Zuli smartplug could herald new age in home automation

Zuli smartplug could herald new age in home automation

Summary: Got an iPhone? You may never need to worry about turning on (or off) the lights ever again.


A few months ago I wrote about the AIRcable SmartDimmer, a home automation product that tried unsucessfully to secure financing on Indiegogo. However, I still haven't given up hope that Bluetooth Low-Energy could still be used in other smartphone and tablet-controlled home automation products in the future.

The Zuli Smartplug, which is only 4 days away from ending its campaign in Kickstarter, is similar in concept to the AIRcable SmartDimmer, but instead of replacing a wall switch, it's a small device that plugs into your existing outlet and allows you to control your plug-in lighting and other appliances in a similar fashion using an iOS application.

The Smartplug has some features that the SmartDimmer lacked, such as a more mature smartphone application and also location and user-aware preferences that utilizes the new "iBeacon" Bluetooth Low Energy features of iOS 7. This includes the ability to automatically turn lights on and off and at specific dim levels depending on who walks into the room, in addition to scheduling, energy monitoring and away detection.

However, unlike the SmartDimmer, Zuli doesn't yet have a companion device which would permit the plug to be controlled from an external remote switch that could be mounted anywhere (and would not require a smartphone).

Additionally, the Smartplug lacks the ability to control internally wired porch/patio lights and master circuits, and it also lacks an integrated night light as well as room temperature sensors that the SmartDimmer had.

However, because it does not have to be installed and is simply plugged into a wall outlet, the implementation is much simpler.

Zuli's target funding is $150,000. At the time of this writing, it had managed to secure just over $114,000 which is only $36,000 shy of their target. With 4 days remaining, it's certainly possible they could meet that goal, but there would have to be a last-minute groundswell of interest in the product, not including any funding outside of Kickstarter, which the company is apparently securing to go ahead with production.

Zuli is currently offering 3-packs of smartplugs for a $135 funding pledge, as well as 10-packs for $400.

Topics: Emerging Tech, iOS, Mobility, Smartphones


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • It is

    a step in the right direction but it is not enough. It is little more than X 10 with a phone interface
    • And there...

      ...are already apps for the phone that do the same thing with X10 and a single control module somewhere in the home. Yawn...
  • Solution looking for a problem.

    Do we really need these things? I can't recall the last time I really cared whether I left a light on or not.
  • X10 had a similar system...

    ...with an RF interface, several years ago. Of course, the Smartplug makes good use of your smartphone. The X10 requires a handheld universal remote -- that gives control over many things the Smartplug doesn't.

    This is a product of such limited ability/utility it's hardly worth funding.
  • Another WeMo

    I've been using WeMo for a while and find them to work quite well. They don't have the dimming capabilities nor iBeacon, but not sure I'd use them. For dimming, I'd rather have a wall switch type -- WeMo has one, but it is crap as it doesn't support 3-way or dimming.
    Key Lime
  • New age?

    Just because you can?
    btw, I read the review in another publication, it's not exactly plug and play. Specially installing it (does not fit into a regular light-switch receptacle).
    But it did work as advertised.
    IF I had a smartphone or tablet and this gizmo, I would not have to keep asking my wife to turn the lights off when she leaves the room.
  • Wi-Fi-powered appliance modules

    I prefer a Wi-Fi-powered appliance modules in which I could just pass a URI (using cURL in Linux) to an appliance module to turn a device on.

    This could be great in conjunction with LIFX:

    It is open-source:

    So if I have a Wi-Fi-enabled appliance module that I could plug my bedroom fan in, I could get rid of my Insteon home automation.

    If I add a Bluetooth dongle, I'm unsure if my Linux server could communicate with Zuli smartplug.

    Anyway, I'm still keeping with incandescent light bulbs. I don't like CFL because even if a manufacturer claims that it can dim down to 2%, it can only dim as low as 23 to 24% before it starts flickering like a strobe. With LIFX or Philips HUE (not Wi-Fi but must communicate with a bridge with a limitation of 50 light bulbs), not only it can change color, I'm hoping that it can dim to as low as 0.1%. And yeah, not very visible light at all, but it helps having a very smooth transition from off to on and back to off by a set period of time (called a ramp rate when it comes to Insteon). Something like going from off to on in about 60 seconds (50% in 30 seconds in between transition time).

    A couple of years ago when I stayed at a hotel in Orlando where it's got a Bose Wave Radio system, when I wake up one morning to turn off the radio, a couple of CFL light bulbs flicker like crazy and caused me to go back to sleep during the morning. LED bulbs will pretty much be the solution, but not all LED bulbs are dimmable by lamp modules that plug into the outlet. LIFX and HUE does not require a module to be plugged in and it must not be plugged in or it might damage the circuits inside a light bulb.

    Sure, $60 for Philips HUE (bridge excluded) or $90 for LIFX (Wi-Fi) are very expensive, but it's like having a $40 or $60 lamp module built right into the light bulb.

    Of course, for LIFX, there's more than just a light bulb. It could blink or change color when it comes to notification like e-mail or text message or even a phone call.
    Grayson Peddie
  • In Addition to X10 ......

    There is Insteon which has much expanded capability.
  • We dont need more market fragmentation

    Zuli, ZigBee, Insteon are conceptually cool and will probably useful. X-10 is out of date.

    I'm personally sold on the Z-wave standard approach though.

    It does require a router but there is fantastic industry support with ~250 companies in the alliance. The big ones are GE/Jasco, Evolve, Ingersoll-Rand, Linear, FAKRO and Sigma Designs and now Lowes is selling z-wave compatible products. Products range from switch controls, thermostats, remote home door lock control (Schlage), water leak detectors, etc. If you're into Arduino or Raspberry Pi YouTube is full of DIY ideas such as custom garage door openers, lighting control, vent openers, IP cameras, etc.

    What originally attracted me to Z-wave is the ability to control devices from in the home or over a computer or smart phone.

    Especially attractive to me is the good compatibility between manufacturers.

    My problem with companies like Zuli and ZigBee is that the products offered are few and they're not compatible with other equipment. There are open-source initiatives in the Z-wave community as well.

    If you're looking for a G-wiz product to impress your friends an affordable 1-trick pony might work. But, if you are serious about home control and automation Z-wave currently looks like the best bet.
  • Future waves

    The idea, of course, is not a new one. Your proposed implementation (Unkonwn to me) might be good - or not. I am working in the same "AREA", but using GNU as much as possible, and working on a more complete system - Camera monitoring w/ follow movement, integrated alarm, etc.

    I wish you success in your venture - there will be no single solution - I'll learn from you. I'll pass on one item for investigation - HOUSE REWIRE & ARDUINO!