A technology that turns conventional dumb lights into smart ones

Yes, you can teach old dogs new tricks.

So hopes a Silicon Valley startup company called Switchmate, which is developing a technology that will turn your dumb old incandescent or CFL lights into smart ones.

As the company's name implies, it's all in the switch. Switchmate's plastic cover snaps over a conventional light switch and adds Bluetooth connectivity to it. Fire up an app on your smartphone, and suddenly you can usher your brainless incandescent bulbs into the modern digital era (see video below). All without the purchase of any fancy, expensive, genius LEDs.

The basic Switchmate product, called, er, Switchmate, doesn't provide all the smartness of a fully kitted out smart LED. But it does offer fundamental intelligence, allowing users to turn lights on and off from the sofa (long live couch potatoes!), or to turn the lights on inside just as they approach home (for those who just can't bear waiting until they open the door to flip the switch).

It also serves as a timer, eliminating the need for those clunky mechanical wall socket gadgets. So if you're going away and you want to deter the burglars, or if you want to assure that a light greets you in the evening, Switchmate can do that.

'Now you don't have to get up from your bed or couch to turn off the lights,' the Palo Alto, California company says on its website. The site also notes that, 'Switchmate is a modern light timer, making it appear like someone is always home. The timer is intuitive and easy to set up through the Switchmate app, not like last century's timers.'

Switchmate does not appear to offer the full 'Internet of Things' connectivity of smart LEDs, which internet users around the world can command to turn on and off, to brighten, dim or change colours. Smart LEDs can also serve as emergency alarms, using sensors to respond to prompts like smoke or intruders; can change warmth during the day to accommodate circadian rhythms; can pulsate to music or TV shows; and so on.

But Switchmate hopes to eventually add features.

'We are currently working to expand the range of Switchmate so that it can be used from anywhere you have an internet connection,' the website states. A video on the site suggests that users can purchase a hub that would allow connectivity from the world. For now, the control range is 70 metres (230 feet).

Feature list aside, Switchmate claims that its product simplifies smart lighting.

'Smart products are supposed to make our lives simpler, but their set-up alone is often needlessly complicated," co-founder Daniel Peng said in a press release (downloadable from  the website) last week announcing that the company has begun a 'crowdfunding' campaign on the Indiegogo website. 'And for those of us who don't own property, those installation processes aren't just complicated, they're impossible. Switchmate is accessible for everyone – renters, home-owners, students, nomads – anyone that wants the convenience of a connected home without the hassle of connecting it.'

The press release notes that, 'Unlike other smart lights, Switchmate requires no complicated rewiring or installation.'

I'm not sure what rewiring Switchmate is referring to, but I do know this: Fully functional smart LEDs can cost the average consumer a king's ransom. British quality retailer John Lewis, for instance, is currently offering a LIFX LED for £65 ($99) and a Philips Hue starter kit of two white-only bulbs and a controller for £80 ($120). That's a prohibitive barrier for common folk who still remember the $1.00 incandescent.

Switchmate is not exactly inexpensive. The company appears to have a retail price of $60 in mind per switch cover, not cheap when you consider that one switch often controls only one light. It is currently offering a variety of discounts on 'pre-orders' through its Indiegogo campaign. Among them: One unit for $45, two for $79, and three for $109. It's also offering deals on quantities of 300 and 1,000, aimed at property agents.

Switchmate hopes to begin production in July, and to start shipping product by December. Its new month-long crowdfunding campaign should help. As of this writing, Switchmate had raised nearly $108,000 after the first eight days alone, well above its $50,000 goal, with 23 days remaining. 

For now, it looks like the old dog has some bite. Let's see if it's still bearing teeth come December.

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Being smart is a snap:

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Photo and video are from Switchmate