Home Meet ZOE, the smart home hub taking on Amazon Echo

Meet ZOE, the smart home hub taking on Amazon Echo

One of the more interesting products to appear in the IoT space of late is Protonet’s ZOE, a smart home hub that’s competing with Amazon’s Echo for the home market.

You may remember Protonet as the company that broke the internet back in 2014 by crowdfunding $1 million in 89 minutes and completed the delivery too. The previous project resulted in $4 million raised and set the path for a successful Free Your Data Campaign. In 2014, Protonet was awarded the crowdfunding World Champion by Seedmatch, with an investment of USD$3.4 million and was later elected the 2014 startup of the year.

Protonet is headquartered in Hamburg, Germany and more recently opened offices in the San Francisco Bay area.

Protonet’s point of difference to existing products such as Amazon Echo or Google’s Nest cam, is that it extends it’s ready made private cloud server technology to home IoT, with ZOE operating outside of the cloud and data centres.

I spoke to Ali Jelveh, Protonet co-founder and CEO.

“With the Protonet ZOE, we will bring one of the smartest and most aesthetic Smart Home Hubs to market. Our clear goal is ‘The Home of the Free made smart’ because people should be able to choose how to live with modern technology, even at home,” he said. “We stand for intelligence and data privacy with our products, and have proved that these aspects are compatible.”

In terms of functionality, The Smart Home Hub understands 1500 voice-commands, learns additional vocabulary with every software-update and syntax-detection of new sentences. All voice-data is stored onto the 2GB encrypted local memory. Protonet ZOE includes “Drops,” – small mobile devices which can be placed all over the house so that voice commands can be received in all rooms and on all floors of the house. They can be turned off manually, so that private matters stay private.


The small white box featured is a 'drop', capable of receiving voice commands, it's function is to extend the capabillities of ZOE to different areas of the house.
The small white box featured is a ‘Drop’. Capable of receiving voice commands, its function is to extend the capabilities of ZOE to different areas of the house.

With the help of these Drops, ZOE understands which room a person is standing in and from which room they are giving their spoken command. As Jelveh explains: “Due to this, I can say from the bedroom ‘Hey, ZOE, turn off the lights’ and the lights will, in fact, only turn off in my bedroom – even though ZOE is managing my whole house.”

Interestingly, this new Smart Home Hub does not charge any monthly fees and functions independently of any cloud, which means that it can work without the need of an internet or Wi-Fi connection.

ZOE learns your smart-home habits

Jelveh said that “a smart home only truly becomes smart once it starts to learn, whether recognizing a pattern or learning a new skill.” ZOE is powered with ‘IFTTT’ capabilities, meaning that it is possible to teach Protonet ZOE actions that are subject to certain conditions, such as turning on the sound system when entering the room. With time, Protonet ZOE learns the various behavioral patterns of its owners and coordinates the smart home devices accordingly.

The product is extendable, thanks to its two USB ports, and speaks the most common programming languages. It supports wireless, Bluetooth, Z-wave, and cloud connected devices.

The intention is to make it open source – to welcome tinkerers and developers to create more uses for ZOE.

Jelveh predicts that “we are moving to a digital world, we we have to be conscious of what it means. One of the things about humans is they will connect whatever they can connect. We’re going to see the rise of a consciousness movement about what we really want connected.”

“Most smart-home central (units) are nothing more than multifunctional remote controls,” he adds. “ZOE, on the other hand, proactively thinks. She recognizes my patterns and acts as a smart assistant upon request. As soon as I leave my house, she proactively reminds me about forgotten devices, open windows or activates my un-activated burglar alarm. On the way home, I can prepare my house for my return at the push of a button.”

Born in Iran, Jelveh moved to France and grew up in Germany.  He notes that the tech scene is Germany is young compared for Silicon Valley, “where you meet veterans who have started three or four companies,’ he said. He hopes that their product will shake Silicon Valley of some of its “arrogance” and hopes to empower both consuming choice and privacy.  Will the message be received? We’ll have to wait and see.

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