Launching on Kickstarter today, Swidget is a modular electrical outlet designed to turn any home into a smarthome using existing wiring, replacing a traditional electricity outlet with an outlet capable of using "snap in" inserts. These inserts offer smart home functionality, including Wi-Fi connectivity, security camera, carbon monoxide sensors, Bluetooth speaker, motion and temperature sensors, Amazon Echo extension, USB port, and so on, which connect to your existing network (Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, ZigBee, etc.) or function independently. And a developer kit means partners can create their own smart inserts.
The aim of Swidget, according to founders Chris Adamson and Lowell Misener, is to "future proof" a home. The Canadian engineers have been working together designing systems for space missions for two decades, working with NASA, the Canadian and European Space Agencies, and SpaceX.
Though the pair have designed systems for what is arguably the smartest home around (the International Space Station), the concept for Swidget germinated from a fall down the stairs during a power outage, an incident that made Lowell Misener wonder why power outlets didn't have backup power. From there, it was just a few years of hard work and design to bring the project to the day before fruition.
We spoke to the pair in the days prior to Swidget's Kickstarter launch.
"There are two aspect to the Kickstarter launch," Misener told New Atlas. "Firstly to begin introducing our universal platform to the public, but also to meet partners. Having potential partners exposed to the platform is almost as exciting as the ability to assess to potential of the consumer offering."
What are you hoping might come from there?
"I'm going to use the example of another Kickstarter campaign, and this organisation has been very helpful to us, almost as a bit of a mentor to us, in helping us prepare for the Kickstarter campaign," said Chris Adamson. "That product was called Knocki, and they have had a very successful Kickstarter launch.
"We met one of the founders of Knocki at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and we weren't at that time releasing any of the specifics of the product that we were releasing, but he had alluded to the fact that they were looking to produce an in-wall version of Knocki in the future. That really set off a light bulb with us, because one of the really powerful elements of our device is that we have, or will have, dealt with a lot of the issues of certifying our product for UL in the United States and CSA in Canada."
The closeness of thought of Adamson and Misener is obvious in a discussion as they finish each other's sentences, throw in new clauses mid sentence while the other pauses for breath ... and generally convey a single concept as a symphony of thought. Many of the sentences I will attribute to them in this article were actually constructs that formed from the mouths of both partners.
"So it's an easy change to their configuration to make it an insert for Swidget, because we've already done that work and they don't need to go through the headaches of certifying their product with UL and all the other safety certifications," continued Adamson. "It's not only expensive, but going through those certifications can really add a lot of time to your product development.
"So when you couple that with the resources that are built into the Swidget outlet itself, a device like Knocki, which is essentially measuring vibrations on the surface on which it is mounted, the electrical outlet is coupled nicely in a mechanical sense to the wall, it becomes almost a no-brainer to look at technologies that exist already and aren't competitors but are complementary to what we're doing.
"We're expecting to find a lot more technologies that we can work cooperatively with to incorporate into our Swidget eco-system. We aren't seeing technologies like that as competitors but as potential partnerships, because what we're really doing is creating a development platform for companies that can augment what they already have. Working with us can add to their product offerings, and our aim has been to make that as easy as possible."
"One of our hopes is to be able to partner with companies such as say, ADT Security," Adamson revealed. "Using Swidget, you'd be able to install, or reconfigure your own security system and you don't need to worry about powering the little battery-powered sensors everywhere. So we're hoping that we could offer Swidget inserts that could be part of a larger kit, maybe optional, maybe even standard.
"We're also looking to be able to offer a simplified interface for some of the smart home hubs out there, but we'd really love it if we could get a Google Home or an Alexa Hub voice activated version as a Swidget insert.
"Swidget itself is a good platform and does carry a lot of resources, but some of the very high tech things that, may be out of our court, we'd like to partner with people on that.
"In a lot of senses, we're going to have two levels of inserts. Inserts that utilize the resources in the Swidget outlet and those that don't. An example is the USB charging insert. It could be a stand-alone insert that doesn't necessarily make use of the ability to turn on and off the outlet or measure and control things, and it would be a very inexpensive option as far as inserts go because all the AC-DC conversion is done in the outlet. If you were in a situation where you wanted to be able to control it, then you would be able to get the USB charging plus the connectivity version, to give you both, and that holds true of quite a few of the inserts."
"So to come back to your original question about where additional inserts will come from, it depends on what the user is looking to achieve, so we've tried to keep things as open as possible," said Adamson. "All of the connectivity is resident on the insert so it is swappable so you're not fixed to a Wi-Fi or a Z-Wave or a Zigbee ... you can pop them in and out as you see fit.
"It could be from safety or home security, or maybe just you want to clean up stuff that already exists and is a bit messy and doesn't need the clutter. There are all sorts of products that are coming out with really good utility, such as say, leak sensors. They are products that plug into power outlets, but if they were turned into a Swidget insert, the power conversion is already done in the outlet and it saves on size and cost and clutter because you don't need that bulky AC-DC power converter.
"One of the things we thought about from the origins of the idea was that we wanted Swidget to be easy to install, and we wanted to minimize the requirement to change the wall boxes or to cut drywall. We wanted to ensure the inserts all fitted within what is essentially a standard wall box outlet size, so it could be a straight-up replacement for the existing electrical outlets that are used in home construction throughout North America.
"How that will translate to Europe and beyond needs more investigation and at this point of time we are focusing on North America. We have kept in mind that that is a possibility and we've done our homework on the IP side of things, so we're not looking at just North America for the longer term.
"And potentially, the propagation and distribution of Swidget into markets with different power systems is also an opportunity for partnerships. We are already producing these inserts, and it doesn't really matter what the power plug looks like or whether it's 110 or 220 volts, these inserts will still work so ... we're looking for partnerships to grow this business."
Swidget's Kickstarter is now live, where early bird pledges start at US$38. If all goes to plan, shipping is expected to start in June 2018. The video provides an introduction to Swidget.