In Insert Coin, we look at an exciting new tech project that requires funding before it can hit production. If you'd like to pitch a project, please send us a tip with "Insert Coin" as the subject line.
It's safe to say that most people's idea of home networking involves the following steps: buy a wireless router, set it up with an SSID and a password, and then never ever think about it again as long as the WiFi keeps working. But if you're one of a dedicated few who want deeper IT admin-level control over your family's internet usage, then a new Kickstarter campaign from PowerCloud Systems just might be right up your alley. The product is called Skydog, and while you do get a slim and compact dual-band 802.11n five-port Gigabit router out of it, Skydog is really more about the cloud-based platform than the physical hardware. Customers are able to visually survey who and what device is on their home network, manage permissions based on that information, allocate bandwidth priority, troubleshoot network issues with ease and more.
PowerCloud Systems is no stranger to cloud-managed networking -- it's been providing just such a solution to enterprises such as hotels, schools, multi-dwelling units and retail chains ever since 2008 when it was spun out of Xerox PARC. In order to bring that level of sophistication to the home audience, however, the company needed consumer-facing software to simplify the process for the masses, and that's exactly what it has tried to do with Skydog. After the break, we offer a tour of the service and interview the people behind it to see just why they're seeking funding via Kickstarter.
Gallery: Acer Iconia W4 review | 20 Photos
Gallery: Acer Iconia W4 review | 20 Photos
When users get their router, they'll be invited to join the Skydog website, where they'll be prompted to create a login or just sign in with their Google+ credentials. From there, they'll need to enter the router's UIC (Unique Identification Code) so that Skydog can lock in the physical router to the account. Once that's done, users can set it up just like any other router by creating a wireless name, a password, and so on. You could also choose to connect the Skydog to an existing router instead of replacing it entirely if you like. All you need to access the platform is any internet-connected device, be it your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
As soon as a device is connected to the network, the Skydog software will capture the device information as best as it can on the virtual dashboard. You can then assign a user-friendly nickname to that device, like "Nicole's MacBook Pro" or "Brandon's iPhone" and then group the devices by user; firewalled guest access is available as well. You can set up low, medium or high filters per user, and you can allow and forbid specific sites. This grouping also enables you to create schedules and watch lists per user. For example, you can set it so that your child can only use Facebook five hours a day across her devices, or that she can only visit homework-related sites from 5 to 7 p.m. If she reaches any of those limits, the service will send a SMS alert stating so.
Because Skydog lets you monitor device usage, you can also see who's hogging up the most bandwidth. Further, you can allocate bandwidth priority throughout the day. For example, you can set it so that your work computer gets 80 percent of the bandwidth from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. while the other devices get the remaining 20. You can of course change this on the fly, and the platform is smart enough to allocate more resources to your computer if needed. Another benefit of network monitoring via the cloud is the ability to check WiFi signals and recycle the router remotely, which is handy for troubleshooting the router at your parents' house, for example.
When asked why the company decided to go the Kickstarter route to fund Skydog, PowerCloud Systems CEO Jeff Abramowitz said that it's still just a small company. "We're trying to figure out what's a good path to market... [The home router market] is a very large space, and people in the space have huge market share," he said. "There just aren't a lot of great ways to really get a product in front of people. Plus with Kickstarter backers, they can share tips and feedback to the community... Kickstarter is a litmus test for us."
The company has already made around 250 pilot production units of the Skydog router that it plans to send to early backers, with the rest of the units coming after they're able to mass produce them. "Early bird" backers will receive their home network package in May for a special $79 price while others can get later productions for $99 each or $179 for two.
Previous project update: It seems that hanging your camera from a zip line might not be as popular a concept as we initially thought. LineCam Systems have only reached $16,444 out of its lofty $75,000 goal with only thirteen days left. Still, anything can happen in the remaining days of a Kickstarter campaign, and while we hesitate to execute this pun, we must advise the LineCam team to, well, hang in there.
Skydog Redefines the Home Network
Cloud Networking Innovator PowerCloud Systems Begins New Era in Home Networking using Mobile to Control Connectivity in the Home
PALO ALTO, Calif. – Apr. 9, 2013 – PowerCloud® Systems, a pioneer in cloud networking, today unveiled Skydog™, a powerful, user-friendly approach to home networking and the management of family Internet use. Skydog is the first solution to deliver comprehensive visibility into and control over the home network, as well as the first to do so from any mobile device on any Internet connection. Launching today on Kickstarter at www.Skydog.com, and with first products available to backers in May 2013, Skydog is poised to disrupt the home networking market.
"Skydog redefines how consumers view and make use of their home networks," said Jeff Abramowitz, founder and CEO of PowerCloud Systems. "Our beta users have found that Skydog's real-time visibility, management capabilities, and unparalleled ease-of-use enables them to save time, avoid frustration, and improve the performance of their connected home."
