New wireless technology lets Santa Cruz company set the lights just right

mstdimSanta Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — Coming home to a darkened porch or forgetting to turn the lights off could a be thing of the past if Santa Cruz entrepreneur Juergen Kienhoefer is successful in selling his first consumer product: the SmartDimmer, a low-energy light switch product that lets people control the lights in their house from their smartphone and desktop computer.

Sold under the brand name AIRcable, the SmartDimmer is the first light switch controller in an emerging family of products on the market that use Bluetooth Low Energy, a wireless technology recently seen in smartphone fitness and glucose monitoring devices. It can be programmed and can react to ambient lighting to change its intensity according to the current light in a room.

“It has features you’ve never seen anywhere else before,” Kienhoefer said, noting that the SmartDimmer will be able to run for years on a single set of batteries and doesn’t need a cumbersome network infrastructure or expensive proprietary light bulbs as do other wireless light control products that are currently on the market.

The technology, which has received positive reviews in the trade industry, uses regular LED light bulbs and a companion switch that uses two AAA batteries and can be installed anywhere in a home to talk with the software on a smartphone. It uses long-range Bluetooth Low Energy 4.0 transmitters rather than wi-fi technology.

“The energy saving aspect of this device is fantastic. You can monitor how much energy your house consumes for lighting.”

Wireless Cables Inc. has been providing wireless technology products to business for a decade.

In July, Kienhoefer turned to crowdfunding, an online fundraising effort, to support development of the new product. For $39 investors can get a SmartDimmer Starter Kit that includes a light switch module for the wall that is paired with iPhone software. An android-compatible version is on the way.

“We thought it would be the best way to get into higher production,” Kienhoefer said, noting that, if successful, the effort posted on Indiegogo (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/aircable-smartdimmer-tm) will provide immediate funds as well as a legion of committed customers. The fundraising effort, slated to end Aug. 18, however, has only raised $1,604 to date as of Monday, a small portion of its $39,000 goal.

Friday, Kienhoefer was at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History showing off his SmartDimmer as part of the new “Hack the Museum” exhibit debut for First Friday. Visitors were able to control lights at the exhibit through iPhones. He created the prototypes at the local MakersFactory, a 3-D production printing facility in Santa Cruz.

These products “have been slowly coming to market and we’re starting to see an explosion of them now,” said Mike Foley, the former executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a 15-year-old organization supporting the standardization of wireless technology. “People have been trying to go after the smart home for years and years and it just hasn’t taken off for many reasons,” mainly, Foley said, the technology has been too “nerdy and tough to use.” Low power wireless technology changes that.

“There are all sorts of new and innovative uses that are utilizing Bluetooth low energy,” Foley said. “With Bluetooth being such a ubiquitous technology, it has the potential to enter the mainstream now. I think this one really has the chance of succeeding where others have failed.”

Follow Sentinel correspondent Jennifer Pittman at Twitter.com/jenniferpittman

At a glance

Wireless Cables Inc.

WHAT: Wireless Cables designs, manufactures and sells Bluetooth based wireless products under the brand name AIRcable. Products serve as long-range wireless accessories for handheld devices, laptops, wireless serial and USB cable replacement products for industry.
HEADQUARTERS: 2880 Zanker Road, Suite 203, San Jose, CA 95134
INFORMATION: 408-954-7301; www.aircable.net
HISTORY: Founded in 2003 in Santa Cruz as a virtual company
FINANCIALS: The privately owned company reports about $500,000 in annual revenues.
INVESTORS: Currently raising funds through crowdsourcing to introduce its first consumer product. For more information, visit: www.indiegogo.com/projects/aircable-smartdimmer-tm
GOAL: Kienhoefer hopes to see the SmartDimmer on retail shelves by year-end and eventually to create other devices using the same low energy technology as well.

 

This article appeared here.

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