Summer seems so far away, especially if you live in freezing New York like I do, but we’ll get there eventually, and when we do it’s always better be prepared with an air conditioner on your side.
The good news is that, as of this summer, you can have not just a regular AC, but one that “gets smarter over time, learning from users’ schedules, habits, location, weather information and past usage.” Welcome to the age of Aros!
Presented earlier this month, Aros, which is described as a “truly brilliant air conditioner” (I guess “smart” didn’t feel right in this case), is the result of an ongoing collaboration between General Electric and Quirky. What makes Aros interesting is not just the fact that it is the first “brilliant” AC and how it advances the vision of Internet of Things, but also what it means in terms of the relationships between the new collaborative, open economy and the more traditional one.
GE needs no introduction, but if you’re not familiar with Quirky, this is a collaborative innovation platform that was founded by Ben Kaufman in 2009, aiming to make innovation accessible to all.
Here’s how it works: If you have an idea, you sign up for Quirky and submit it for consideration. Ideas are vetted by Quirky’s community, and the favorite ones move on forward to be evaluated by Quirky’s team based on their design, marketability and business viability. The most promising ideas will be developed and refined by Quirky’s designers and engineers, and are eventually offered for sale. Quirky then shares 10 percent of the revenues with the inventor and other community members who took part in the product’s development.
This is the path Dr. Garthen Leslie, the inventor of the Aros, went through. Leslie, former Department of Energy executive, became tired of the need to choose between using a wasteful air conditioner at home and suffering from summer heat as he puts it, and started thinking about developing a better, smart AC. He came up with an idea and submitted it to Quirky.
“After receiving the submission for this invention, it was clear that this was a product that absolutely needed to exist, but [also] a challenge that most companies would shy away from,” Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman said.
Fast-forward through Quirky’s development process and the resulting product of Leslie’s idea is Aros — a beautifully designed 8,000 BTU air conditioner that can gather information about your budget, location, schedule and usage. “It learns from this data over time to automatically maintain the perfect temperature and maximize savings for your home.” Using Quirky’s Wink app on your mobile device, you can monitor, program and control Aros from anywhere. And it’s even quite affordable — you can pre-order now it on Amazon for $300.
Now, Quirky didn’t do this by itself. GE also played an important role here – from providing AC engineering know-know, and helping the inventor improve and finish the machine in just a few months, to using its appliances factory in order to lower the unit’s cost.
The collaboration between the companies is not a one-time event, but a continuation of an ongoing partnership between the two, which was expanded last year to co-create a line of smart home devices, co-branded as Wink: Instantly Connected. In addition, GE invested $30 million in Quirky and also granted Quirky access to thousands of its patents.
A few interesting products were already released to the market under the Wink brand, but they were mostly nice-to-have gadgets like the egg minder, a smart egg tray wirelessly connected to your mobile device that tracks the number of eggs you have and tells you when they’re going bad. Aros, on the other hand, provides a smart (and affordable) alternative to a product used by more than 25 million American households, and therefore can be the first Wink product to become widely popular.
This could definitely be a breakthrough moment for GE, which has been looking for sometime to get a foot into the Internet of Things (or Industrial Internet, as it calls it) space. If this will be indeed GE’s “Nest moment,” I’m sure it won’t remain unnoticed that it happened thanks to the collaboration with Quirky and not due to GE’s own R&D efforts, which have been responsible for 80 years of developing new air conditioners.
In any event, Aros already provides an example of effective relationships between a traditional company and a collaborative platform. GE utilizes Quirky to leverage its strengths, including scale, technology expertise and efficient supply chain and overcome its weaknesses, such as (the lack of) speed and openness to new ideas and audiences. Quirky also benefits from this partnership, receiving funding and access to valuable knowledge and resources and gaining the ability to scale up quickly.
Still, looking at the big picture, it’s not clear yet what impact the collaboration between Quirky and GE will have on the innovation capabilities of GE. Will it change them radically or incrementally? It will probably take few more years to figure it out and will depend on many factors, including the market success of the Wink products.
In the meantime what we do know for fact is that GE has managed through the collaboration with Quirky to create an extended arm to its R&D department, one that is edgy, speedy, mastering the art crowdsourcing, and has gave us the opportunity to finally have a truly brilliant air conditioner.
Image credit: Quirky
Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Design and Management at Parsons The New School of Design. You can follow Raz on Twitter.