Lowes Home Improvement was tired of hearing about all of this smart-home-of-the-future vaporware, so they went and done just wile'd out and made home-automation a reality on their own.

We're lucky enough to be just a quick hop away from Lowes HQ, so last week, the Lowe's Innovation team led a mind-melting Friday Tech Talk on the new Iris platform. And holy home automation, it was awesome.

Mick Koster at Skookum Tech Talk *Iris - Smart Home COO Mick Koster *

What is Iris - Smart Home?

Iris is home automation for the masses. Lowes has created a system that allows wireless networking, monitoring, and communication between all of the systems in our home: security, comfort, lighting, electrical, doors/windows, appliances and more.

This video neatly sums up Iris's capabilities. It's very near home automation utopia without all that messy Arudino compiling or hacking of that old-netbook just so the cat can Twitter.

video#http://www.youtube.com/embed/9whiq85UxnQ

Innovation and "Intrapreneurs"

The innovation team from Lowes responsible for Iris talked candidly about promoting change from inside a large company. Creators of Iris, GM Kevin Meagher & COO Mick Koster, also detailed the process of not only bringing their electronic dreams to market but also of changing the culture of Lowes to allow for a more flexible, "startup" mentality within their new business unit.

Smart Home VP & GM Kevin Meagher at Skookum Tech Talk *Lowes Iris - Smart Home VP & GM Kevin Meagher *

Several years ago Lowe's concluded that "the smart home is a significant growth opportunity." The Lowe's digital innovation team is dedicated to making homes safer, more efficient, and more convenient.  Initiatives include home automation, energy management, home security, appliance management, and elderly care.

The biggest go-to-market challenge will be educating consumers about what they can do with Iris on their iPad. Among other functions, you can monitor pet doors and pet activity, install moisture detectors and sprinkler systems for landscaping, lock doors with an iPad, and create a smart thermostat to control energy bills.

Questions from the Hunger-Assuaged (we serve pizza, didn't you know) Friday Tech Talk audience of Hackers & Heathens:

When is bandwidth an issue?
Most of the Iris devices push up data to their cloud, but the Lowe's team doesn't have a big bandwidth concern unless/until users start loading up the Iris-linked home security cameras with image data. Most of the monitoring and response files are tiny. Any scalability concerns are rooted in if/when consumers start to tie a high volume of disposable devices into the Iris system (ex: lightbulbs). That being said, the Lowe's team isn't worried about Iris' ability to keep pace.

How 'hackable' is it [for well-intentioned developer-homeowners], and how 'hackable' is it [for devious ne'er-do-wells].
If a member of the latter category were truly intent on resetting your thermostat, they'd first have to hack into Lowe's security encrypted cloud infrastructure. For the former, Lowe's is working on an API for more advanced integrations and custom programming.

Our normal Tech Talk crowd (the largest/best/most interesting technology meetup group in Charlotte, NC) was intrigued by the possibilities of extending the off-shelf modules and controls for their own ends. Kevin and Mick both adamantly hoped that the Iris - Smart Home system will be picked up by technology hackers of all sorts. Lowes genuinely believes the development community will be able to make the system better and contribute to its improvement.

Lowes Encourages Hacking on Iris?

You bet. Now you can see why we were so excited to have them in and why the meetup crowd was so enthused.