Engineer Spotlight: Kunal Chaudhary on Designing IoT Home Automation (Inspired by Hal9000)

September 19, 2016 by Ebony Calloway

The Dot uses location to add context to notifications.

The Dot uses GPS location information to add context to smartphone notifications.

We interviewed Kunal Chaudhary who is a co-founder of a startup called IoTa Labs, a team of five Berkeley engineers. We asked him about a new device called the Dot which is an IoT sensor device that can be programmed to consolidate your notifications and send alerts to your phone. Using location tracking, the Dot puts your smartphone’s notifications in context. The Dot was recently funded through Kickstarter.


AAC: What was the reason for starting IoTa Labs?

KC: We started Iota Labs because we realized data contextualization was severely lacking in our consumer devices. Currently, our computers exist in cold, I/O metal boxes that have very little awareness of the world around them. We wanted computers to understand our lives, our patterns, and our behaviors. We started Iota Labs to progress this field.


AAC: Is there a reason why the lab focuses on hardware solutions rather than software?

KC: Currently we focus on the intersection of hardware and software. Our beacon technology is only one part of our entire product. Much of the power comes from our vast IoT use case platform that utilizes the beacon data effectively.


AAC: What was the inspiration for the Dot?

KC: Our team has been thinking about this area for quite some time. We decided to make Dot after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey together. We thought Hal 9000 was really cool and wanted to make computers smarter in a much nicer way.



AAC: Why did you decide to use a hardware solution rather than just using the location of the phone?

KC: We are using beacon technology because it provides the most precise location tracking on the market. GPS is flawed because it doesn't work inside buildings. We believe that simply arriving to a location is not as meaningful as what happens within that location. We also looked at NFC chips, but the tiny range made it horrible from a user experience point of view.


AAC: What are the main areas that you see the Dot being used in?

KC: We see Dot being used in an endless number of ways from home automation to smart reminder management. We think Dot will be used primarily at home and work for consumers.



AAC: Can you easily move the Dot around to different locations?

KC: Dot is stickable, which means it's very mobile. You don't need to change any settings once you've moved a Dot.


AAC: How precise is the location? For instance, could the Dot recommend restaurants if a person is in the kitchen?

KC: The location is very precise because we translate Bluetooth signal strength into relative distances. So, yes, you can receive restaurant recommendations in your kitchen.


AAC: Is the Dot easily synced with different applications?

KC: We've designed our entire app to make Dot easily integrate-able with other devices.



AAC: How much user customization can be implemented for the push notifications?

KC: Depending on the specific use case, the notifications can be very customizable.


AAC: Does the digital Post-It feature just broadcast to everyone near the Dot or can it be specific to one person or a group of people?

KC: Digital Post-it Notes can be targetable for specific individuals or groups.



AAC: Do you see any sort of expansion/possibilities with Dot or improvements?

KC: We have a long list of future integrations and improvements we want to make with Dot. They include adding cameras, sensors, microphones, and Wi-Fi capabilities. We want to enable our users to exert full control over their environment and data.


All images courtesy of IoTa Labs.