What we learned from our first, WiFi enabled, Wall mounted prototype

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The most important principle in product development is user validation.
While that may sound trivial, it is more often said than done. It happened to me more than once, while trying to figure out how to operate a DVD, washing machine or air conditioner. Staring at the product with frustration and amazement, I would ask myself if the engineers making that product ever actually tried to use it themselves, or at least gave it to anyone to try. And I knew they hadn’t, or they would simply go back to the drawing board and fix their useless design.

That’s why the first thing we did with Sensibo was to build prototypes. We hand made them, which was quite a lot of work. We then gave them to a group of people during the summer and let them use the product on a daily basis. Most of what we did during that summer was this user survey. And yes, during that summer we went back to the drawing board, more than once. Below are just three of the lessons we’ve learned.

 

BTW, Sensibo is a device that makes any air conditioner smart.

 

The “just teach it your A/C IR codes” myth
We gave our first prototype users the system and let them teach our device the infrared codes. They had to take the regular remote, point it to the device and press a button, repeating the process for each configuration. Then we discovered that the number of configurations of a typical air conditioner is overwhelming! Think of it: 10 temperature settings, 4 cooling/heating modes, 4 fan levels, horizontal swipes, vertical swipes, etc. The number of options is thus 10x4x4x2x2x… = THOUSANDS OF CODES. Our users weren’t willing to spend a whole day just teaching their A/C all the codes. Even teaching just the more useful codes results in hundreds of codes. So we made sure our device comes with all the codes pre-installed.

 

sensibo

The device shouldn’t depend on a power source
It turns out that a power outlet isn’t always available where you’d want it. Some of our beta users didn’t have a power outlet where they wanted to hang the unit. The dangling cable on the wall looked bad, no matter what we did. We tried to fix the cable to the wall, changed the colors from blue to white to red. Alas. In the end we realized that in order to make it look great we would need to remove the cables. So we decided to change the configuration of the product. In the new configuration the Sensibo pod is completely wire-free.

 

 

old remotePeople need the ability to use their old remote control
One day I got a call from one of our beta testers. He was an enthusiast advocate of the system and used all its advanced features daily. He told me that they just got a nanny to watch over his baby. The nanny didn’t have a smartphone, so she was using the remote control. This led to a situation where the device lost synchronization with the air conditioner, thinking it was ON while in fact it was OFF. When that feedback continued to arrive, we knew it was something we’d have to address. So we added IR receivers to make sure Sensibo stays synchronized with the old remote control.

 

Click here to learn more and pre-order Sensibo: http://igg.me/at/sensibo/x/7891913

14 thoughts on “What we learned from our first, WiFi enabled, Wall mounted prototype

  1. Hey, I have that remote in the picture! and I hate it!
    Why the hell do I need the “mode” button OUTSIDE of that flap? I use it exactly twice a year (beginning of winter -> heat, beginning of summer -> cool). Moreover, a few times I pressed it by mistake, which means unexpected results.

    Regarding IR codes: why the number of options is a product and not a sum? (i.e. 10+4+4+2…?)
    Let’s say the remote only control temps from 16° to 25° and 4 fan levels: L(ow), M(ed), H(i), A(uto).
    Once your device recognize how the 10 numbers are encoded and how the 4 letters are encoded, aren’t they independent of each other?
    unless… the remote “hashes” the values together? it doesn’t just send temp & fan serially?

    1. Hi Amnon,

      Exactly! No need to ever change the mode, it always should just work depending on the real world.

      re the remote codes. In theory, you are right, but each remote is different and the coding should be analyzed in order to find the right bits and the correct error correction. We have such a process, but if you’d want to do it manually without analysis by recording each option it’s going to be hard because you’d have to record:

      “Leave the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan low, swing off”
      “Leave the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan med, swing off”
      “Leave the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan high, swing off”
      “Leave the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan auto, swing off”
      “Leave the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan low, swing vertical”
      “Leave the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan med, swing vertical”

      “Turn the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan low, swing off”
      “Turn the A/C on, cool, 24 degrees, fan med, swing off”
      etc.

      Omer.

  2. Is it possible that some obscure airconditioning units are unsupported and if so, would it be possible to teach it?

    1. It is possible, but very unlikely. We already support more than 1000 brands, some of which are very obscure.
      In the slight chance that the air conditioner is not supported, it will be possible to teach it, and better than that, we will teach it for you.

  3. I have a question about the synchronization. My AC can be controlled with a remote OR built-in controls. What happens when someone turns of the AC by pressing the built-in controls?

    1. First we believe that after a while, you wouldn’t want to use the built in control. Even if you do (or someone else does). Our algorithms knows to adjust and find out that the air conditioner was switched on or off or changed a temperature.

  4. Hello ! I’m using Mitsubishi Air Cond.

    I want to put heat on morning (during winter) and change it to cold the house on summer. Seems to be good. Also i’m using another air cond. hope it will work. I show the Sensibo to my father, seems to be interested but will it work with Daikin air cond ?

    1. Hi Julien,

      This is great – Sensibo automatically adjusts to winter and summer and you don’t have to change modes.
      We also already support both Mitsubishi and Daikin air conditioners.

  5. I read the comments and I realized that Sensibo stores around 3000 AC code inside it. Does it mean that the mobile App will ask me to choose the AC model at the installation? What about if I have two Different ACs?

    Mina

    1. When you install a new pod, you will be asked to point the regular remote to the pod and press the “On” button, and possibly a couple of other buttons. Sensibo will automatically identify your remote control’s type. Of course, if you know the exact model you could also choose it from a list. Because there is a pod for each AC unit, it’s possible to install Sensibo on ACs of different models.

      1. Thanks.
        What is the communication module that used in Sensibo? What about Sensibo’s battery life?

        Mina

  6. @Mina
    Sensibo uses 802.15.4 to communicate between the pods and the smart hub. The hub is connected via ethernet to your home router (BTW, we compared WiFi to Ethernet in a different installation survey and ethernet proved to be much simpler). The battery is a standard CR-123a (found in hardware and photo stores) and lasts up to 3 years.

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