Smart home companies such as Amazon and Google have dominated the market with popular voice-activated systems such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, which allow users to speak commands aloud. But, now a new startup company, Josh.ai, has raised $11 million to design a better voice-controlled system for smart homes, and will later this year release its own hardware dedicated to this purpose, reports Sarah Perez for TechCrunch.
Josh.ai is the product of serial entrepreneurs Alex Capecelatro, CEO, and Tim Gill, CTO. The company is headquartered in Denver, with offices in L.A. With backgrounds in app development and a personal interest in developing a smart home system, the two paired together to begin working on Josh.ai in early 2015.
“I was just amazed that all of the big automation systems – Crestron, Control4, and Savant – they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the [user interface] looks like it’s from the 90’s,” says Capecelatro. “It was weird that for a ton of money in my home where you want to have a delightful experience, the best offerings on the table just weren’t that good.”
The founders saw a need in the market for something that sits above mass market solutions, like Apple’s Home app, or Alexa’s smart home control, which focus more on tying together after-market devices, like security cameras, smart doorbells, or smart lights like Philips Hue.
The solution, as it exists today, includes a kit with a Mac mini and iPad, and software that runs the home. After plugging in the Mac, Josh.ai auto-discovers devices on the network. It can identify those from over 50 manufacturers. For example, it can control lighting and shades like those from Lutron, music systems like Sonos, dozens of brands of security cameras, Nest thermostats, Samsung smart TVs, and even more niche products like Global Caché’s box for controlling IR devices (such as your “not-so-smart” TVs).
What makes Josh.ai unique is not just its software interface, but how users interact with the system. You speak to the voice assistant “Josh” to tell the home what to do. For instance, you can tell Josh to “turn it off,” and it will know what “it” means because it remembers what it had turned on before. Or you can say, “it’s hot in here,” and Josh will know how to adjust your thermostat.