The ‘smart home’ is a future idea, and GE/Quirky have combined on The Spotter

Here’s the essential idea: it’s a small device, and relatively cheap ($49.99). It’s produced by General Electric and Quirky, which is basically an open forum for ideas (you submit, people vote on them, every Thursday a panel in NYC moves forward with a few). The Spotter is a multi-purpose home control device; it’s tiny (as I just said) and magnetic, and you can attach it to anything in your house (washing machine, door, etc.) It can monitor different things — temperature, motion, etc. — and you set it up with your SmartPhone so that if something drops below a certain level, you get a push notification. So, broadly speaking, it’s a way to effectively monitor a series of different things related to your house, but from afar.

GE and Quirky have actually partnered up on a few new projects; the basic idea is fairly logical — Quirky is a small, crowdsourcing-based company while GE is a huge, well-known and entrenched brand. Some of Quirky’s ideas have value, and GE can get them a bigger marketing and sales push. Quirky could help keep GE “nimble.” Here’s the official corporate speak from the Quirky side:

“For years patents have become widely misunderstood and misused,” says Ben Kaufman, Quirky founder and CEO. “We are going to return patents to their original purpose to act as a blueprint for technological and societal progress while protecting inventors and becoming a source of inspiration for future creators.”

And here it is from the GE side:

“We admire Quirky’s speed, collaboration and inventiveness and by opening up lab-proven technology and patents to everyday inventors we can help inspire new ideas and accelerate advanced manufacturing innovation,” says Beth Comstock, GE’s chief marketing officer.

OK, that’s out of the way.

The other products are noted on that link above, but they include Nimbus, which is essentially four faces you can program to display basic elements — such as number of unread emails, Facebook likes for your organization, the time, etc. It’s a “personal dashboard for your digital life.”

GE is seen as “doubling down” through this partnership, which includes $30 million in Quirky’s coffers; some initial buzz was positive, such as this quick article in Fast Company The official CNET review of Spotter wasn’t great — in sum, they recommend waiting for a new edition — mostly because of a lack of real-time updates and a historical log of past situations. Gizmodo has a good rundown of the partnership and the first five products, asking an interesting question in the process: within the ‘smart home’ movement, is there a moment where a threshold will be crossed?

This is a basic look at what the ‘smart house’ movement entails. Essentially, it just means many key functions of your house are monitored, with the ability to adjust/control, from a smartphone or central application. The trend is growing. For example, there are even tweeting refrigerators in the world now. This is a lot different than your mother’s Honeywell sensors, ya know?

Take a look at this, for example:

This is all kind of interesting stuff. I’ve said this before in other posts on this blog, but basically, it’s sometimes even hard to wrap your head around the rate of technological acceleration. Google wasn’t even a thing 17 years ago; Google can’t even legally drink, but it’s changed the entire way we process information (at least in some countries). Televisions were only being put into homes 50 or 55 years ago (a grain of sand in historical terms) and we’re already controlling multiple TVs from multiple buttons scattered throughout a house — and saving energy as we do so. I think the “smart house” movement is interesting; ultimately, the two places that matter most to a person tend to be work and home, so if you can use technology to make those places effective, all the more power. There is an element of overkill — I’m not sure there’s anyone on the planet, even Lady Gaga, who needs to be able to tweet from a refrigerator — and there is a little bit of “Whoa, machines are controlling my house” (as opposed to even the 1970s, when every one of these functions would have been installed, with pride, by the “man of the house” — or at least paid for by the man of the house). Are we shifting how we view home, and/or shifting how we view gender roles in terms of maintaining the home? If everything is automated to the point that maintenance doesn’t really need to happen as much, has that down-shifted the male’s role in a nuclear family? Kinda weird, right? (I still know a ton of dudes who regularly tell me they have “house projects” to do; imagine if all that meant was pulling out your Android and pressing four buttons.)

I think the biggest thing with technology is what it does to other aspects of our culture: when you create a web platform that essentially tracks sales data and lead generations almost perfectly, and can generate reports along different lines, then aren’t you freeing up time for x-number of employees to do other things, and potentially make the company more valuable? And if you set up a home so that it’s being controlled via a cell phone, can’t you adjust how much time the parents can re-dedicate to the children? That’s the part that’s intriguing; technology can provide an easy baseline that shifts everything else, potentially for the positive — so long as people realize that’s what’s happening, and that’s the next step they should be pursuing.

Another big thing is energy management and consumption, which is eventually going to be one of the issues in our world (assuming it isn’t already); as a result of its connection to positive energy management, the smart house market should be worth about $10 billion in only seven years. If I knew I was saving energy and maybe paying it forward a little to future generations, I’d definitely spend more on a smart house. There’s also some cool stuff going on at Drexel with their Smart House project: 

Should you potentially be wary of this idea? Sure. But it also appears to be the way the housing industry could head, albeit gradually, so jump on board too. It’ll be interesting to see how it shapes out; we’ve used tech to change work and to change how we relate to each other (think social media vs. actual, old-fashioned convos), so how about we use it to change how we relate to our physical homes?

Ted Bauer


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