Michael D. Nelson, 47, cofounder and CEO of emWare Inc., based in Salt Lake City. Launched in 1996, emWare creates networking software that connects such everyday devices as coffeemakers, washing machines, and thermostats to the Internet.
What if your sprinkler could check the weather forecast before turning on? What if while on vacation, you could check whether you locked your front door before you left — and instruct it to lock itself if you forgot? Nelson and his colleagues at emWare are betting that consumers will want services that connect home appliances to the Internet. The concept is not new, but emWare's strategy is: While most smart-home technologies require cramming high-end processors into ordinary appliances, emWare's software runs on the microprocessors that appliances already have inside of them.
"There are over 1 billion electronic devices produced every year, and more than 90% of them have the capability to run our software," says Nelson. "Our goal is to make smart devices a reality now, not 5 or 10 years down the road when the broadband infrastructure arrives."
"Now" is a relative term. Nelson's company is already in the marketplace. Last summer, emWare ran a pilot project with Carrier Corp. that allowed utility companies to better manage power usage by hooking home thermostats to the Net.
At the same time, while emWare is working with such big-name brands as AT&T and Panasonic to put its software into appliances, the end results won't be available until 2001. In the meantime, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are hard at work on their own high-end software for smart-device networking. But given the ease of adoption for emWare's software, it has the potential to create a high-demand market. "We're not looking to build a company overnight," Nelson says. "We're in this to change people's lives."
Contact Michael D. Nelson by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the November 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.