Justin Humphreys, Airstream’s chief operating officer, pointed out that many of the RV manufacturer’s execs were already smart home adopters themselves. Using such Apps and services like Nest Labs’ self-learning systems and Vivint security to control the innerworkings of their households remotely.
As a playful example during a meeting at Airstream, Humphreys turned on his garaged car’s alarm from his smartphone and switching on his kitchen video camera to watch his wife’s reaction.
“At her expense,” Humphreys said, chuckling, “we were playing around with what you can do with your home and your vehicle, and an RV combines the two. So, it seemed like a natural fit for the RV industry.”
Earlier this month, Airstream debuted its Smart Control Technology which allows users to control a trailers’ amenities and other functions through a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. Launched on the 2019 Classic models, the smart home capability allows for HVAC, lights, vent fans, propane, water, etc. to be controlled through an app.
Airstream’s latest feature joins the other smart home systems in the RV industry, like Lippert Components’ OneControl and ASA Electronic’s iN-Command Global Connect, which now comes standard on Keystone RV’s 2019 Cougar. However, Smart Control achieves something entirely new in that it’s the first smart home system to be developed by an RV manufacturer.
The difference, maybe, between LCI and ASA’s setups is the behind-the-scenes architecture. Airstream used a multiplexing system instead of a hardwired one to connect appliances and various components such as awnings.
“It gives us more flexibility in programing,” said Humphreys.
There’s a Sleep Mode, for example, that turns off certain lights. Same with stepping on or off the trailer, there’s programmable settings that can be had. Cinema Mode shuts the blinds and turns off various lights as the projector comes on. The app’s architecture also allows for making additions based on customer wants.
Putting the RV in Sleep Mode, as one possible future development, users can get text alerts if the unit moves at all.
HVAC can be regulated instantly from afar, say, when returning to the RV from a hike, and cooling it down, or monitoring temps if pets are kept inside.
In terms of servicing any disrupted smart control use, Airstream is preparing techs at dealerships as much as possible. But when a smartphone is involved, Humphreys said there are certain nuances that may come up, and it’s an expectation the company will set up upfront. The manufacturer will be able to see some diagnostics which will lead to app improvements. A few possibilities Airstream is looking at integrating into the app is how-to’s and live chat.
“As we develop this app, we’ve looked to even expanding it further, outside of the connectivity to the trailer, as an operation’s manual or video content to help (consumers) learn how to use it,” said Humphreys.
The original push for Smart Control was made by Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler. His push for Smart Control was partially why Thor appointed him to also be president of TH2, a joint venture created by two Thor Industries and THL, an RV rental and sales operator.
Development for Smart Control began about two years ago after the company conducted extensive consumer research and listening sessions. Airstream’s team of designers and developers heard firsthand how to create an easy to use and intuitive app to improve the customer experience.
Developers looked into apps like iHome to give consumers the right user experience, but it was Airstream’s ambassadors – RVers on the road trying out products and providing content (photos, videos, etc.) – that had significant input. Ambassadors camped in the Classics and experimented with the app.
Airstream is currently offering a free year of unlimited data through a factory rebate. By using a high-gain, roof mounted cellular antenna, Airstream’s solution keeps users connected when cellphone sometimes don’t work.
“It also boosts the signal quality of nearby Wi-Fi service at campgrounds. That’s something our customers have really wanted,” he said.
It’s part of Airstream’s ambitions to set out and make an even more dynamic smart RV.
“This is a technology that’s here to stay,” said Humphreys, “and this industry is ripe for it.”