Quirky, GE stack up 7 'building blocks' of the affordable smart home

The New York startup and the industrial conglomerate want to get your attention with new connected-home products, adding smarts to light switches, doors and wall outlets.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
4 min read

Quirky's Ben Kaufman presents the new Tripper window-and-door sensor. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

Quirky and General Electric revealed seven new smart-home products, making their biggest push yet to try convincing consumers that the connected home is something they soon won't be able to live without.

"Each of these represent the building blocks of an affordable and accessible" smart home, Quirky CEO and founder Ben Kaufman said Tuesday at his company's Manhattan headquarters.

Among the new products was Tripper, a sensor that can be put on any window or door and know if it's opened or closed. A two-pack of Tripper sensors will cost $40.

Kaufman also claimed Quirky developed "the death of the thermostat," a white box called Norm that regulates humidity and temperature using a series of sensors throughout the home and can be controlled through a smartphone. The Norm box costs $80, but additional sensors are sold separately.

Quirky, founded in 2009, uses an online community of tinkerers, inventors and collaborators to come up with the ideas for its products and shares some of its sales with the community. All the devices presented Tuesday were developed through that Quirky network and were part of Quirky's nearly two-year-old partnership with GE to create a line of connected hardware under both companies' names.

A bevy of technology companies have been working to develop the smart home, a broad concept of making appliances, lights and switches connected to the Internet, while also adding more sensors to doors, windows and rooms around the house. These companies -- which include Google, Qualcomm and others -- see the smart home as vast opportunity to add much more technology into people's lives and utilize the smartphone as a universal controller for devices throughout the house. The smart home is just one part of the even broader Internet of Things, which considers connecting office spaces, cars, factories, street lights and thousands of other objects to the Internet.

Still, few customers have already jumped on these concepts. Looking to invite more adopters into the smart home, Kaufman said all the new products unveiled Tuesday were focused on affordability. Also, Quirky was pushing out a series of advertisements to educate consumers on the value of smart-home technology. The ads focus on joking that a robot butler -- once perceived as a future technology -- is actually awkward to have in the house. While speaking, Kaufman was visited by a small gray robot butler onstage, and -- to prove his point -- shared an uncomfortable glance with it.

The other products announced Tuesday included a $35 smart water sensor called Overflow that detects water leaks and alerts users through their phone, the $100 Ascend garage-door controller, a $60 light switch called Tapt that lets owners dim the lights from their phones, and a $50 wall outlet called Outlink that can track energy usage. Quirky also updated its Spotter all-purpose home sensor that gauges temperature, noise and light, creating the customizable and more robust Spotter UNIQ, which is the size of a hockey puck.

All the devices can be controlled through Wink, a mobile app Quirky developed, or Relay, Wink's touch-screen controller that fits on the wall where a light switch would go. Most of the seven devices are available for presale starting Tuesday.

Quirky also said it would open by mid-December a new "micro-factory" in San Francisco, taking over the defunct Buzzell Electric Works electric-motor factory to build smart-home products. The site will become Quirky's new West Coast headquarters and will be used to create customizable and built-to-order electronics under the new Quirky UNIQ line. The Spotter UNIQ is the first product in the family. Quirky also launched Wink.com, replacing WinkApp.com as the central site for Wink products, services and information.

Denny Fong, an optometrist from Toronto, Canada, who submitted the ideas for the Norm temperature-controller and Spotter sensors, said he was happy to fulfill a long-time interest in engineering by joining Quirky's community. He continues to get royalties from Quirky for the sales of the products he thought up. "It's amazing to actually have a product developed," he said at Tuesday's event.

GE kicked off Tuesday's event at Quirky's Manhattan headquarters by showing off Connect Plus, a box that connects GE appliances, providing maintenance alerts and controls directly to a user's smartphone.

An end-of-year smart gadget blast from Quirky (pictures)

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Quirky and GE have been developing closer ties to create connected hardware together, including a flexible power strip, an expiration-date-tracking egg tray and a connected air conditioner. GE invested $30 million in Quirky late last year, as part of a larger $79 million funding round into the startup.

This partnership comes at the same time GE has been walking away from its consumer businesses, instead looking to focus on its more profitable heavy-industry segments. In September, GE said it would sell its appliance business to Sweden's Electrolux for $3.3 billion, ending GE's years-long hunt for a buyer. However, GE will continue to own its lighting business, and this year started selling a smart lightbulb called Link.

Beth Comstock, GE's chief marketing officer, said in an interview at the event that although GE was focusing less on consumer products, it continues to see a strong future for its relationship with Quirky.

"Smart home is not just about appliances. There's a lot going on in the Internet of Things," she said in an interview. She added that the Quirky partnership is "definitely an innovation driver" and a way of showing off the GE brand.

Updated, 2:50 p.m. PT: Adds comments from Quirky inventor and GE executive, and more details throughout.