortunately, time-based actions are inflexible and motion sensors can only go so far because they aren’t capable of identifying individual people in the home. After a successful Indiegogo campaign and almost two years of development, Intellithings has taken a significant step forward in this area with the release of their RoomMe Personal Location Sensor.
RoomMe sensors are mounted on the ceiling, at the entrances to each room in a home, where smart devices are located. Typically this would include bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, an office, and other primary living spaces. RoomMe will then monitor the movements of people within the home. Scenes can then be programmed, through the RoomMe app, to be triggered when individuals enter and exit the rooms where RoomMe sensors have been installed. These scenes can include personalized changes to lighting, temperature, and music.
For example, RoomMe could:
- Trigger smart lighting to turn on, to a specific level, when a homeowner enters a room and turn off once the room is no longer occupied.
- Adjust a thermostat to set the room’s temperature based on the preferences of the occupant. The thermostat could also be set back to save energy after everyone has left the room.
- Play an individual’s personal playlist when they enter a room. A person’s personal music could even be programmed to follow them as they walked through their home.
Obviously, conflicts can occur when multiple people are in a room. RoomMe handles this through a priority scheme. There are three tiers of priority:
- Room Master
If a child enters an empty room then the lighting, music, and temperature can be set based on their preferences. If additional children enter the room the settings of the first child that entered will be maintained. However, if an adult, who has a higher priority, enters the room then the settings will change to the preferences of the adult. Similarly, if additional adults enter a room, then the settings of the first adult that entered the room will be maintained.
The exception to the above rules are that if the person designated as the “room master” enters a room their settings will take priority over anyone else in the room; even if they are a child and there are adults in the room. This is useful for giving a child’s preferences priority in their own bedroom or in a designated play area.
This system is well thought, out but not perfect. For example, if children are playing in the living room and a parent walks into the room, just to see if they would like a snack, then the music the children were listening to will be shut off and the parent’s music will start playing. This will occur even if the parent had no intention of interrupting the children’s activities.
RoomMe does all this by detecting the presence, not of the actual person, but the person’s smart phone using Bluetooth. This means that for RoomMe to operate the occupants of a home need to always carry their smart phones. According to Oren Kotlicki, founder and CEO of Intellithings, 90-percent of the people between the ages of 24 and 45 have a smart phone with them 22 hours a day. However, it is important for someone considering installing RoomMe to understand that they will need to keep their smart phones with them for the system to operate.
Some people might feel that having to carry their smart phone all the time for the system to work is a burden. However, being able to stop RoomMe from sensing a person simply by putting down their smart phone is also an advantage. The problem of an adult entering a room and disrupting their children because their priority is higher can be solved by the parent simply putting down their smart phone before they enter the room.
The RoomMe sensors easily mount to the ceilings of a home with a small bracket. While physical installation is simple, RoomMe requires careful planning to determine the optimal locations for sensors in a home. Intellithings created a video to help people with this process. Up to 32 RoomMe sensors can be installed in a home. Under ideal circumstances this would translate to RoomMe being able to monitor people’s locations in 32 different rooms. However, large rooms with multiple entrances/exits will probably require a RoomMe to be installed at each doorway. So, the practical limit to the number of rooms that can be monitored by RoomMe, in a home, will typically be smaller than 32.
Positioning of RoomMe sensors in doorways is dependent on the height of the ceiling at that location. The higher a ceiling is the farther apart RoomMe sensors need to be placed, or conflicts will occur between sensors, and there will be confusion as to where an individual is in the home. To avoid these conflicts, RoomMe sensors need to be separated by 1.2 times the ceiling height. So for example, if the ceiling height is 10 feet then RoomMe sensors need to be placed 12 feet apart.
It should also be noted that RoomMe sensors must be mounted horizontal to the floor to operate properly. If a sensor needs to be mounted to a vaulted ceiling, a wedge shaped bracket will need to be fabricated.
RoomMe includes a wealth of integration possibilities. Even though this is the first release of RoomMe Intellithings has integrated with:
- Phillips Hue
In addition, Intellithings has released a public API so additional integrations can be created. I have developed modules to integrate RoomMe with a Crestron automation processor that are available to readers on my GitHub here.
