Rocklin business brings sci-fi homes to life
Imagine: the house can sense when its occupant stirs. In the morning, the lights come on by themselves, tinted blue to provide a subtle boost. The coffeepot trickles to life without the touch of a button, and the radio delivers the traffic report. When it’s time to leave for work, everything but the alarm shuts off and the doors lock. In the evening, sensing the occupant’s proximity, the AC kicks on. Before bed, the lights switch to a relaxing reddish tint.
Rocklin businessman Bill Horbaly described life in a smart home between bites of a sandwich he had to wolf down before heading to an afternoon of client meetings.
“These things happen without you having to do anything or learn anything new,” he said. “We don’t have to be computer programmers.”
Since opening in January, he and his four-person team at Connected Technology have made these homes a reality for residents of greater Sacramento. Horbaly, 49, has a background in heating and air conditioning, but the company reaches beyond that, installing systems for security, energy management, lighting, leak detection and entertainment.
“I’ve always used technology to solve problems, whether for employees or customers,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, seeing the enthusiasm people have when they see how their lives change just from using basic technologies.”
The company runs on a conglomeration of skills Horbaly has gained on his career trajectory, first as an environmental studies student at the University of California Santa Cruz, then as a heating and cooling wholesaler, where he picked up technical expertise and learned to run a business. While managing a senior community clubhouse, Horbaly picked up another crucial skill: working with elderly populations.
Connected Technology works with anyone interested in reaping the benefits of smart homes, said Horbaly, but the senior demographic could benefit the most. However, this group is least likely to buy into the systems Horbaly offers, since the technology is often viewed as inaccessible or intrusive.
The biggest challenge he has faced is breaking these misperceptions, so Horbaly has made education a cornerstone of his business, holding community seminars to address seniors’ questions. Though wifi and internet access are necessary for home technology, Horbaly said smartphones aren’t — the functions can operate with an arrival sensor inside a key fob instead. Clients also have control over how much technology they want in their homes and where it sends the information it collects.
Another concern is the tendency for technology to isolate, rather than integrate — something that’s never far from Horbaly’s mind. The idea of warm, engaging technology helped form his company’s main philosophy and is manifested in its feline mascot, Bella.
“Technology has its place and limitations,” he said. “This isn’t the end — relationships with people are incredibly important.”
Two memories form Horbaly’s business philosophy. One is a time during his childhood when he lived with his grandmother who watched TV all day, and another relative explained that it helped her feel less lonely. The other is a video he saw of a robotic puppet taken to a senior home, where seniors bonded with the puppet rather than each other.
“I thought, ‘What am I doing?’” he said. “Am I helping people to isolate themselves, to become more dependent on technology?”
After questioning his line of work, he decided “it’s not about whether the ends justify the means.” Today, he stands by the overall objective: improving quality of life for those who are lonely, worried about their home’s safety, wishing to cut energy costs or facing other hang-ups.
However, he realizes self-illuminating lights and GPS tracking on phones and key fobs may not be for everyone, and that’s OK too.
“Some people feel uncomfortable with technology. Some people embrace it,” he says. “I don’t want to force it on anybody, but I’m happy to help.”