The First Decent Home Automation System Is A DVR Built From Virtual Lego

Home automation equipment is the new digital junk drawer. But Argodesign may be cracking the code.

Most companies approach home automation equipment the same way. You download their app. So your smartlock is one app. And your smart light bulb is another app. It’s easy. But the idea doesn’t scale very well to a dozen, let alone several dozen, smart appliances. Even the best solutions on the market struggle with this core problem.


Recently, smarthome equipment line PEQ enlisted Argodesign to rethink its front-end experience–how its app can connect with a variety of hardware. And what Argodesign created allows you to flick on the upstairs lights, lock the back door, and turn down the heat, all from the same screen, all without digging through separate apps, pages, and directories of information.

“People don’t like navigating these apps because it’s already a silly proposition to say, ‘I’m pulling out my phone to turn on the light,’” explains Argodesign founder Mark Rolston. “So you at least want to make the light easy to turn on from the phone.”

Building Virtual Lego Bricks

PEQ’s new approach looks a lot like the Metro design language of Windows 8. Each connected device you have becomes a button on the screen. And each button acts as a self-contained switch. For instance, a lock unlocks with a tap, or you slide your finger up and down the thermostat to change the temperature.

Have too many devices for a single screen? There are two solutions. The first is that a lock or lightbulb button can control more than one device. So you could turn on or off a whole house of lights in a tap. PEQ also allows you to add more pages of devices. Yes, this option is a rabbit hole back into the whole digital junk drawer problem of the modern smart home, but these pages can be organized however you like for optimization. They can be a Mom’s page or Dad’s page–or they can be pages for the living room or dining room. When I asked Rolston, why not just design a system that can work for every home, he responded that it just wasn’t possible. Homes are set up and and organized too differently for a one-size-fits-all design.

“I would call the folks that created Lego great designers. They created just the right set of foundational bricks, and ensured whatever I try to make will come out good enough,” Rolston says. “So we’ve created these modules you can piece together however you want.”


Turning Automation Into A DVR

The greatest promise of home automation is that it’s automated–making it not just easy, but mindless to manage your home. Currently, PEQ and other platforms allow you to program “if/then” logic–like if someone opens the front door, turn on the security camera, or if your Jawbone up sees you’re awake, turn the heat up a few degrees.

Argodesign wanted to find an alternative–something a step more approachable than programming your smarthome to be smart. And what they developed looks a lot like a DVR. It’s a timeline view of your devices, showing when they’re set to go on or off into the future.

By tapping on the timeline at 8 p.m., much like you can record a show on your DVR, you can turn on or off a light at 8 p.m. And in future releases of the software, they plan to push this interaction further, allowing you to set the equivalent of season passes for your lights and locks from this DVR-esque screen.

Think about it: If our cable boxes can manage 300 or more channels, maybe they’re not the worst design metaphor for a smarthome filled with 300 or more devices. That is, until Google’s algorithms just get smart enough to know what we want before we do.

PEQ’s new interface will ship this May.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.