The RoomMe app provides the ability to create “magic charms” that will execute when person enters, or exits, a specific room. The charm defines a personalized scene including lighting, temperature, and music settings.
However, when RoomMe is integrated with a smart home processor/hub much more sophisticated actions can be programmed. For example:
- The light from sunlight shining in through windows can be used to determine if turning on lights is necessary when someone enters a room. Lights might only be turned on a night or could be turned on during the day if the weather is cloudy.
- When a homeowner enters their bathroom, in the morning, on a work day, a TV could be turned on and tuned to their favorite news channel so they can catch up on what is happening in the world before heading to work.
- Shades could be opened when someone enters a room to take advantage of sunlight; but only if the sun isn’t directly shining on the windows to minimize glare
- Data can be integrated from other systems in decision making. For example, if GPS data from your car says that you have been to the grocery store, and RoomMe senses that you have just entered the home, pathway lights to the kitchen could be turned on instead of the typical lighting scene specified in your preferences. This will alleviate the challenge of trying to turn on the kitchen lights when you are carrying bags of groceries.
- Scenes could be modified based on time. For example, when RoomMe detects that someone enters a room, late at night, the lights in the room could be turned on to a very dim, night light level. This would allow the person to safely walk through the room but the lights would be low enough not to disturb other people in the home that are sleeping. In addition, music, based on the individual’s preferences, would not be played.
- To keep scenes from being executed when a person is simply walking through a room to another destination in the home, a delay could be incorporated. The delay would require a person to stay in a room for a period of time before their personal lighting/music/temperature scene executed. This would, for example, keep a thermostat set point from being adjusted multiple times, triggering the furnace or air conditioner to start, when a change of the room’s temperature wasn’t needed.
- Digital artwork is becoming a popular addition to a home. Products, such as the Samsung’s Frame TV, have helped homeowners leverage their TV’s as art pieces. RoomMe’s ability to detect who is occupying a room could be used to match the artwork being displayed with the preferences of the people in the room.
Hands on with RoomMe
Intellithings provided me with a RoomMe starter kit for writing this article and to facilitate development of a RoomMe Crestron module based on their API. I found that the product worked well. I was able to easily integrate the 2 sensors with a pair of Sonos speakers and come very close to the magic of having music follow me from room to room.
Most of the magic is accomplished by RoomMe app on your smart phone (in my case I tested it on my iPhone). A negative is that not only does the app have to be installed on your phone but it must be running in memory with background app refresh turned on. If you were to swipe up on the app, removing it from memory and stopping its execution, the system would stop working.
As I stated earlier, careful planning is required when deciding where to install the RoomMe sensors. They can only be mounted on the ceiling facing straight downward and adequate spacing is very important. Once installed, there is a calibration process for each cell phone that will be tracked by the RoomMe sensors. First, the person needs to hold their cell phone directly beneath a sensor. Next the person is directed to stand at the doorway to the next room so RoomMe can understand the limits of that sensor’s coverage. Each person must repeat this process for each RoomMe sensor in the home.
Notifications can be enabled in the RoomMe app to provide feedback on what the RoomMe system is “seeing”. It was interesting to see that as you walk from one room to the next the RoomMe system is very quick to see a person enter a new room. However, there was a noticeable delay in the system reporting that the person had exited the previous room. This translated to music very quickly turning on to the users defined preference in the new room but a noticeable delay before it was turned off in the previous room.
The “charms” that are created using the app to make user adjustments to music/lights/temperature, when a person enters, or exits, a room, are simple to create. I had no problem creating charms to select specific music to play on the Sonos speaker in a room when I entered and to have the Sonos speaker stop playing when I exited. It should be noted that the system doesn’t allow you to start music playing in a room using the Sonos app and then have that music selection automatically follow you when you move to another room. RoomMe can’t read what was playing in one room and then duplicate that selection in another room. However, this will be changing in the future as Intellithings has developed a new way of interfacing with Sonos speakers to create a more seamless experience.
