Mobile

PowerCloud’s Skydog app lets you manage your family’s internet use from your phone

The Internet can lead your family astray. With PowerCloud Systems‘ new Skydog product, you can take back control. Skydog is a new home network router that you can control with your smartphone. It monitors all of the traffic on your home network and tells you whether your kids are surfing the web during study hours or visiting places they shouldn’t be. In short, it’s a nice way to spy on your family, or, if you prefer, make sure that everyone is viewing appropriate content.

skydog 5The router also tells you some useful information without requiring you to be a technical wizard. It can, for instance, tell you exactly when your internet access goes down and whether you need to fix something at home or contact your internet service provider. In doing so, it will help demystify the process of making sure your internet works when you want it. The company bills it as “the best thing to happen to the home network since Wi-Fi.”

Palo Alto, Calif.-based PowerCloud Systems is a startup that spun out of Xerox’s famous Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the research think tank that invented the personal computer. The purpose of its Skydog is to manage family internet use and give you visibility into your home network, said Jeff Abramowitz, founder and chief executive of PowerCloud Systems, in an interview with VentureBeat.

The company is launching a crowdfunding effort on Kickstarter today to raise money to promote its first set of products that will debut in May 2013. Earlybird backers can get a Skydog home network package in May at a special pledge price of $79. Other backers can access Skydog’s second production run for a pledge of $99 for one unit, or $179 for two Skydog units. There are no annual fees. The home network package includes the mobile companion app, which works on any tablet, Windows PC, Mac, or smartphone.

The startup is housed inside PARC and it includes people from  Broadcom, Netgear, 3Com, Synchronoss, and Hewlett-Packard. The company was founded in 2008, and until now it was focused on the enterprise network management market.

Abramowitz hopes to disrupt the home networking market. Skydog offers real-time visibility into the network. It tells you who is online, which devices are being used, what web sites are being accessed, and how much bandwidth is being used. If a guest is seeking to access the network, Skydog will send you a text alert. And it will put the guest outside a firewall, so your network remains protected.

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You can easily use the app on a mobile phone to classify all of the devices that are authorized to use your home network. That includes phones, laptops, computers, and other gear. You can categorize the devices by user and limit what your kids can access. You can allow your kids to  access the Internet for homework during certain hours of the day. You can also determine what times of the day they can view entertainment sites. Kids won’t like that, but parents will appreciate the reassurance it offers about how their kids are using the internet.

“We think it can be valuable with how parents manage their kids,” Abramowitz said. “It can help folks who actively manage their homes.”

Many parents try to do this already by setting rules for kids to follow, but they have no control over what the child does when the parent is at work or somewhere else. Skydog will send alerts when a child has exceeded the allotted play time or is accessing a site they’re not supposed to visit. You can assign permissions based on holidays, weekends, or weekdays.

Skydog will also send a mobile alert if the internet goes down. Skydog can also check your Wi-Fi signal’s strength and remotely restart the router. The router is a dual-band 802.11n wireless device with a built-in 5-port gigabit switch.

“This will help you troubleshoot the Internet for others, like grandparents,” Abramowitz said.

skydog 3While the idea of spying on other family members isn’t kosher for some, Abramowitz said the monitoring is better than unplugging a home network altogether, since that would deny the family the many benefits of using the internet.

Child internet control services and software have been around for a while, but Skydog’s presence on mobile devices makes it a lot easier to implement and keep updated, Abramowitz said.

skydog 2PowerCloud Systems has patented the cloud-based platform that Skydog uses. The hardware is a Wi-Fi router accompanied by a cloud-based app that can be accessed from any smartphone, tablet, or PC, from any location.

Skydog also manages your broadband usage by assigning priority bandwidth access to certain users, such as a work-at-home parent. Or it can give priority to apps that need bandwidth, such as a movie-streaming service that displays video on the family TV.

“If you are playing games or watching movies, we can make sure your performance is strong,” Abramowitz said.

You can install a Skydog router in a remote location, such as a parent’s home or vacation property. And you can still manage the network via mobile.

Vivek Pathela, co-founder of PowerCloud Systems, said in an interview that installation is easy. Skydog works alongside existing routers, such as those providing backup or integration with broadband gateways. You can use the router to set policies based on who the primary user of a device is. PowerCloud Systems has tested the beta product in more than 75 homes. The router has enough range to cover 95 percent of most homes, Pathela said. You can attach the device to another router and still get management benefits.

The app is based on HTML5 and works on any mobile device. It can be used in enterprise markets as well as the home under the brand name CloudCommand.

PowerCloud Systems has raised $8.5 million. Investors include PARC, Qualcomm Ventures, Javelin Venture Partners, and Walden Venture Capital. Rivals include Netgear, Belkin, D-Link, and others.


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