on May 26 2015
We think that making laptop screens and smartphones the only tools we use to interact with technology around us sucks. Taking out your phone to open an app when you just want to adjust the volume on your sound system or the lights in your home is just a bad user experience. It's a distracting process that is less precise than turning a dial like we used to.
We are developing the next frontier of human and technology interaction. We built our first device, Flow, to solve the one of the challenges that we experience everyday by building a easy to use, precise controller for design applications. But the core technology is transferable to a number of different applications from smart furniture, to lighting and sound control. Basically everything that we see being built into smart homes and offices. The technology is there, but the user interface is lacking. Our dream is to live in a world where technology naturally blends into our lives, and controlling it can be intuitive, and non-disruptive.
Flow is a wireless tactile controller for computer and connected devices. It’s our first device and we used it to build the technology that will be at the core of our future products. As designers and engineers ourselves we’ve always been frustrated with the screen-mouse workflow. We want to feel our work and utilize the sense of touch. The current mouse-keyboard relationship is terrible, browsing through menus or toggling sliders is slow and imprecise.
Flow is a sleek and circular device that is controlled by rotating its outer ring, activating its touch sensors, and hand gestures. We combine existing angular position technology with a multitouch surface and hand gesture recognition sensors we developed ourselves in Germany. The Flow picks up over 3600 data-points, so every gesture is detected. Flow becomes a part of your hand and as a result the actions on the screen become an extension of your thought process - as familiar as your own hand, and just as precise.
The first application is for designers, but Flow isn’t just for Photoshop. We integrate with over 30 programs like Spotify so users can control those applications with the natural movement of their hands. The Flow can sit on your desk like a mouse, on the wall to control the lights and room temperature, or the kitchen counter for easy music control while cooking. And it doesn’t stop with these 30 programs. We designed Flow to be flexible, and our users are constantly showing us use cases we hadn’t thought of.
We funded the initial prototype and production for Flow with an IndieGoGo campaign that we launched in early November. We raised 100% of our goal in the first three days, sold over 2,000 units, and raised $273k - over-subscribed by 500%.
The wirelessly controlled Philips Hue light bulb is a great example, they sold 8 Million units in 2013 and have double-digit growth. You can replace your regular lightbulb with a Philips Hue bulb and then control that light with the app on your phone. The wireless control is awesome and definitely the reason Philips is so popular, but turning the light on and off is a pain. Even if the user is right next to the lamp they have to pull up the app, find the right button, and wait for the response. People want instant tactile control.
Philips tried to make a better controller, but failed. It was cheaply made and poorly designed. They’re good at building lights, but not so good with the interfaces that control them. They recently contacted us to integrate Flow with the Hue, and solve the main challenge their customers complain about, the interface.
After launching our indiegogo campaign, we were contacted by a number of other industries that are interested in the technology we’ve built. Furniture manufacturers are starting to integrate technology into their products, but don’t have the software and interface expertise in house to do a good job at it. Rather than opening an entire division to integrate software with their existing products, they can partner with us and stick to what they do best, building the furniture.
For example. Steelecase just approached us to collaborate on their first smart furniture piece. Humans have developed nine new postures since the onset of smart devices and this will be the first chair tailored to support all of them. Senic is the perfect software company to compliment their furniture expertise - we can’t wait.
Flow will either replace or compliment many products already on the market. The Nest, which is on track to sell 3.3M devices in 2015, can’t read hand gestures like Flow. People can use Flow compliments to control the sound on their Sonos systems which sold over 2 Million units in 2013. Philips Hue, only one of the smart light systems that is struggling to find an interface that satisfies their users, sold 8 Million devices in 2013. Flow will be used at work and personal computers everywhere, and the number of WiFi enabled homes should top 1 Billion by year’s end.
In the broadest sense our competition is any interface for controlling technology, like the smartphone, which is definitely a competitor. But like I’ve mentioned, smartphones are kind of like a one size fits all solution for everything. Our product is designed for actions where a phone is overkill. People don’t want to browse their phone for the specific light or volume control app, they want a quick, precise action. There are also devices for single applications like TV remotes. These have depth of control like a smartphone but can’t work across numerous applications - they’re just as complicated but less useful. The cognitive load for these devices: remote controls, computer mouse, and smartphone application screens is too high and disruptive.
Other competitors are focused on different approaches to control. Voice recognition is one solution, but its awkward to interrupt a conversation with a friend to tell your lights to dim. Others are building wearable devices, but no one wants to put on augmented reality glasses or an armband to turn off the lights.
Users want one subtle device with just a few controls to easily and precisely adjust their environment.
The four of us are all talented individually, but make a killer team when we work together. Philip is an electrical engineer with a Masters from Berkeley, who worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab building quantum computers at the atomic level. He developed a pure diamond for Berkeley’s computer, and is a world renowned expert in nanotechnology and controlling electricity. Felix is an industrial designer with experience in everything from musical instruments to industrial manufacturing. He spent a year developing tangible user interfaces, and consults for MIT regularly. Chirantan studied algorithm design and scientific computing at Pune University in India. He knows more programming languages than I can count and has over 20 commercial software products on the market. I (Tobias) studied both business psychology and design, and have managed projects for companies like Merck and OnVista in the U.S., Germany, Korea, and Mexico.
Soon we’ll get all the benefits of technology without all the negative distractions - the environment will respond seamlessly to your needs. Imagine this: lights turn on as you stir in bed and your morning music will fades in as you swipe the bedside table. The bathroom mirror will illuminate and display the time, your schedule, and a few critical emails as you walk through the door. The kitchen window will display the day’s weather, and the table will have the news embedded with the swipe of your hand.
Technology will move from the foreground as we see it today, and blend with our environment to enhance our connection to it. We’ll be able to focus because every decision and action will require less - fewer buttons and fewer apps. Just a single swipe, or tap of the finger. Everything will be integrated, every interaction will be more natural.
The Flow has pre-sold on IndieGoGo for $99, and costs us ~$40 to produce. We’ll retail the device for $149, and plan to drop that price as our production costs fall.
We have a close family relationship with our manufacturers in Germany so we can keep costs low and produce in small batches. This is an incredible advantage that enables cheap product iteration and better hardware. Not only can we produce quickly for less than any competitor, but have access to multiple engineering teams with over 20 years experience. We couldn’t ask for a better prototyping and manufacturing situation.
We need to hire two people immediately - one embedded software engineer and an operations manager. Another sales person would be also be fantastic to help lock down more partnerships.
It might be a smart furniture piece, but we’re still negotiating the deal. Stay tuned!
The first batch will ship in June!
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