Alarm.com Cloud Service May Yield Smartest Thermostat on the Planet
In the first iteration, Alarm.com will let users view their activity schedules and opt in to the automated energy-management scheme. Eventually, the company hopes consumers will be comfortable with the program and just push a button to participate. (Click here for detailed view of energy dashboard.)
“For most households, we’re able to put together a pretty accurate profile,” says Alison Slavin, co-founder and VP product management for Alarm.com, which was founded in 2000 and now boasts about 1 million monitored accounts.
Only thing is, this “smart thermostat” isn’t a hockey puck on the wall. It resides in the cloud via Alarm.com’s SaaS (software as a service) platform.
True, there’s an automated thermostat at the premises but the real work is done by Alarm.com servers that process millions of events – tripping a motion sensor, opening a window, arming the security system, changing the temperature, turning on/off a light, locking/unlocking a door -- from customers that subscribe to the company’s home security and automation service.
Did you arm your security system to AWAY? If you did so in the morning, the system will presume that the family has cleared the house for the day and will set back the thermostat to an energy-saving level. But if you armed the system in the afternoon, it will probably think you’re running a mid-day errand and keep the temperature as is.
Why Alarm.com Smart Thermostat Solution is Unique
Cloud-enabled “learning thermostats” are all the rage these days. We’ve seen the trendy NEST device that looks pretty cool but has only one “point” of learning: the thermostat itself. This is true of most of the so-called “cloud-enabled” thermostats now hitting the market, with the possible exception of Honeywell and its partner Opower. (Honeywell, by the way, is suing NEST for patent infringement.)
For example, the location-aware EverSense thermostat from Allure Energy relies only on the location of residents, whether they’re inside the home or 100 miles away. Ecofactor, a SaaS provider, considers only the temperature changes in the home, whether instigated by the user or environmental factors.
On the other hand, Alarm.com builds on its home security and automation ecosystem to truly understand household activity based on how and when users arm and disarm their security system, when they open and close doors, how they use their lights, and other indicators.
Alarm.com tracks these events and builds an energy management scheme around them … if the customer so desires.
Slavin says consumers may think they have a pretty predictable activity pattern, but beta testing proves otherwise. Some 90 percent of trial participants said the energy management program was “very helpful because they had no idea what their activity patterns were,” she says.
Even though the patterns might not be intuitive to users, they are generally “pretty predictable” if monitored intelligently, as Alarm.com purports to do.
“For most households, we are able to put together a pretty accurate profile,” Slavin says.
At this point, the Smart Schedule feature is a manual process for Alarm.com customers. The system automatically processes household activity and generates charts showing proposed temperature adjustments, but users must approve the automatic setbacks.
Alarm.com wants to engage its users and get them familiar with the feature set without freaking them out on the whole smart-energy function. The activity patterns and proposed thermostat adjustments appear as an overlay on the customer’s manually generated energy schedule. They can choose to accept or decline the automation for any given “time slice.”
Alarm.com's Smart Schedule shows users their activity patterns (Click to view entire energy dashboard)
Ultimately, users will grow to trust the Alarm.com algorithms and just “push a button” to yield completely to the system.
The company only rolled out its energy management suite in 2010 and already has more than 100,000 monitored thermostats in the field.
Since the new service is all cloud-based, it can be activated without a truck roll. The software upgrade will be available free of charge to Alarm.com customers who have a compatible thermostat and subscribe to the company’s basic two-way monitoring package.
Currently, Alarm.com works with home security systems from Interlogix (formerly GE Security/UTC) and 2Gig. So far, the only compatible thermostats happen to use Z-Wave wireless technology, but Alarm.com is hardware-agnostic and has been implemented in low volume with ZigBee and WiFi thermostats and other devices.
Next Up: Location-Based Services
With a cloud-based architecture, anything is game. Next on the Alarm.com roadmap is location-aware or proximity-enabled home automation feature that can adjust lights, temperature and other home systems automatically based on learned activity patterns and the physical location of family members.
Using mobile-phone tracking data, Alarm.com can tell, for example, if the parents are heading to the lake for the weekend and activate an energy-saving temperature mode, maybe even adjust the lights to give the home a lived-in look.
To ease customers into the feature, the first implementation will be an opt-in security alert. If everyone has left the house in the morning and the security system isn’t armed, the system will ping the homeowners to ask if they want to arm it.
This and other Alarm.com features bring home the potential of the cloud. Already, the company integrates local weather via the Internet into its energy-management schemes. It also sends text and/or email messages in the case of a power outage.
Now that Alarm.com has reached a critical mass of customers, says Slavin, "not only can we alert you when your power goes out, but we can also tell you how many of your neighbors have lost power."