Alarm.com opens home automation platform to outside companies

You may already be living inside your next computer.

Vienna-based Alarm.com, the purveyor of home automation technology, is trying to position itself as a kind of operating system for the home. It has begun allowing other companies to plug their technology into its system in the same way software developers create applications for Microsoft or Apple computers, tablets and phones.

Alarm.com announced its initial partnerships last week at the International Security Conference in Las Vegas. Homeowners that use LiftMaster electric garage door openers and Lutron lights and window shades will be able to control them using the Alarm.com Web site and app.

Jay Kenny, vice president of marketing, said Alarm.com’s Platform Connect allows the company to quickly expand the number of products a homeowner can automate and control using the company’s system.

“The more applications that they can draw to that platform the greater the value, in the same way the Apple app store draws applications from all sorts of developers and that brings greater value to that platform,” said Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research.

So could homes with automated systems eventually operate like smartphones, allowing any software developers to create new apps or features that a homeowner simply downloads?

“We don’t have any plans for the right now. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. It seems to make sense,” Kenny said. “I think the biggest concerns for us are great experience and security.”

Alarm.com is also expanding the use of global positioning data in home automation, meaning your home will know where you are based on the location of your phone. Last year, the company added a service that notifies homeowners if they’re left home without activating an alarm.

Collins said many home automation operators have expanded mobile offerings in the last two years. In addition to GPS, they’re also integrating technologies such as Bluetooth and cellular WiFi. “That mobile handset does really help change the usefulness and the extendability of these systems,” he said.

Alarm.com has now connected GPS with its video surveillance so that in-home cameras don’t record movement in the house when it knows you’re there, Kenny said.

“If you don’t want it to capture you walking around in your underwear, you can turn that off when it knows that you’re home,” Kenny said.

Location data can also be used to change the thermostat or turn on the lights when you’re phone comes within a certain distance of the house. Alarm.com plans to increase the features that tap into GPS, Kenny said.

“This essentially automatically does it on your behalf based on rules that you’ve set,” he said. “We’re essentially trying to make it easier to use and easier for people to get value out of these systems.”

Part of that value is the ability to save on energy expenses. Alarm.com is also expanding its energy monitoring service, allowing homeowners to see how much energy they use throughout the home and on individual devices or appliances.

Home energy monitoring is a growing industry as people become more environmentally conscious and the price of energy fluctuates. Alarm.com sees an advantage over competitors because its system can already connect to lights, windows, doors, thermostats and other home amenities that impact energy consumption.

As a result, the company hopes not only to tell consumers where they’re expending energy unnecessarily but allow them to automate the home in a way that’s as energy efficient as possible, Kenny said.

“I still do believe people will want to control things in the moment. All of those interactive capabilities are really, really valuable,” Kenny said. “But the more the system can do things automatically, the more energy savings people will experience.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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