In recent years, home networks have become central to the connected lifestyles of adults, teens, tweens, and even young children. The vast array of Internet services and apps, coupled with a proliferation of connected devices, has challenged shared bandwidth in the home and – for many families – parental oversight of kids' online access. Skydog addresses these challenges in a powerful, yet intuitive and user-friendly manner.
The innovation of Skydog lies in its patented cloud-powered platform. The product includes a powerful Wi-Fi router and a cloud-based application that can be accessed from any smartphone, tablet or PC, from any location. This allows home network administrators, who are often busy parents, to see and control home Internet usage, even when they are away. Skydog revolutionizes home networking in three key areas:
o Monitors the network, including who is online, which devices are being used, what websites are being accessed and how much bandwidth is being used.
o Sends text alerts when specified issues arise, such as an Internet outage, or a new guest seeking to access the network. Skydog can also speed diagnosis of problems and their resolution, such as checking Wi-Fi signals of devices or by remotely re-cycling the router.
o Notifies the administrator or individual user when time limits on specified websites have been reached, even when the website is accessed across multiple devices.
Easy and Powerful Home Network Management:
o Actively manages broadband usage by assigning priority bandwidth access to certain users, such as a work-at-home parent, or applications, such as a streamed movie to the family room television.
o Enables time limits for specific website access by user, covering all devices, based on a calendaring system, such as school days versus weekends.
o Provides firewalled guest access, granting an extra layer of security to the family network.
o Skydog routers can be installed in remote locations, such as a parent's home or vacation property, and managed from the same mobile application.
Ease of Set-up and Use:
o Installation is easy using the Skydog mobile companion. Skydog also works alongside existing routers, such as those providing back up or integrated with broadband gateways, to provide the additional functionality only available with Skydog.
o Organizes attached devices by primary user to simplify actions like setting policies on application or Internet use.
o Powerfully simple HTML5-based app for any mobile device allows anytime, anywhere visibility and control of users and devices on the home network.
By providing straightforward visibility and control over the home network, Skydog ushers in the next generation of home network management, enabling the entire household to save time and improve their connected experience.
"The home network market has been static for a few years now, with the focus primarily going to 'speeds and feeds,'" said Patrice Samuels, research analyst at Parks Associates. "While some in the industry have taken preliminary steps to offer advanced home networking features such as remote management and control, Skydog unlocks the black box that is the home network via their unique network management tools."
Skydog has undergone extensive in-home testing by more than 75 users with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
"We are a family of six and actively use the Internet daily with iPhones, iPads and iPods. The greatest benefit to me is being able to see when and how much bandwidth is being used by whom," said Tony T. from Indiana, one of Skydog's 75 beta testers. "The ability to assign bandwidth by device or application is just critical."
"This has been a great experience with a groundbreaking, novel approach to home networking," said Dawn H., another beta user from Illinois and a mother of three children. "I have shied away from messing with my home network for years, just doing what I had to when I had to because the whole process was so painful. This system is so delightful to use that I want to poke around just to see what's going on."
The Origin of Skydog
PowerCloud Systems is a spinout from the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the legendary subsidiary of Xerox responsible for the creation of Ethernet, the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and the laser printer among other innovations. The executive team is drawn from the leaders and innovators of cloud-based services and home networking, including Broadcom, NETGEAR, 3Com, Synchronoss and HP. The company's cloud platform currently has more than 10 patents. While their platform can and does serve the enterprise market, the team recognized the unmet need for a mobile-based solution that could provide visibility and control over the home network, particularly for families.
Kickstarter Details and Availability
Interested users can see Skydog's Kickstarter offering here: www.Skydog.com. The Skydog router and the initial application are complete, with some first production units already in stock. "Early bird" backers will receive their Skydog home network package in May 2013 at a special pledge price of $79. Other backers can access Skydog's second production run for a pledge of $99 for one unit, or $179 for two Skydog units. There are no annual fees for Skydog or its mobile companion application. The Skydog home network package includes the mobile companion application available on any tablet, PC/Mac and smartphone and a high-performance and compact concurrent dual-band 802.11n wireless router with a built-in 5-port gigabit switch.
Please follow Skydog on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/skydoghome) and Twitter (@skydog).
About PowerCloud Systems
PowerCloud® Systems is a leader and industry pioneer for cloud-powered wireless networking. The company's patented and award-winning CloudCommand™ technology was invented at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and makes deploying and monitoring Wi-Fi networks and services easy for businesses with mobile customers. The CloudCommand platform is deployed worldwide in hotels, schools, retail chains, managed care facilities and other businesses seeking truly affordable, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi. Investors include PARC, Qualcomm Ventures, Javelin Venture Partners and Walden Venture Capital. More information can be found at www.powercloudsystems.com