Imagine a system that unlocks the doors and turns on the lights when your adolescent son arrives home and doesn't allow him to watch anything on the TV until after he watches an educational video and notifies you at your office when he's completed it.
A well-funded and pedigreed startup company hopes to bring such a smart-home vision closer to reality.
Texas-based Prodea on Tuesday is set to announce that it's now offering technology it calls the "Residential Operating System" here in the United States. The software and service is designed to make it easier for service providers, retailers, real estate developers and other companies to offer home-automation technologies to consumers.
The company designed ROS to work with a wide range of smart home devices and services -- security systems and cameras, smart thermostats and light dimmers, but also connecting health monitoring devices and even Internet-streamed video. ROS is also designed to work with equipment from a broad selection of manufacturers that can use a variety of networking technologies.
"We've been working on cracking the code for the 'Internet of things,' " said Anousheh Ansari, the company's CEO and co-founder.
Almost since "Jetson's" aired back in the 1960s, companies have been working on trying to make a home like theirs a reality. Until recently, though, most home automation technologies have been either too pricey or too complicated for most consumers.
But in the last several years, telecommunications companies, including AT&T and Comcast, and security companies, including ADT and Vivint, have rolled out smart home services priced and designed to appeal to their existing mass-market customers. Meanwhile, retailers such as Lowe's have introduced smart home devices and systems at relatively affordable prices. And companies such as Nest have introduced smart home devices intended to make such technologies easy and accessible to average consumers.
There are indications that the market is starting to take off. Sales of wireless home automation devices, including smart thermostats and smart electrical plugs, tallied 17.23 million last year, nearly double the year before, according to ABI Research. ABI projects that sales of such devices will grow to more than half a billion by 2018.
But the home automation industry is still fragmented. There are few widely accepted standards for networking or communicating with smart devices. So apps designed for one device or system often can't talk with other devices or systems. And the websites or apps that consumers use to interact with their security systems often can't be used to interact with their TV service -- even when both come from the same service provider.
It's that chaotic situation Prodea hopes to solve with ROS. The base software is designed to run on a variety of devices in the home -- set-top boxes, networking hubs or computers -- and will allow users to interact with it over their televisions, computers and handheld devices.
"It's a pain point for the industry broadly," said Jonathan Gaw, a research manager who covers the home automation market for technology research firm IDC.
The company has raised $100 million in part from CEO Ansari's family, who are perhaps best known for the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which promoted the development of the commercial space launching industry.
Despite its funding and technology, Prodea may have a tough time convincing top-tier customers to adopt its service. Some of them are already using similar technology from rival companies. Comcast's Xfinity Home smart home service, for example, uses technology from iControl. Security company Vivint's home-automation system is built on Alarm.com's technology.
Those companies are "more likely to work with that (existing) provider rather than switch out to whole new player" for home automation, said Jonathan Collins, who researches the home automation market as a principal analyst at ABI Research.
And companies that do adopt Prodea's system may only do so piecemeal, because of their existing technologies and partnerships, said IDC's Gaw.
But the company could find a market among both smaller broadband providers that haven't yet rolled out smart home technologies and among retailers and nontraditional companies that are eager to enter the market, analysts said.
"There's potential for a wide range of players to get drawn into the smart home market," said Collins.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Startup company Prodea has developed technology that aims to stitch together the motley collection of home-automation technologies.
Company name: Prodea
Headquarters: Richardson, Texas
Employees: About 100
Founders: Anousheh Ansari, Hamid Ansari, Amir Ansari
CEO: Anousheh Ansari
Funding: $100 million
Backers: Ansari family (the sponsors of the Ansari X Prize for commercial space flight); Mubadala, a sovereign wealth fund for the government of Abu Dhabi
Product: Residential Operating System, a technology used to manage and control a wide range of home-automation devices and services, including smart thermostats, Webcams and Internet streaming video