Vendor to Watch: Tri Cascade
The “smart home” arena is full of grand ideas, but only advanced Internet of Things (IoT) components will make these homes truly smart. Tri Cascade Inc., a vendor developing smart thermostats, light switches, outlets, and more, pursues a slightly different path to delivering those components.
“You don’t want a smart home, you want a smart house,” says Max Li, president and CEO of Tri Cascade, based in Newport Beach, Calif. How is a “smart house” different from a “smart home?” Li explains: “You want the entire house to be a smart device, with the house and the IoT devices built together. It should be smart before you move in.”
Imagine you buy a home, and the previous owners had installed a variety of smart devices controlled through their Wi-Fi router. When you take possession, you discover they took their router with them. Are those smart devices suddenly worthless? How do you manage them? If Li has his way, you’ll be able to control the smart devices you inherit without a problem, because they’ll be part of the house, just like the plumbing and heating.
Li started as a builder in his native Taiwan, so he has a deep understanding of what builders need. “You can’t have only a single smart light switch,” he says, noting that many smart switches on the market today are built to control a single light. “You need both single-pole and triple-pole light switches, the ones used to control lights at the top and bottom of a stairway. You have to have dimmer switches, and lights that accept different bulbs. Smart outlets need to include 15 amp, 20 amp, and GFI versions. And so on.”
Moreover, building is a tradition-heavy industry that changes slowly, so new smart light switches and smart outlets must install exactly like the current versions and follow the same wiring patterns. Everything must adhere to the building codes for new construction as well. Li started digging into the details back in 2015.
“If you want smart cities, you first have to build smart houses and smart neighborhoods,” he says. Tri Cascade, along with some major IoT vendors, is involved in a pilot project right now. Details are under a nondisclosure agreement, so Li can’t divulge the other companies he’s working with, but there are only so many major telcos and networking and cloud vendors to choose from. Some details may be available in the third quarter, but the big reveal for consumers is timed for the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show next January.
Figuring It Out
Privacy concerns led Li to figure out a way to secure a home without cameras. Some Tri Cascade light switches include microphones and motion detectors. When a homeowner is known to be out of the house (based on the location of his or her smartphone), noise and motion sensors will be turned on to detect intruders. “Cameras belong on the outside of the house,” says Li.
In addition, in Li’s vision system control will be integrated. “Voice-over support will allow you to control your system from anywhere in the room by talking to any light switch,” he says. Support for Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant is included, as is a mobile phone app.
Tri Cascade’s ThermoRing smart thermostat will act as the solution’s edge device, connecting it to the internet, and also serve as the Wi-Fi router and mesh network for other devices inside the home. Devices inside the smart house will run locally without cloud support. Using a SIM-based, low-cost 300k cell data modem, the system will upload status reports, log files, and operational details for analysis each night. Controller options include the smartphone app and the SKI-Q app that runs on an iPad.
Li’s next product will be a smart garage opener, and perhaps an IoT sprinkler system after that. Do we need automated sprinklers? If sensors are used, the lawn will be watered only when it needs it, explains Li. Broken sprinkler heads can be located by the unusually high amount of water used, and turned off to stop waste.
Intelligent locks and video doorbells have become popular add-on home security products, but Li wants to disrupt that business as well. “For new buildings, you can put components in the actual door itself,” he adds. “If we make it easier for them, builders can integrate IoT devices during construction.”