Broadlink uses crowdfunding to try to hook you on home automation

SmartONE kit
Credit: Broadlink

Home automation and the smart home movement in general hasn't really hit mainstream yet, but it's getting there little by little. The way I see it there are two main barriers to entry: the confusion around competing protocols, and the cost.

Broadlink is trying to do something about these issues, and particularly about cost. They're offering the SmartONE kit on crowdfunding site and if you're quick enough (quantities are limited) you can get started for less than a $50 pledge (though additional shipping costs from China will apply).

So what's in the SmartONE kit? There's the S1 module, which is the 'brains' of the system. It can support up to 16 modules. Different pledge levels get different packages of sensors but as of the time of this writing the $44 level was still available. It comes with the S1, a motion sensor called the PIR, a door sensor and a remote for the system. The $72 level includes the S1, 3 motion sensors, 3 door sensors and the remote.

So what can you do with it? Well with what's included in the kits all you can really do is set alarms (sent via a smartphone app) for when a door opens or movement is detected in a room.

In order to actually control things you'll need smart switches. These seem to run between $25 & $30. Broadlink says:

Besides working with their own range of smart plugs, smart switches and other devices, Broadlink are also making their S1 developer kits - called Broadlink DNA - freely and widely available to third-party companies who want to make their products compatible with the S1. Cellphone giant Huawei is one of the partners already on board, and Broadlink are already working on making the S1 compatible with Apple’s HomeKit.

It's a shame that the SmartONE kit doesn't include a smart switch. Integration with Apple's HomeKit should mean that compatible hardware becomes a lot more common, at least once Apple gets the HomeKit system up and running, but by then there might be competing 'packs' of smart home components that have everything included.

In the end this all feels like a little bit of a gamble, but at the same time it's not a lot of money. I'd feel better about backing this project if I knew how much shipping from China was going to cost and if compatible smart switches were available at a big retailer like Amazon or Best Buy (or even better, included in the crowdfunded bundle). Best Buy does offer a selection of smart switches but none from Broadlink and the ones they have support other protocols which quickly became confusing to me, the smart home neophyte.

The bottom line is Broadlink seems to be addressing the cost issue and that's good news, but I think home automation still needs to get simpler before the average consumer is going to bother with it. If Broadlink could've included a switch or two with the SmartONE package they would've had a much stronger offering.

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