One of the joys of running OxGadgets is getting a chance to come across various companies that produce great products. Every now and then, we get a chance to interview them. This time we bring you an exclusive interview with Adam Whistler, Business Development Manager, Fibaro UK Ltd, which are an up and coming home automation company.
The name Fibaro is a relatively unknown in the UK. Tell us a bit about yourself and the company.
Fibaro has been enjoying a lot of success elsewhere in the world for the past four years, but we are relatively new to the UK. There’s a few reasons for that – it’s a European product originally, and it looks at the whole concept of home automation in a different way to what we’re used to here in the UK. Over here, when we’ve talked about “home automation” in the past, what we’ve really meant is home control – taking your phone out and remotely controlling various devices in your house, primarily your AV equipment.
With Fibaro, we’re looking much more at true automation than just app-control – a system that automatically optimises your safety, comfort and energy efficiency without any direct input from the user. Fibaro still provides app control – but the automation features are much richer than in many other systems in the market. Automation of services like lighting and heating also takes precedence over AV control. It’s a refreshing perspective and very much aligned with the zeitgeist of the energy crisis and spiralling utility bills.
Here at Fibaro UK we’ve all come from a traditional “Custom Install” background, working with technologies like Savant, Crestron, Lutron, Control 4. They’re all brilliant technologies that certainly have a place, but we believe there’s another way – an easier, more accessible, more affordable way; one that can benefit a much larger swathe of the population than ever before.
What is the main design strategy of the company?
Fibaro is as much about aesthetics as functionality. We believe that the average consumer doesn’t want bulky 19” equipment racks, commercial-grade networking, kilometres of cables – for a solution to be truly desirable on a mass-market level it needs to be simple, non-intrusive and aesthetically pleasing.
Take Sonos for example. Multi-room audio isn’t a new concept, but until recently if you wanted it you needed an audio matrix, multi-channel amplifiers, in-ceiling speakers, some sort of control system to govern user interaction, a rack to contain it all, possibly thermal management… Sonos came along and said, “it doesn’t need to be like this – here’s a clean, minimal white box, you put it in a room, and voila – multi-room audio”. Beauty through simplicity – you’ll see that a lot in Fibaro products.
Tell us what your main USP is.
Home automation isn’t a new concept – it’s been around for literally decades. However, historically speaking, the bars to entry have been very high. You’ve had to invest eye-watering sums in equipment and structured cables; be prepared to alter the fabric of your home and dedicate a small room in your house to equipment and racks; you’ve needed to hire specialist installers and programmers and, in many cases, move out of the property for several months while the installation take place. Fibaro is about removing all of these obstacles – it’s wireless, it’s affordable, and it can be retrofitted into any building almost irrespective of the wiring infrastructure.
You are going for a product that requires no specialist installation. How do you think that will affect the future of home automation?
There’s a real paradox inherent in the “traditional” Custom Install industry. Historically, we’ve been taking solutions that do things like turn off lights in unoccupied rooms to save people money on their energy bills – and then wrapping them up in £250,000 projects and selling them to what we call “high net worth individuals” (millionaires and billionaires). We’ve always felt that in a lot of ways this doesn’t make sense. Not only should everyone be able to benefit from the comfort, safety and energy efficiency enhancements of home automation – but indeed the people who benefit the most are those for whom traditional solutions are wildly out of reach. Simplifying the installation and removing the reliance on proprietary cables brings the costs and difficulty down enormously.
What is your favourite home automation device/product/service?
Fibaro of course! But we’re also big fans of Hive and Nest. Not only is energy efficiency at the core of our philosophy, we like the way that products like these are wrapping up the fundamental principles of automation in a way that’s very accessible to consumers. It’s very similar to what we’re trying to do.
What do you think is the ‘dream/goal’ that every home automation company should aspire to? Is it already there?
We should aspire to mass market adoption – true universal acceptance of smart home technologies. The products are already here – what we have to do now is educate the market. When people see Fibaro their reaction is often one of disbelief – we get comments like “I thought this kind of thing only existed in sci-fi films.” Once we’re past that, we then have to convince them it doesn’t come with a six-figure price tag… we have a long way to go before smart technologies are truly ubiquitous. It’s a bit like trying to sell a smart phone in 2003; in many ways we’re still at the early-adoption phase. We have to thank tech giants like Apple, Google and Samsung for weighing in to the sector, because they’ll do a lot to bring it to the mainstream.
Your products… tell us where they are made and designed?
They’re made in Poland, in the city of Poznan. There’s a dedicated manufacturing facility in Poznan with a capacity of around 60,000 devices a day. Poland perhaps isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think of technology, but there’s some truly amazing products coming out of there at the moment. To give you an idea of the level of smart technology adoption over there, Fibaro went into around 8% of new-builds in Poland last year. The Polish Group Office grew from 82 staff to 274 in the past twelve months just to keep up with demand. It’s really quite astounding!
What would be the ideal support you would like from your customers, as well as the industry?
We love our community! As a result of throwing the doors wide open and allowing users to install and program solutions for themselves, Fibaro has nurtured a global community like no other. Last time I checked, there were nearly 50,000 posts on the official forum – all end-users contributing their ideas and things they’ve implemented in their own homes; helping and inspiring each other to get the most out of the system. It’s got a life of its own. Some users have come up with applications we never would have dreamed of – people have developed Fibaro parking sensors, early warning flood systems, monitoring arrays for tropical fish… one guy wrote a custom Lua script that references his son’s GPS location and his school’s online timetable and notifies him if the kid is skipping school!
A lot of home automation systems are looking to collaborate with energy suppliers. Is that something you hope to do? What are your thoughts on that?
There’s a clear synergy between utility providers and systems like Fibaro. They provide the energy, Fibaro allows you to monitor and regulate your usage of it. Not only that, but everyone has a utility provider, but only a very small fraction of the population have a smart home consultant. National providers are likely to be instrumental in mass-market adoption in coming years, as much because of their ubiquity as the resources at their disposal. Fibaro recently signed a deal with Orange in France to supply Fibaro products as part of their new Homelive automation solution. A few years ago that’s something we could only dreamed of.
What would be one message you’d like to leave our readers with?