Knocked Sense-less: Startup reverses plan to bring smart hardware to your home

Silk Labs' Sense device wasn't aimed at the mainstream, but now won't even reach developers. Designing both software and hardware is tough.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Silk Labs now-extinct Sense device for bringing brains to smart homes.
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Silk Labs now-extinct Sense device for bringing brains to smart homes.

Silk Labs' now-extinct Sense device for bringing brains to smart homes.

Silk Labs

A startup hoping to inject some computing smarts into your living room has decided that building its own hardware isn't the best way to achieve that goal after all.

In February, Silk Labs launched the $225 Sense, a device designed to bring computing smarts to home electronics like lightbulbs and security cameras and link them to internet services, as a Kickstarter project. The company aimed it at technophiles and programmers, not mainstream buyers, hoping to give developers what they needed to support and extend the company's Silk software and services.

A few hundred people signed up for the project. But on Tuesday, Silk Labs announced that it's scrapping the Kickstarter project, refunding the contributors' money. Instead, it's promoting a RedMi Note 3 built by Chinese phone maker Xiaomi and helping people install its software on unlocked Android phones.

Two decades ago, companies like Oracle and Microsoft rose to power on software alone, but these days, the ambitious on the tech scene have a thing for developing both hardware and software. Apple is perhaps the best example, and Google is moving in that direction with projects like the Chromebook Pixel laptop and Google Home ever-listening digital assistant. Still, as Google has discovered with the lackluster success of its Nest home electronics products and Nexus phones, hardware can be hard.

For its part, Silk Labs decided it's better to open up its hardware designs to anyone interested and to work with partners.

"We are now seeing so much commercial interest in the Silk platform that we have realized we can bring our vision to more people more quickly if we switch gears and focus on the commercial opportunities ahead, instead of completing our Kickstarter device first," Chief Executive Andreas Gal said in a blog post.

For people who want to make a go of hardware, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo can help by finding out if anyone will actually shell out money for a new device. They've raise money to bring new products like the Skully computer-enhanced motorcycle helmet and Pebble 2 smartwatch to market. Silk Labs, though, didn't attract nearly as much interest as those major crowdfunding success stories.