Where’s your smart phone right now? Is it in your hand? On the desk next to you as you read this? In your pocket?
Now, where’s your television remote control? At home, sure, but where? In your living room? On a table? Or stuck between the cushions of your couch or under a chair?
The fact is, we love our smartphones so much, we’re practically tethered to them at all times. The relationship with our TV remote is very different, and entrepreneur Barnabas Helmy quite clearly is not a fan of the older technology.
“I hate remotes. There is nothing about them I like,” says Helmy, who dislikes TV remotes so much, he’s created a technology and built a company he hopes will make them obsolete.
Helmy and fellow entrepreneur Andrew Brown, founders of a company called SmashToast, have created a battery-operated device called the Puck. It’s a little bigger than a half dollar, a quarter inch thick, and will work with smartphones as a universal remote control for TV’s and other electronic equipment.
Helmy says the inspiration came from his frustration not only with the fact that remotes are often misplaced or not easily located, but also because they rely on “line of sight” technology. If you point the remote at your TV and a lamp or pillow is in the way, the remote is basically useless. Helmy had another source of inspiration: when he conceived the technology about a year ago, his then 2-year-old daughter Bijoux was teething and, “she would put the remote in her mouth and chew on it, so it was a combination of frustration and necessity,” he says.
Helmy says with the SmashToast system, the Puck is placed directly on your TV or other electronic component and through Bluetooth technology, “your smartphone interfaces with the Puck. It’s not line of sight restrictive. It can communicate through walls. So what we’ve done is create a smart way to communicate with your old tech.”
Helmy says anything your remote can do, the SmashToast Puck-and-smartphone system can do (including recording TV shows) and can do better, by solving line of sight issues, and by reducing the number of clicks it takes to get to your favorite show. Consumers who purchase the Puck, download the system’s free app and create an account gain access to a “favorites” feature, “so if you want to watch ESPN, you pick up your phone and slide down and hit ESPN. The focus is on how few buttons you have to push to get to where you want to go.”
The system also learns from your habits, so the more you use it, the more it understands your viewing preferences and makes viewing suggestions.
After starting their operation in Springfield, Ill., Helmy and Brown last month were awarded $50,000 from Arch Grants, the non-profit that provides grants and support services to startups. Since then, SmashToast has established an office in the T-Rex incubator in downtown St. Louis.
SmashToast has chosen an Illinois manufacturer, CCK Automations of Jacksonville, to produce the first 500 Puck units.
In a few days, Helmy and Brown will ship more than 300 Pucks to potential customers in 32 states and 12 countries as part of a beta test. SmashToast also is testing the product in two sports bars in Springfield.
“I don’t know how many people have been in a sports bar and seen this but if you ask the manager or the bartender to put a certain program on their TV, he’ll open a drawer and there will be about 20 remotes in there. Sometimes it’s impossible to find the right channel. I was in a sports bar in Bakersfield, Calif., and my friend wanted to watch an LA Galaxy (pro soccer) game, and they couldn’t find it at the sports bar,” says Helmy. “I opened my Puck app and there was the channel.”
“The consumer landscape is incredibly intimidating, especially if you’re a startup. You have to compete against companies like Logitech or even Apple or Samsung if they were to get in this game. It’s impossible for us to compete against that, so we have to have a niche. Sports bars are perfect for this app. It’s a natural place for us to show the product and solve a problem,” he says.
Helmy says he anticipates the Puck units will retail for under $30 per unit.
A promotional video for the Puck concludes with a shot of a woman’s hand sweeping several remote control units off a table and into a trash can, followed by the words, “Hello Puck, goodbye remotes,” leading to the question, will the creators of the Puck eventually render the remote obsolete?
“I’d love to,” says Helmy. “It would be great.”