CHICAGO – I met to interview Vitor Gregorio, Regional President – North America for Bosch Thermotechnology, at a place called The Connectory. The Connectory is, firstly, a physical space occupying 20,000 sq. ft. in the historic Merchandise Mart building.
It is secondly an ongoing partnership between Bosch and 1871 (1871.com), a non-profit founded in 2012 and dedicated towards supporting and promoting digital start-ups.
The Connectory is an IoT incubator and co-creation space that is home to more than 500 start-ups. The name Connectory is wordplay on connecting and factory, two central elements of Bosch’s vision for IoT. It opened in May of 2017 and is using a membership model. “While we are a big company,” Gregorio explains, “we are trying to be more agile, and the connection to start-ups will hopefully shake us up, bring us closer to our customers and make us more agile in processes.”
Bosch has their own division at the site with specific projects that interact with the start-up environment, such as user experience, business model ideation and various focus groups.
The hope is that in an environment dedicated to IoT and connected devices, new start-ups will develop concepts, products, services and business models above and beyond Bosch. “At the same time,” Gregorio said, “we can offer our expertise as a big company to the start-up environment.”
Everything is connected
If The Connectory is Bosch anticipating the future, the company is by no means ignoring the present.
“We like to be an anchor for a contractor who thinks about connectivity, the Internet of Things and self-learning technologies,” Gregorio said. “We think we have the knowledge and the platform and we are trying to bring innovative products to market. But they need educated contractors. That’s a challenge, that’s the journey we have to navigate.”
The company is trying to have every new product it brings to the market be WiFi connected.
Among those new offerings is Bosch’s Connected Control Thermostat, their first endeavor in the smart homes arena in North America. WiFi enabled, it can be controlled from a smartphone from anywhere in the world. It is fully programmable, easily installed, and features an interface modeled on the iPhone for easy, familiar operation.
As an added offering to both homeowners and contractors, Bosch plans to bundle the new thermostat with other products such as heat pumps, boilers or its tanklesss water heaters.
Case in point, the Greentherm 9000 Series gas-fired tankless water heater. Also WiFi enabled, it combines high efficiency (with EF ratings as high as .99) with ease of installation. Designed for retrofit applications, water connections are on the top of the unit, making it easier to swap-out for tank-type water heaters. It features integrated drain ports so isolation valves are not needed, and it has the largest number of venting options on the market.
The heater was developed specifically for the North American market with capacities of 199,000 Btus/169,000 Btus to deliver GPM well above the European standards.
WiFi connectivity allows users to monitor energy usage and plan or modify their behaviors to optimize performance. Maintenance technicians can troubleshoot problems remotely.
The combination of features and performance won the Greentherm 9000 a Consumer Innovation Award at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show.
In 2018 Gregorio hopes the company will bring a new generation of products to the market that will be connected to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Chrome that a user can control via natural-language voice commands.
And beyond that? “We think the next step of connectivity will be smart, learning appliances. The next step is A.I.”
Bosch is already a strong player in the automotive sector where autonomous, self-learning technology has for more than a decade now been a driving force. “We think this will come sooner rather than later to the consumer goods industry,” Gregorio said.
The final step in Human Machine Interaction (HMI) is that the circle closes; machines learn from humans by taking data from connected devices, and then ultimately people learn from machines how to be more efficient, more comfortable, and how to make their lives easier.
And consumer awareness is driving it all.
“Consumers are getting more and more educated and more demanding, and the one thing feeds the other,” Gregorio said. “That same trend is getting to the trades. The trades now need to get up to speed to cope with the invasion of connected devices and smart equipment.”