Talk: Russell Ure, creator of Piper, EVP and GM of iControl Canada
Editor / Provider: Editorial Dept. | Updated: 5/27/2014 | Article type: Hot Topics
Piper recently got updated with a couple new features. We had the opportunity to talk briefly with Russell Ure, founder of Blacksumac, which created Piper. Blacksumac was recently acquired by iControl Networks. Ure is currently EVP and GM of iControl Canada.
Were the features already on the roadmap or were they requested by users?
The two-way audio was planned from the beginning, while the multi-Piper support came about from feedback from Indiegogo backers.
Can you tell me some more about the multi-Piper support?
The new feature supports up to five Pipers on a single network. Each Piper is a full security system and a smart home system that includes a camera, motion detector and microphone. Piper also lets you create different rules–for example, you could set a rule that states: “if motion is detected, record video and set the siren.”
When you have multiple Pipers in your home, each Piper will be running the rules on their own units, as they can interact through Wi-Fi. The system can share knowledge about detection of events between the different Pipers, so when one Piper detects motion, it can set the siren off on all other Pipers in response to that, showing how all units work together as a team.
In terms of hardware, isn't that kind of redundant? Why not have separate components that the user can install in different places as they see fit?
We did look at that. However, from a manufacturing and a time-to- market standpoint there wouldn't have been a great deal saved by doing that.
We also looked at the specific use cases of Piper. For instance, if someone comes into your home, we want each piper to operate as a security system by itself and trigger the other two. Once you start looking at all the features and all the use cases of Piper, most features are best when combined in the unit.
Can you tell me a bit more about the two-way audio and how that works?
When you have multiple Pipers, you have multiple live camera views to choose from—there's a microphone button that you press and hold to talk to whoever is in the room. When you let go of the button, you can hear what they're saying, so it's like an intercom, but with a camera. The audio is very clear, so it's possible to have a lengthy conversation with somebody in the room. All you have to do is talk to them and pause to give them time to respond.
Can you share any other features you have on the roadmap right now?
All I can say is that every four to five weeks, we'll be releasing new features to our entire user base. We have some very exciting features in the pipeline.
Do you have a vision of what a smart home is?
I think there has to be a central controller inside the home. Our vision is that home management and home control will be managed locally in the home with a unit like Piper. It will increasingly become more intelligent and support all kinds of different capabilities.
Piper is a full computer that runs independently without the cloud. It makes decisions, processes things and recognizes situations all locally. Even when you connect to the live camera view, you're connecting peer-to-peer through a secure mobile connection to the Piper unit, not a cloud server.
I wouldn't want my home to be basically controlled by some cloud intelligence, where something in the cloud is figuring out what I'm doing and where my family is, and then make decisions about what should be done in the home. I think increasingly people will be uncomfortable with that, and they should be. But, that kind of automation is increasingly important, and having that automation done locally inside the home is definitely the future.
So Piper works even when an Internet connection is not present, and the cloud is used only for storing images and video, and sending push notifications?
There are a lot of systems on the market that allow users to control home appliances from a smartphone, but does not offer any type of automation. In your opinion, is that still a smart home system?
In my opinion, what we're really going through now is the development of the ultimate smart home system, and we're doing it in stages. People can control things like turning on or off lights from a mobile device and you can also turn appliances on or off or control the heating inside your home. These are examples of steps along the future smart home path.
Ultimately, we all want something like in Star Trek: when you go into the home, there's something in that home that is going to anticipate what you want. When you come into or leave a room, the light immediately changes and that system understands your preferences. There're a lot of things that can be done with automation over time, but we're still in the early stages and we'll continue to see the smart home unfold over the next few years.
How does the acquisition by iControl Networks affect the Blacksumac team and Piper's development?
I run the Piper team and serve as Executive Vice President and General Manager at iControl Canada.
I am continuing to work with my same team and we will continue to push ahead on our product roadmap. We are looking forward to enhancing Piper with some exciting features that wouldn't have previously been available to us.
And those features you mentioned, you can't talk about them just yet?
In what countries has Piper been most successful?
Our main focus right now is North America, where we are selling Piper. But, we have Piper deployments around the world—not quite sure how they got to the various countries, but people find a way.
We plan to start selling full blast in Europe shortly and the rest of the world soon afterwards. I think Piper will be popular with customers in Europe and also in Asia because many people live in smaller spaces. Monitored security is not as common in these areas as it is in North America, so I believe there is huge opportunity for Piper as well.
Right now only the North American version on the market?
Correct. We have several European versions that are in the final stages of certification and testing, and then we'll be ready to start selling in Europe.
Do home automation, smart home and connected home mean different things to you, or are they the same?
To me, they all mean the same thing. In order to have a smart home, you need automation, otherwise it's not very smart. And to enable automation, you need connection, so these terms are all the same, in my opinion.
What inspired you to create Piper?
The inspiration for Piper came from my daughter, who was going to school in a different city. She was living in an apartment, and I was worried about her. I realized I couldn't get a security system installed in her apartment because every security system has to be professionally installed. When I looked around, there was just nothing I could buy her that would give her what she needed. That was really the start for me. There are a lot of people who need a home security solution and can't get it for their apartments.
How does she like it?
My daughter loves using Piper! She and her roommate are much happier having it in their apartment.
Why not just buy a home security camera? There are a lot of them available that offer remote monitoring. Why did you want an entire security system in one unit?
Piper was built for people who would install it themselves, rather than by a professional installer. Also, when you look at smart home, camera technology and security systems, they share so many parts together.
I asked my daughter and a lot of her friends who had apartments: “What worries you the most?” They said they were most afraid that someone could come into the apartment while they were sleeping. I then asked them what they would want to happen if someone did come in. They wanted the lights to turn on, which is an example of how security and smart home features are combined. They also want to make sure that no one would be in their apartments when they get home at night, and they wanted the lights to go on and have access to a camera view of their apartment.
Once you start talking to people about what they need, having all of these features together in one unit makes a lot of sense.
A lot of Asian manufacturers in the security industry are beginning to develop smart home systems. They do not have that much experience designing products for consumers, so the UI tends to be less attractive and difficult to navigate. Do you think the UI is important for consumers?
Absolutely. You have to design your systems for people who have no technical knowledge at all. That is our main design focus: if you can design a UI that helps them, chances are you've designed something that most people can use easily.
Should products primarily be easy to use or visually attractive?
I think products need to have both qualities. If you're putting Piper in your home, it has to look good. It can't be something that looks out of place. You want to have it in a place of honor, as opposed to hiding it somewhere because you don't want to look at it. Some people believe that because it's a security system, you should be hiding it, but I don't agree with that.
Also, security is not just about intruders— if you're at work and your children come home, you want to check what they're doing, so you want a camera that has a good view of the place, and something that looks good and fits in with all the rest of your home.