We have all seen and envied the availability of smart home tech in other countries. Nothing beats the feeling when you don’t have to frantically search for the air conditioner remote in the middle of the night or you don’t have to get up from the couch to switch on the geyser. For us Indians, especially the ones for whom getting up from the couch requires burning the house down (in other words, me!), the ability to control your appliances using only your smartphone is a dream come true.
While tech giants like Belkin and Google are vying to get in your all of your daily activities, India as a potential smart home market is not on their priority list. Enter Oakter, a small Indian startup that aims to smarten your life. The concept is quite a simple one. Oakter offers you a smart plug and a smart controller that fits like a glove over your existing plug points and voila, you are done! Just install the app and start living the smart life. This acts as a lifesaver during summers as you don’t have to get up to lower the AC temperatures or get up early before the power cut to switch on the geyser in the winters.
We had a chat with the “big boss” himself, Shishir Gupta, co-founder. Shishir told us all about how Oakter began, the journey and even a sneak peek at some of the upcoming tech they are working on. Here are some of the highlights:
R: ..how did the idea of Oakter come into existence? the inspiration behind the tech?
SG: ..it all started back when I and a few of my colleagues were tinkering with the concept of solar-powered air conditioners. It was an ambitious project for us but the costs for the consumer were on the higher end of the spectrum. We had to scrap it ultimately but we had something more useful, the interaction module that we had developed for controlling the AC and that’s where the idea for a smart home product struck us.
We played around with a couple of products and finally settled with a simple smart hub and a switch which we felt would bring something new to the Indian market.
R: You started late last year.. how has your journey been so far. Have you been facing any issues with the product or the market in general?
SG: We started quite early last year. The RnD on the product started in July and after a brief market survey, Oakter was on track to sell its first device. The early results were very promising and our customers love the product. There have not been any issues with the product itself but there are a few issues that every new company has to face once they enter a market. Supply chain management for one. Sometimes the orders pour in at a very fast rate and shipping them off timely becomes challenging. But, that’s what we signed up for. We have learnt quite a lot in these one and a half years and have been adapting and are pleased to say that we are on top of things pretty much all the time.
R: We have all seen what smart homes in US are like, complete with Google Nest and the works.. How does Oakter fit into the Indian lifestyle? You only have two major products offerings at the moment.
SG: ..well yes! It’s only been a year and a half since we started working on our idea and we wanted to test the waters with a simple yet useful product. A typical Indian household is very different from US or any other country for that matter. We have plenty of plug points in our rooms, say four to five points on an average per room. A smart strip makes sense for a place with scarce power points. Also, we use lots of low power devices as compared to other households.
The Smart Thermostat, we call as a Comfort Leaf, has a temperature and humidity sensor to optimize thermal comfort of a room. What it does is that it learns your cooling preferences based on your inputs and settings & accordingly maintains the room temperature thereafter. It also automatically adapts to the changes in outside weather conditions and regulates the temperature at night. You can even set timers for your devices, like in winters if you want you can set the time for the geyser to switch on at or in summers your AC to switch on at.
R: Here in India, power outages are a common phenomenon and so are the surges. Do they affect Oakter products, I mean, will they fry my device or do you have a safety built-in?
SG: Exactly.. See that’s the beauty of electronics.. you can program them anyway you want. What other US-based or Chinese manufacturers don’t do is program a cutoff code that cuts off the power supply once it detects a surge. Of course, it’s not in their interests to do so but Oakter caters to the Indian market and we know the needs of an Indian consumer. All our devices come with a built in cutoff circuit.
R: Tech Giants like Apple and Samsung are heavily investing in IoT and Smart Homes. There have been talks about an exclusive HomeKit app and who can forget Samsung’s crazy $6k smart fridge. What do you think will come off it?
SG: In the tech world, every field has competition. Oakter also offers what other companies do, the only difference is that we are focused towards the Indian household. We are in talks with Apple’s certifications and some other interesting activities.. but you know.. we do need to keep a few things for ourself till the time is right.
As for Samsung’s fridge, that device is one of its kind. It showcases the future, for sure, but if I were to speculate, that big a fridge will take a long long time to get into homes. For now, it does remind us about all the possibilities that IoT has to offer.
R: When we hear the term smart home, the very first thing that comes to our minds is a smart door lock complete with a video monitoring system just like in the movies. Does Oakter have any plans for the same?
SG: ..Now that you’ve mentioned it, we did want to launch a smart lock as our first product. However, with a smart lock, you will need to buy new locks, put safeguards in place, invest in a heavily secure architecture and the whole shebang increasing the end-user cost.
Our initial products are just a start. We have been working on various prototypes of locks and will definitely launch a few new products very soon.
R: Let’s talk about security. How secure are Oakter products? Since it is on a network, it can be used as an access point by hackers.
SG: absolutely. Anything on a network is a node waiting to be exploited. Hackers do take advantage of such devices but Oakter does ensure that there are safety mechanisms in place. With our current products, security is not a major concern but when you do talk about smart locks or access control, state of the art encryption is required.
R: So a final question.. the availability? Where can our readers buy Oakter products from?
SG: We are currently on Amazon. You can buy the basic smart kit, here and the full smart kit, here. You can also visit our website and customise your kit as per your requirements. We are in talks with major offline retailers and very soon you can also buy our products from your local stores.
You can get more information about Oakter from their official website and can interact with Shishir on twitter @cacofnix or shoot Oakter an email email@example.com
Stay tuned for our review of the Oakter Smart Home kit in a few days! Feel free to drop in any question down in the comment box below!