Ted Rosenberger is hoping lightning strikes twice.
The CEO of HouseLogix in Allentown has just launched what he believes is a game-changing product in the home and office automation systems industry.
Voice Pod, which was developed by Rosenberger and an electronics “hobbyist” colleague, Shaun O'Brian, adds wireless speech control, voice recognition and speech synthesis capabilities to popular remote control systems.
With it, a person can control everything from his window blinds and door locks to the television set with simple voice commands.
If the product succeeds in the international automation industry as Rosenberger hopes, it will be the second big success for the software programmer.
His first success came from his previous business, Target Software, which he started in the early 1990s.
That business developed specialized mobile software for the pharmaceutical industry, which he said was revolutionary in allowing pharmaceutical reps to use their mobile phones for applications that could previously only be conducted by a full-fledged computer.
The success of the product drew enough interest that the company was acquired by a French firm in 2005.
While Rosenberger would not disclose the figure, the sale gave him enough money to fulfill some of his long-time techie fantasies.
One of the largest of those fantasies was a new home, which he built off Fish Hatchery Road in Allentown.
His dream was to have it as fully automated as possible.
“Being a high-tech guy, I wanted it all; and thanks to the sale of my business, I had the money to do it,” Rosenberger said.
But what was available to him didn't meet his expectations.
“It was an intimidating process to automate this house,” he said.
While the products were out there, finding the right products and the right people to install them was much more difficult than he thought it should be.
So Rosenberger recruited the former information technology manager from Target Software, Chris Allen, and started HouseLogix in 2008. At the time, home automation systems were still considered a luxury only for “millionaires and movie stars,” as Rosenberger put it.
“Most jobs were in the $100,000 range and higher,” he said. There also were limits on what such a system could do. Voice recognition wasn't as user-friendly as it is today, and most systems involved the use of a central remote control station or handheld remote control.
As the technology improved, the costs went down and Rosenberger saw the home automation systems as becoming more accessible to the upper middle class with prices falling into the $10,000-and-up range.
He partnered with Kay Builders, an Allentown-based residential construction company, to have automation systems installed in the builder's townhouse developments as an added selling feature.
He also worked with the ReHability store – that was formerly run by Good Shepherd Rehabilitation in Allentown – to develop automation systems to assist people with physical limitations.
Rosenberger thought the industry could go further, however. He thought with an innovative, cost-effective product on the market, home and office automation could be opened up to a much wider do-it-yourself audience for just a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.
That product was the Voice Pod.
While there are other voice command systems available on the market, he said he thinks his will set the bar with patented features that make the systems more user friendly.
The Voice Pods, which will sell for about $650 with professional installation, can detect where you are in the room to make sure the right pod is responding to a request. It also “learns” its user's voice so that it doesn't respond to miscellaneous sounds or voices from a television. It can even interpret tone to implement an appropriate action.
His ultimate goal with the product is to mass produce it and sell it in retail stores for just under $200 – a price he thinks most average Americans can afford.
Rosenberger sees other applications: serving people with disabilities, use in office buildings and in hotels, where he notes it might be nice to walk into a room and say “turn on ESPN” rather than fumbling with an unfamiliar remote control and cable system.
The myriad possibilities are what got the company's director of strategy, Trish Boyles, involved.
Boyles was a professor of entrepreneurship at Muhlenberg College when she met Rosenberger. She has been consulting the company for several years, but recently got on board full time with the launch of the Voice Pod. She said she was attracted to the range of possibilities.
“It [the Voice Pod] is open to anything. If we can think of it, we can make it happen,” Boyles said. “The underlying tech has so many more applications than just the industry we're in.”