Smart homes generate a lot of clutter. I look around my home today and each room has its cluster of white or black devices with glowing LEDs. Most of my outlets sport an unsightly transformer blob that acts as a repeater, a doorbell chime or some other bridge.
A company started by two Canadian engineers may change this. Swidget, formed this year by D. Lowell Misener and Chris Adamson, has developed an outlet that can add a Z-Wave or Wi-Fi control element to the receptacle. In the future, it might offer an Alexa, a motion sensor, and emergency lighting. It might even replace those wall warts used to bridge to devices like doorbells or locks one day.
The Swidget outlet contains a swappable cartridge in between the two plugs and the home owner can just swap out different cartridges that fit their need at the time. For remote control of the outlet, swap in a Wi-Fi or Z-wave control. For a stairway outlet, pop in an emergency lighting cartridge that can glow for up to an hour even if the power is out.
The guys have envisioned many iterations that make sense, but are starting with the Wi-Fi and Z-wave control units. Lighting elements are next.
Before getting too excited, I have to warn you that this is a Kickstarter project and I’ve only seen prototypes via Skype. The actual products aren’t due out until June of 2018, which leaves plenty of time to get something wrong. While Misener and Adamson are both engineers and have spent the last decade running a company that sends gear to the International Space Station, building a consumer IoT product is hard in a different way.
However, I am excited not just by their individual product, but also by the insight that much of our smart home should fade into the walls and existing home infrastructure. Today, with our myriad hubs and cluttered outlets, will soon be an anomaly. Instead, we will have light switches with motion and light sensors that can adapt to our needs and outlets that come with repeaters and other needed bridges built in.
These are logical places for connected devices because they have power and established space for computing elements. The Swidget outlets are deep and packed with electronics, such as chips that manage voltage, to make room for the cartridges. Creating some kind of standard swappable interface for lights and outlets makes a ton of sense for the smart home. Swidget outlets don’t exist yet, but they are taking the right approach.
In Seattle, Deako, a light switch company, is creating swappable switch plates that pop onto its switch boxes to change the wireless technology or other elements of the light switch. They are targeting builders as opposed to DIY consumers, which I think is ultimately where this market needs to go. Swidget, meanwhile, is focused on selling to consumers at first through its Kickstarter campaign.
The outlets will cost about $40 and the inserts will run between $5 and $15 depending on functionality. The outlets aren’t GFI-compliant and the base outlet doesn’t have any extra electronics, just a placeholder for an additional cartridge. A dumb outlet typically costs about $5 and connected outlets currently cost about $25 to $40 depending on what they do.
And while swapping out a light switch or an outlet isn’t a super complicated job, it is a job that many consumers will shy away from. So, I’m cautiously optimistic about Swidget’s chances, but even if it fails, I hope that its ideas live on.