There were several times in my testing that the RoomMe app became unstable and needed to be restarted. Given how new, and unique, this product is, that is somewhat understandable. Intellithings is continually working on bug fixes and plans on making further enhancements to the system over time.
Finally, it should also be noted that I noticed faster battery drain on my iPhone when testing RoomMe. Given the intensity of testing I was doing, especially when working to debug the Crestron module I was writing, it was difficult to quantify the exact increase in battery drain that a casual user would experience. But, it makes sense that there would be some additional drain given all the Bluetooth communications work that the RoomMe app has to perform as it connects/disconnects from the various RoomMe sensors. However, when my phone was sitting idle on my desk and not communicating with the RoomMe sensors, I didn’t notice any increase in battery drain even though the RoomMe app was running in the background.
A starter kit, consisting of two RoomMe sensors is available for $129 from RoomMe’s online store. Three packs and four packs are also available. A three bedroom home with a living room and kitchen could easily require:
- One RoomMe at the entry to each bedroom
- One RoomMe at the entry to the kitchen
- One RoomMe in a hallway that connects the bedrooms to determine when people have left the bedroom
- Three RoomMe sensors in the living room
- One at the entry to the hallway going to the bedrooms
- One at the home’s front door
- One at the entry to the kitchen
So, a simple three bedroom home could require eight RoomMe sensors at a cost of $478 with the included free shipping. So, while individual RoomMe sensors aren’t very expensive, the cost to provide sensor coverage of an average home can quickly add up.
Suggestions for Improvement
Even in its initial release, RoomMe is an excellent product. However, there are ways I believe the product could be further improved.
- Outdoor version. Outdoor living is an important part of today’s lifestyle. Walking outside should be able to trigger outdoor lighting and music.
- I would liked to have seen a light sensor included in the product so lights could be turned on when a person enters a room only when there isn’t adequate lighting already available in the room. For example, there is no sense turning on the lights in a room during the middle of the day when the sun is streaming in through the windows. According to Oren Kotlicki, this is on their product roadmap but not available in the initial release of the product.
- Programmable Delays – Many rooms in a home are both living spaces and used as connections between other rooms. It would be nice if a delay could be programmed so that scenes aren’t triggered when a person is simply walking through one room to get to another. I described that this could be done through the integration of a third party smart home processor/hub. However, it would be a welcome feature to be included in the RoomMe app.
- SmartThings is a very popular smart home hub and integration with that platform would be a welcome addition.
- IFTTT integration would allow RoomMe to integrate with many more platforms than Intellithings is capable integrating with on their own.
- RoomMe sensors have an expected battery life of 3 years. For new construction a wired version would be a welcome addition to eliminate the need of replacing batteries.
- Currently RoomMe sensors are made of smooth, white plastic that can’t be painted. Changing to a paint-able plastic would help the sensors be more “designer friendly” as would a version that mounts flush within a hole in the ceiling. Both of these changes would allow RoomMe to be less intrusive in the décor of a room.
- Currently RoomMe can detect a person’s identity through their smart phone. It would be a nice improvement if this detection technology could be expanded to wearables; such as a smart watch.
- Include the ability to narrow the size of the detection area for rooms with high ceilings. Having to place RoomMe sensors12 feet apart in homes with 10 foot ceilings (that are becoming very common in new home construction) can cause problems when trying to determine the best locations to mount RoomMe sensors. In a room with tall, vaulted ceilings, positioning RoomMe sensors can even be more of a challenge.
In my article “How to Use AI to Control Your Smart Home” I discussed the importance of sensors in the next generation of smart homes. RoomMe is an important step forward in that direction. For a smart home to truly be able to take actions based on the needs of the homeowners, it needs to, at a minimum, understand where they are in a home. Unfortunately, there is currently no way for the smart home to understand the intent of a homeowner when they enter a room. So, when someone enters the home’s kitchen there is no way for the smart home system to know whether this is to begin cooking a meal or just to grab a quick snack. The homeowner might not even need the light in the kitchen turned on if all they are going to do is open the refrigerator to grab a piece of fruit. In the future, machine learning may help a smart home to better understand people’s intent and to fully take actions that anticipate people’s needs. Today, RoomMe takes us a step closer to that goal.