A Bend electronics company is preparing the first shipment of its smart light switch, Brightswitch, which it hopes will join the ranks of Nest and other Wi-Fi-enabled home products.
Brightswitch is majority-owned by Bellatrix Systems Inc., which began in the 1980s by making electronic coin readers for single-copy newspaper boxes. Now the company produces pick-up indicators for FedEx drop boxes and dispensers for pheromones, which are used by farms and orchards as an alternative to pesticides.
Bellatrix has a long history of inventing and manufacturing electronic devices, but Brightswitch is its first foray into smart devices. CEO and co-inventor Ray Lundy, who is also chief operating officer of Bellatrix, said that to develop Brightswitch, the company turned to new investors via the crowd-sourcing site Indiegogo.com, raising $135,000 over two months, plus others who lent expertise to the project. One of the new investors is an angel investor from California, he said.
After two years of development, Brightswitch is close to shipping its first units to Indiegogo supporters, as well as people who preordered through the company’s website, www.getbrightswitch.com, Lundy said. He hopes to ship more than 1,000 units by October. Once preorders are shipped, Lundy said Brightswitch will be available through online retailers, including Amazon.com.
While there are numerous smart products for homes on the market, from Nest’s thermostat and smoke detector to internet-connected lighting systems, a market research analyst said Brightswitch is the first product that replaces a standard light switch with a touch screen.
Brightswitch has multiple functions, including intercom and home security, and it can tie into a complete home-automation hub, Lundy said, but it doesn’t have to.
“The point of Brightswitch is it is a light switch,” he said.
At its most basic level, one Brightswitch, which costs $149, can control five lights. To install Brightswitch, one replaces the standard electrical box with Brightswitch’s proprietary box that includes a data connector, which looks like a slim USB port. The touchscreen unit plugs into the data port. Then the user connects it to the home Wi-Fi system and tells the computer whether the light switch is a dimmer or three-way.
Brightswitch has a people sensor and a learning mode, so it can learn the household’s habits, and it can stream music via Pandora and run other Android applications. It’s compatible with the home-automation hub SmartThings.
But Lundy thinks the way to draw more of the home-products market into smart devices is to keep them simple.
“You take one product in the home that people are used to, and you make it really neat, and really powerful, and really good-looking.”
Consumers appear to be getting more comfortable with total home automation, said Brad Russell, a research analyst with Parks Associates. Currently, 52 percent of households with smart switches use them in conjunction with a home security or a home control system, he said. Among people who intend to buy smart switches in the future, 61 percent plan to use them that way.
The biggest difference between Brightswitch and a near-competitor like Philips Hue might be its looks. Most smart-home devices are designed to blend into the home’s design, Russell said. Brightswitch is about the size of an iPhone Plus.
“Maybe some consumers new to smart home will find a touchpad switch interesting if they have no prior experience with home control or home security,” he said.
Lundy said he’s confident in the Brightswitch design because of feedback from Indigogo investors. Several of them wanted more than one Brightswitch, which he said is not much more expensive than a high-end dimmer. Brightswitch doesn’t yet have shelf space with a brick-and-mortar retailer, and Lundy hopes to work with larger partners to scale up sales. He’s in discussion with Los Angeles-area home builders, as well as a major electronics manufacturer.
Final assembly of Brightswitch will take place at the Bellatrix headquarters on the east side of Bend.
Bellatrix, which employs five to 50 people at a time, depending on the season, recently sold its former headquarters on Emkay Drive for $2 million, CEO Steve Morris said. The majority of proceeds went to Bellatrix’s original investors and to pay off debt, but a portion recapitalized Bellatrix, which is supporting the launch of Brightswitch.
“That’s kind of the future of the company,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7860, firstname.lastname@example.org .
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the length of time it took to raise $135,000 on Indiegogo.com was incorrect.
The Bulletin regrets the error.