Taking network control: Monument brothers develop router for all home automation devices

By: Katherine Blunt, katherine.blunt@gazette.com
June 16, 2014 Updated: June 17, 2014 at 9:21 am
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They were on track to bring in more than $100,000, and then Kickstarter pulled the plug.

Alex and Brandon Jones, brothers from Monument, had launched a crowdfunding campaign to jumpstart the development of their invention: a touchscreen router designed to control all automation and networking technologies within a home. But critics, suspicious of a device that claimed to do so much, moved Kickstarter to pause the campaign until the brothers proved the worth of their project.

That was last year. Now a week into their second crowdfunding campaign, the brothers have done much to silence critics and raised more than a quarter of their $42,500 goal through IndieGoGo. That early support, combined with the $142,000 they ultimately raised through Kickstarter, reflects widespread interest in consolidating control of home technologies as applications and devices continue to multiply.

"Nowadays we have a ton of different devices that are connected and no way to manage everything," Alex said. "The goal is to give non-tech people the ability to control everything within their home with a single device."

The router, called Soap, is based on the Android operating system and compatible with nearly all WiFi standards and wireless networks. A touchscreen interface provides a window into a home network to view all network activity, from suspicious connection attempts to a child's online conversations and browsing habits.

"It's like Big Brother, but for yourself," Alex said.

Alex, 27, and Brandon, 29, conceived of the Big Brother concept after their little brother racked up a lot of Internet charges without their parents' knowledge. Their parents asked if there were any products that would allow them to monitor the network and its users.

"There was nothing that gave that type of parental oversight, and the product started growing," Brandon said. The name, Soap, refers to scrubbing a network clean.

But turning Soap from an idea to a product involved a steep learning curve, because Alex had limited experience with programming. While he had taken some computer science courses at Pikes Peak Community College and Utah Valley University , much of his knowledge came from experimenting with computers as a teen.

"When we got the idea, I didn't know much about hardware," Alex said. "I just started messing around with an open-source development board, and it just grew from that point on."

The two invested about $5,000 to get the project off the ground in early 2013 and debuted it on Kickstarter in May. The temporary halt in the campaign cost the brothers about $150,000 in projected pledges and caused some backers to withdraw support, but they exceeded their $80,000 goal within a week.

The money enabled them to contract with developers and designers to create the parts of the product beyond their technical abilities. The prototypes evolved with faster processors and more storage. Soap's IndieGoGo campaign, launched June 10, has attracted more than $13,000 in pledges through Monday, and early backers of both crowdfunding campaigns can expect to receive test models by early fall and the final versions during the winter .

The growth in Soap's pledges comes amid a growing market for home automation technology. Google's $3.2 billion purchase of home automation developer Nest Labs in January shows that technology giants see potential in smart technologies designed to simplify household tasks.

"It's very apparent that (home automation) is an exciting popular space," said Tuong Nguyen, principal research analyst at Gartner. "Consumers are starting to be able to afford it."

But Nguyen said the market for home automation, which began to develop in earnest in the last year, is young and difficult to measure accurately.

"We're talking about an early-adoption market," he said. "For the average consumer, this technology is not an impulse purchase. It's a high-end purchase for technology leaders and those with a lot of disposable income."

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