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SmartThings founder sees a limitless Internet of Things

Patrick Thibodeau | March 27, 2014
The idea that sparked the start-up SmartThings was a personal disaster.

Manufacturers are making network-enabling ordinary products for wired and wireless communications. The SmartThings Hub supports Wifi, as well as Z-Wave and ZigBee, two low-power communication protocols.

The wireless support enables developers to connect one device to another to create new functionality around unrelated products, such as doorbell and the wireless speaker.

All these apps can be integrated into SmartThings platform.

There are about 1,000 devices that can use the platform today, and with its developers, SmartThings has formed a community of about 5,000 so far, said Hawkinson.

The world "almost becomes programmable in this new way that people didn't expect," he said.

Hawkinson grew up in Minneapolis, went to Carnegie Mellon to study cognitive science, and in the mid-1990s headed to Washington D.C. for a development job that combined his interest in computer science and neuroscience, the two disciplines that underpin cognitive science.

He later went on to work independently, beginning with a Web consultancy. His wife was in grad school at a local university and loved the Washington area, and it's been their home ever since.

In a city that is mostly suit-and-tie, the dress code in SmartThings offices is Silicon Valley casual. It all fits into the open office of wood, glass, light, white boards and tables filled with devices. There's nothing separating employees in this collegial and focused place, which is in contrast to D.C.'s cubicle-centric culture.

But the seemingly relaxed atmosphere belies its intense mission and stakes.

Hawkinson believes that there will be just one or two Internet of Things platforms that take off, platforms like his that provide a means for building apps to control the physical world.

Other companies trying to create a central cloud platform for the connected world could be integration opportunities for SmartThings — or competition. But open standards is the key.

Google's direction in the Internet of Things and openess is getting much industry attention.

It recently bought thermostat maker Nest and has made available an unofficial API, which is good sign it's headed in an open direction.

Hawkinson said he can only speculate on Google's long-term strategy, but suspects Google intends is to use Nest to penetrate a lot of households and then broaden it out with more connected products. Google's stance toward open standards has generally been good. If that friendliness to open source shifts, it could be problem for the Internet of Things.

Hawkinson is hoping that his platform can win enough acceptance with developers, device makers and consumers to create a network effect and drive adoption.

The initial interest of consumers entering this physically connected world is in the things that concern them the most. Not surprisingly, it's the type of thing that helped Hawkinson realize the possibilities of the Internet of Thing: a water leak.


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