AIRcable SmartDimmer brings advanced Bluetooth home automation to your mobile devices

Summary:Looking for a way to wirelessly control all the lights in your home from your smartphone or tablet? Check out the AIRcable SmartDimmer.

I've always been a huge fan of home automation technologies, and have been looking for affordable and relatively non-proprietary ways the average person can accomplish different kinds of automation tasks.

Recently, I heard about a product that is undergoing a Internet financing campaign at IndieGogo called the AIRcable SmartDimmer which could bring about a revolution in open standards-based electrical lighting and appliance control should the product be produced in large volumes and software developers produce mobile apps for it. 

Unlike other companies undergoing Internet financing for start-up products, AIRcable, the company looking to volume manufacture the special switches, has been around for 10 years, and has successfully produced special long-range and low-power Bluetooth devices for various different vertical market and embedded applications.

The SmartDimmer would be AIRCable's first true consumer product, however, should it enter volume production and be distributed in retail.

While there are other wireless, mobile device controllable electrical products on the market, such as the Philips Hue, which is a Wi-Fi integrated system that uses expensive proprietary bulbs, the SmartDimmer is unique in that it does not use special bulbs -- it uses regular LED lightbulbs from the manufacturer of your choice, and installs just like any other light switch in your home.

The companion switch, which is intended to be sold separately, communicates wirelessly to the master SmartDimmer switch and is powered by two AAA batteries, which can last for as much as two years before replacement. Once paired with a master switch controlling lights or another electrical appliance, it can be installed anywhere in your home, such as places where electrical wiring would be impossible or totally impractical. 

The SmartDimmer and companion switch also does not use Wi-Fi, they use long-range Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 4.0 transmitters, with a microcontroller of AIRCable's own design. The low energy consumption is accomplished by only using the Bluetooth transmitter when it actually has something to transmit, such as a simple control or telemetry signal. This is quite different from the streaming audio Bluetooth standard used by headsets and car audio systems, for example.

While the primary function of the SmartDimmer is to act as a switch, digital dimmer and an integrated night light, it has some pretty advanced electronics and sensors inside which allow for the creation of some interesting home automation applications. This includes:

External sensors that mobile devices can use

  • light intensity (dimmer setting)
  • room temperature sensor (-40C to +60C)
  • ambient light level, night light immune (3-1000 LUX)
  • power consumption (0-200W)
Internal sensors (firmware, safety)
  • load resistance (<20 Ohm will disable the dimmer)
  • electronic temperature (>60C will switch off lights)
  • signal strength (<-70dBm will force the master to check if settings were applied correctly)
Settings which can be programmatically changed
  • location name of the SmartDimmer
  • dimmer function disable
  • night light intensity (0-15)
  • night light threshold (3-200 LUX), also for porch light
  • off timer (0-60 min)
  • porch light feature (on and off according to the ambient light sensor threshold)

Currently, AIRcable is selling the SmartDimmer for $39 and the companion switch for $18. The developer kit, which includes two SmartDimmers, two companion switches, a USB to Bluetooth 4.0 PC interface, and access to all the developer API documentation for creating mobile and PC applications for the SmartDimmers, costs $149.

A free iOS application that you can use to control the SmartDimmers from your iPhone or iPad is also avaliable for download.

smartdimmeriphone
Screen Image: AIRcable

So what kind of apps could you design for these? Well, for example, you can make/program a Bluetooth key fob as a light switch. Imagine coming home in the car at night and the porch lights are off, and just switching them on from the car.

One could design a motion detector or other sensory input that is able to control lights wirelessly from anywhere. 

Since you can read the temperature in each room of the house with a SmartDimmer installed, a developer could design and implement sophisticated HVAC applications. A forced air floor register outlet could, all by itself with batteries, read the temperature in the room and control a motor to shut on or off heating. 

You can make a thermostat for your heating and AC system that gets the temperature of each room and calculates the need for heating or cooling. For example, a next-generation version of the NEST with a built-in Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy module could make decisions based on the ambient temperature in different rooms of your house, if it had multi-zone capabilities. 
 
With the USB to PC Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy module, you could design some other interesting applications as well.

Take home security, for example. You are on vacation and someone switches on the lights. You would get an alert that a light changed without you being around, and it would generate a silent alarm and email you or to a security company.
 
You could also record the usage of power for lighting. A PC can receive the power consumption from every SmartDimmer in your house every minute and record it for analysis, which could help you to develop a strategy for energy saving.

While I have not installed the SmartDimmer and the companion switches in my home yet, I'm really looking forward to putting the product through its paces.
 
Does the AIRcable SmartDimmer pique your interest in developing new home automation applications? Talk Back and Let Me Know. 
 

Topics: After Hours, Smartphones, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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