Secret knocks still have power. When you were a kid, a special pattern–two knocks, a pause, three more knocks–could be used to gain entry to a members-only treehouse. But now, that same knock can be used to turn off your Wi-Fi Crock Pot.
Knocki is a device that fastens onto tables, walls, and doors. It then translates taps and knocks into controls for your Internet of Things devices. It essentially turns whatever you stick it to into a remote control. For example, you can tap on a table three times to dim the lights and turn on the TV. You can sync a Knocki up to your smartphone so that knocking on a wall makes it ring and helps you find it. You can tap a few times on your nightstand to turn off the lights at bedtime–without having to wake up your spouse by saying “Hey, Alexa!”
The simple system helps decouple smarthome controls from smart devices, but Knocki co-founder and CEO Jake Boshernitzan doesn’t just see the device as a tool of sheer convenience. Because Knocki is immediately accessible by way of its simplicity, he thinks it can help kids, the elderly, and the physically and visually impaired control the new generation of IoT hardware without having to futz with a phone. All they have to do is knock or tap on a nearby object–so long as there’s a Knocki attached to it.
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?
The AAA-powered hockey puck comes with adhesive strips and a bracket, so you have your choice of sticking or screwing it onto surfaces. It connects to your Wi-Fi network, so you don’t have to pair individual devices or be within a certain range to use it. Boshernitzan says the Knocki app for iOS and Android is still in development–it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle that lets you assign taps and knocks to device controls–and that Knocki will support both simple patterns (three knocks) or more-complex patterns (two taps, a pause, then three taps).“If you put this on the inside of your door, a more complex gesture can be used to unlock the door (with a smart lock),” Boshernitzan says. “That can create much more secure capabilities, like the ability to be integrated into a bank as a distress signal that’s accessible throughout the surface.”
Once it’s set up, you can control directly supported appliances such as Nest devices, Lifx and Philips Hue lightbulbs, smart locks from August and Kevo, and WeMo wares with programmable series of knocks and taps. Knocki also supports a larger universe of interoperability via IFTTT recipes, and you can group several controls together under a single knock or tap pattern.
If there’s a major advantage over the Clapper, it’s that Knocki won’t get confused while you’re clapping along to “Got Your Money” by ODB. According to Boshernitzan, your table-drumming also won’t register as false positives.
“Our patents cover various aspects of the technology, and one of them is differentiating intentional gestures from random vibrations in the environment,” Boshernitzan explains. “We look at the intensity of the vibration and the period of time between the taps. If I were to tap three times quickly, all the taps have a very similar intensity. Even in a noisier environment, it can filter out things like putting a glass on a table or putting your elbow down.”
Knocki isn’t actually “listening,” as it uses non-acoustic sensors. Mechanical accelerometers inside measure distinct vibrations on a surface–anything from marble countertops to drywall, although pavement is problematic–and then connect to Wi-Fi to convert them into programmable actions. The fact that the system isn’t always on helps conserve battery life, as Boshernitzan says its four AAA batteries will keep a Knocki device running for more than a year. Its simple sensor also keeps production costs low.
“If you were to have something where you had to swipe an S shape or an L or something, there’s really no way to do that without having multiple sensors,” Boshernitzan says. “Wi-Fi is a power-hungry radio, but the accelerometers are able to stay awake at a very low energy state. So when you program all the triggers, that’s what it listens for. As soon as the accelerometer registers a positive ID, it takes the Wi-Fi out of idle and transmits the data.”
A Knack for Knocking
Knocki just launched a crowdfunding campaign this week, but Boshernitzan says his company has already raised a million dollars, and the hardware is production-ready. But he wants to build the product in the U.S., in part because he wants his team to be on the factory floor for Knocki’s first manufacturing run. The crowdfunding campaign is meant to raise awareness of the product, but he’s also hoping it can help them increase the volume of orders and keep the company’s per-unit costs down.
While part of the concept’s appeal is that it’s a “stick-and-play” way to make any table or wall into an IoT controller, Boshernitzan says Knocki is already talking to companies such as Toyota and furniture company Steelcase about embedding its technology into things like cars and hospital beds.
Alas, Knocki won’t make things like “figuring out when a Kickstarter project will actually ship” any easier. Boshernitzan says single-Knocki packages are priced as low as $59 during its ongoing preorder period. After the Kickstarter campaign is over, customers can pre-order a device through Knocki’s website. When it ships later this year, you’ll be able to get it through Amazon and other online channels. At some point in 2017, it will be in brick and mortar retail outlets.