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Smart technology from MU IT Program alum upcoming

Umbo device sits atop a desk.

Jeff Nowak, a 2014 graduate of MU’s Information Technology Program, is in charge of sales and operations for Umbo, a smart device that emulates augmented reality through automated displays and gesture control. It’s designed to display personalized content on the walls of a user’s home in what is called an augmented home experience. Photos courtesy of Umbo.

The Internet of Things is quickly integrating itself into American culture with the growing proliferation of smart devices. An MU College of Engineering alumnus is part of a team looking to give the everyday consumer many of the benefits of smart home technology at a fraction of the cost.

Jeff Nowak, a 2014 graduate of MU’s Information Technology Program, is in charge of sales and operations for Umbo, a smart device that emulates augmented reality through automated displays and gesture control. It’s designed to display personalized content on the walls of a user’s home in what is called an augmented home experience.

The idea behind Umbo is to take many of the daily routines we now complete with the aid of a smartphone or tablet and make them more user friendly.

“Imagine that you wake up, look up and see your agenda, weather and emails displayed in your ceiling, you wave your hands to navigate these beautiful displays,” said founder Francisco Saez. “As you walk in your kitchen, the news, traffic conditions or even your Twitter feed are displayed on your walls. That’s the future we’re building.”

An Umbo user looks at a screen displayed on his ceiling while lying in bed.

Umbo is designed to display personalized content on the walls of a user’s home in what is called an augmented home experience.

Umbo is small, about the size of a baseball, and can be placed in several rooms throughout the house. It uses various technologies to automatically activate when a user is in each room, so as not to waste energy displaying information with no one present. It also includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, a quad-core processor, optical engine, microphone, speaker and multiple sensors including motion, capacitive touch, temperature and ambient light. It integrates seamlessly with many of the most popular mobile apps, including Calendar, Gmail, Waze, Facebook, Health and many more.

In order to provide an optimal user experience, Umbo uses machine learning to automatically customize both the content and the position of the widgets. The company’s goal is that after setting up your preferences and adding your integrations during onboarding, you won’t have to interact with your phone again to use Umbo.

“It provides the content you need based on selected integrations,” Nowak said. “It’s basically augmenting what’s in your virtual headspace throughout your home, right as you need it.”

The benefit of the device is that it combines similar capabilities one would get using a visual headset with a simplified user experience, all while coming in at an advertised cost of less than $400 per unit.

The startup has partnered with various tech companies, including Avnet, one of the world’s largest electronic component and embedded technology service providers; Tempo Automation, a provider of rapid electronics manufacturing, design and prototyping; and Young Optics, an integrated design manufacturer of optics, modules and components. You can currently join the waitlist at the Umbo website.