Meet the company that helps power Mark Zuckerberg's Jarvis and the homes of 'the 1%'

The year of the smart home

Mark Zuckerberg's splashy new smart home technology, Jarvis, has garnered attention for playful features like a T-shirt cannon.

The hacked-together artificially intelligent assistant is a unique personality programmed by Zuckerberg. But in order to "talk" to appliances, Zuckerberg's DIY project got some pretty high-end help. Jarvis is actually built on top of an elite smart home technology by Crestron.

Custom electronics are ubiquitous in the homes of "the 1 percent," and major technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, said John Clancy, Crestron's vice president of residential. Crestron already powers a home of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and many pricey homes in President-elect Donald Trump's properties, according to its website.

An image from a promotional video for Jarvis AI by Mark Zuckerberg.
Source: Jarvis AI by Mark Zuckerberg | YouTube

Each system starts at a few thousand dollars and can go into the millions, especially when the cost of high-end TVs and speakers are included, Clancy said.

Zuckerberg made an iPhone app for Jarvis this year to connect the smart devices and phones around his home. Zuckerberg said in a blog post he used Crestron to provide a way for Jarvis to speak to his lights, thermostat and doors.

Clancy said Crestron would normally be able to power many of Jarvis' features through its own apps, but instead created an API that would let Zuckerberg build his own "front end" in his preferred programming language, Python.

Clancy said Zuckerberg and his wife "wanted the reliability of the proven system and also the ability to customize on their end, tied to his Jarvis service."

Meet Jarvis: Zuckerberg's new AI assistant for his home

Clancy declined to say how much Zuckerberg may have paid Crestron for the services, though he said it was probably not a normal rate, since Facebook is a big Crestron customer and they "helped him out."

Zuckerberg's engineering did add some powerful new features that Clancy said he expects will be in high demand. For one, Zuckerberg's artificial intelligence went beyond fixed phrases or hitting buttons, since it has the ability to learn. Plus, Facebook's facial recongition technology and ability to text with Facebook Messenger are unique, Clancy said, not to mention the voice by Morgan Freeman.

Unlike an off-the-shelf consumer product like Google Home or Apple HomeKit, Crestron manufactures all the devices in its ecosystem and has government-facility level cybersecurity. Crestron can also integrate with devices like Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri.

Because the systems are high-end and bespoke, Crestron has been able to build automated systems for clients that run "dog walking scenarios," trigger self-playing pianos or turn the lights blue when a Yankee game starts, said Clancy. The touch screens and switches can also be matched to users' decor, according to Clancy, who installed and integrated internet of things systems himself for 23 years in NYC penthouses before stepping into his current role.

"Regular IoT products have limits," Clancy said. "All our products together are limitless."

For instance, Branson's devices are optimized for the taxing Caribbean environment, according to Crestron's website, while a Hoboken, NJ condo that formerly belonged to New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning could control the music playing in the shower.

While Zuckerberg's primary reason for building Jarvis was a resolution to get more familiar with Facebook's latest engineering, he's already sold some more billionaires on the idea.

"Hey, Mark. Can Jarvis secretly order a hamburger and have it delivered to the back door? Asking for a friend...," Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates commented on Zuckerberg's Facebook page. "I think I can build that for you, Bill," Zuckerberg responded.

Still Crestron doesn't expect Zuckerberg to start stealing away clients any time soon, Clancy said.

"Very few of these very large homes — or in NYC, where I was focused, very expensive apartments — are built without a control system," Clancy said. "We have kind of a unique ability to customize to a very high level."

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Eli Manning still lived in his New Jersey condo.