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Alexa can control your dumb AC unit using Ambi's smart hub

The latest Ambi Climate comes with a nicer look, too.
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Engadget

Some of you may recall that back in October 2014, Hong Kong startup Ambi Labs unveiled its Ambi Climate as a gateway between your smartphone and your dumb air conditioner at home. But it isn't just about replacing your infrared remote control; what makes Ambi Climate unique is its machine learning capability, so that over time it learns your comfort preferences by way of various sensors, while also saving up to 20-percent energy according to user feedback. Now, almost 2.5 years later, the company is back with the Ambi Climate 2, which is essentially a prettier version of its $179 predecessor and with a lower retail price of $129; and you can grab one for as low as around $80 on Kickstarter, with shipments expected to begin in June this year.

Compared to the original Ambi Climate, this new version sports a similar yet more minimalistic black-and-white design, which is topped off with a shinier finish plus a touch of wood at the bottom. The three old LED indicators are now combined into one in the form of Ambi Labs' logo: it blinks yellow rapidly when booting up, pulses yellow when ready for setup, glows teal when connected and blinks when responding to a command.

Gone is the old infrared motion sensor -- it was intended for detecting people in the room -- on the side, which was actually long disabled on the previous version as it turned out to be less useful than expected: it could get false readings from the air conditioner's air flow, and it's apparently still a challenge for existing motion sensors.

The Ambi Climate 2 consists of the same set of sensors as before to monitor temperature, humidity plus sunlight, and it also collects local weather data. That's right, temperature alone isn't the only contributor to the feel of a room, so when the user taps in feedback -- on a scale of "freezing" to "hot" -- in the companion app's Comfort Mode, the device will remember all of these parameters to better understand one's preferences. It also tracks the time of day, as it will make slight adjustments to suit our metabolic cycle; I've definitely noticed that my unit raises the temperature a little late at night, since this is taking into account of the fact that our body temperature drops during sleep.

After some learning, Ambi Climate will be able to automatically adjust the air conditioner for the user, as opposed to the user having to find the remote control or tap the app every time. Ambi Labs starting shipping its original product in late August 2015 and it's now present in various markets (US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and more), so it's no surprise that the company has some fun stats to share. Personally, I was most intrigued by how people across various regions can have very different comfort preferences.

For instance, users in New York have a wider range of preferred temperatures, whereas users in Singapore peaked at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit (about 25 degrees Celsius) -- which is actually very close to what I prefer here in Hong Kong. Interestingly, on the "Freezing" end, New Yorkers peaked at 67 degrees Fahrenheit (about 19 degrees Celsius), while Singaporeans appeared to find a broad range of temperatures to be "freezing." I suspect the latter has something to do with Singapore's relatively higher humidity.

On top of Comfort Mode, Ambi Climate also offers a Temperature Mode, an Away Mode (it only turns on the air conditioner to suit your settings) and a Manual Mode, as well as a timer and a scheduling feature. While the more tech-savvy users can already use IFTTT to add automation, and Ambi Labs will soon be adding Amazon Alexa support in Q3 2017 (with beta trials starting soon), meaning you'll be able to give feedback just by voice. In fact, according to CEO Julian Lee, some of his colleagues have even stopped using the app and switched to using voice input full-time.

Another interesting upcoming feature is multi user geo-location. Since each Ambi Climate supports multiple users, this new feature will soon be able to automatically turn off the air conditioner when it knows that absolutely everyone has left the household. Similarly, it can automatically turn on the air conditioner when one of the members is almost home. Again, this is expected to arrive in Q3 this year.

It's worth noting that all of these features will be backward compatible with the original Ambi Climate, and the same goes for the support for 50 air conditioner brands plus 1,200 models. After all, the startup's bread and butter lies within its A.I. power, so its current goal is to get its devices into more hands, and then perhaps contemplate premium features in the future. Lee said he's also been in talks with property developers to explore potential collaborations, and I can see how it would make sense to have Ambi Labs-powered devices installed in hotels, serviced apartments and even offices one day.

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