Switcheroo: The Simplest Smart Plug Available
Have a wall plug that’s not controlled by the light switch? Switcheroo allows you to change which wall plug receptacles are affected by a light switch. No construction. No app. Just plug ‘n play. A simple, reliable smart plug.
I met Mike in late 2015, when I was still living in Greensburg, PA. A mutual friend introduced us. Mike had an idea and wanted help on design and product development. He had recently left his 9-5 to pursue his dream of starting a company and launching a product. Mike asked if I’d be able to help out with the design and development of his idea. We discussed things like timelines, experience and design function. Burgers and beers were had, hands were shaken and so it began.
We’ve all experienced it before. You go to flick the light switch on the wall up and no lights turn on. Or maybe the wall switch only controls one out of three plug outlets. Usually, solving this problem requires expensive and risky renovations. Another solution is to use a smart plug device dependent on a smart phone app and wifi connection. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simpler smart plug solution. Something you just plug in and it works? This was the problem Mike set out to solve and recruited me to help.
Mike decided early on that he wanted to use unobtrusive technology. He explained to me that his target customer was his mother. Mikes mom is not the ‘smart phone app type’. The goal was to avoid technology that required the user to learn anything new or change their habits.
The Switcheroo smart plug uses radio frequency to pair a switched outlet to other non-switched outlets. All you need to do is turn a dial to set the channel on each device and plug them into the wall. The device is so simple, it doesn’t need a manual or app to function. Now, we had a solution. Next, it was time to design the solution into an ideal package.
Switcheroo had to look at home in as many wall outlets as possible. Modern, minimal, simple and friendly. These are the are aesthetics I set out to achieve in the final smart plug design.
I began sketching on paper to explore possible forms for the casing. For the most part, I was designing a ‘house’ for the electronics inside the device. The goal was to keep Switcheroo as small as possible. This lead me to more space-efficient geometric forms.
An important part of the design process is testing. We tested to see if our smart plug design was intuitive enough. We needed to end up with something that didn’t require explanation or a user manual. Using cardboard models, we learned a bit about how people were likely to use Switcheroo.
Plugging the cardboard model into other outlets taught us a few things. This revealed that not all outlets are ideally placed. Quite often, there’s a piece of furniture in front of an outlet. This meant moving the plug location to the side(s) of the device.
The first discovery lead to another, which was the need to have a plug on both sides of the device. At best, this adds another plug to your wall outlet.
Another clever feature is the recessed face. By recessing the face, the dial remains protected from potential damage when furniture gets pushed up against Switcheroo.
Analog UI Design
After solidifying the design of the device, we looked to solve the problem of user interface. Since this smart plug works without an app, we relied on simple, instructive graphic design. As long as the sending device’s character matches the receiving device(s) character it works. The color and typeface fit the original prompt of modern, minimal, simple and friendly. And if you don’t see color well, the different values will help you use Switcheroo.
Now that we’d committed to the design of the casing and graphics, it was time to prototype. Digital prototyping included creating a 3D CAD model and 3D printing each part. I handled the 3D modeling using SolidWorks. The electrical engineer would hand-solder a PCB and we would hand-assemble the device. Finally, decals were made to apply the graphics to the front of Switcheroo.
It was around this time, I moved from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn, NY and became Luxion’s Global Training Specialist.
Mike used this prototype to test gauge public interest for the product during a networking event. He was able to show how Switcheroo worked and people could touch and try the product for themselves.
Bringing Switcheroo to Market
During the prototype phase, Mike worked with factories to secure manufacturing quotes. Armed with quotes and a working prototype, Mike created a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Once enough people backed the project, he could move forward with manufacturing.
Though I’d moved to New York by this point, Mike kept me updated as he refined the manufacturing samples with the production facilities. I created some photo-real renderings for the website and the Kickstarter campaign.
Early 2018, Switcheroo shipped to all Kickstarter backers. Shortly after, Mike and I were granted a US design patent for Switcheroo.