GE doubles down on a Quirky future for the smart home

GE is backing Quirky with $30 million and open access to its patent stash. Can their partnership move the smart home to the mainstream?

Colin West McDonald/CNET

For over a year, we've watched GE flirt with the Internet of Things through its partnership with Quirky, a New York-based startup that serves as a marketplace of ideas for the crowdfunded smart home. This week, the odd couple took things to the next level, with GE pouring $30 million into Quirky's coffers, part of an eyebrow-raising $79 million funding surge.

The move comes in accordance with GE's plans to co-develop dozens of new smart devices with Quirky through the Wink: Instantly Connected product line. To date, they've already released four products in time for the holidays: the flexible, automatable Pivot Power Genius power strip, the environment-sensing Quirky Spotter, the expiration-date-tracking Egg Minder Smart Egg Tray, and the Nimbus, a slick-looking customizable dashboard capable of tracking everything from the weather to your Twitter mentions.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Consumers will be able to control and interact with all of these products through the free Wink Android/iOS app, which Quirky and GE are positioning as the new standard for smart home management. Some existing Quirky products already work with Wink, and everything GE and Quirky release as they move forward should, too, creating the interesting potential for a Quirky microcosm within the Internet of Things. We've already tested and reviewed a few of these products, and in all instances, we've come away impressed with Wink's strong, user-friendly design.

In addition to the money Quirky has been able to raise, it's been a wealth of ideas powering this new product push. Specifically, I'm talking about patents -- thousands of them, the building blocks of GE's research and development. Many of these patents are narrowly focused toward large-scale niche products like industrial machinery or medical hardware, but GE sees value in opening them up to the aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs of Quirky's community, granting them full access to their treasure trove of tech.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

In an age where patents are hoarded and sold as commodities in and of themselves, it's refreshing to see such a large asset manager take a less magnanimous approach -- though to be fair, there's some clear business logic behind the move, too. With Quirky's community eagerly setting out to find ways of applying existing tech toward new smart home products, GE essentially gets to crowdsource its smart home R&D, then slap its logo on the winners and back them up with manufacturing muscle. Just how much fruit this strategy ultimately bears remains to be seen, but it certainly seems to be off to a promising start.

This marriage of Quirky's brains and GE's brawn will be one to keep an eye on in the coming months, and we'll be doing just that. For now, it's encouraging to see the manufacturing giant founded by Thomas Edison place such a strong focus on collaborative innovation. Sometimes, quirky couples are the most successful.

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About the author

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies, and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. He has a strong appreciation for nifty, well-designed tech that saves time, looks stylish, and/or helps him avoid burning his dinner quite so often. Ry lives in Louisville, KY.

 

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