An update on all those SmartThings


As a group, those of us building SmartThings have worked together for a number of years in an agile fashion. We iterate, tweak, adjust, change, and otherwise break and fix things in rapid succession. Now, we’ve brought that style to the world of hardware, and while we are happy with where we are now, the repercussions of this method in hardware are a bit different than in software. With circuit design, physical testing, firmware development, battery choices, enclosure designs, material selections, and so much more to consider, I am surprised we have come this far, this quickly. Here is a run down of where we are for each Thing (and the hub):

SmartThings Hub

To simplify the FCC certification requirements, speed development, and meet deadlines we made the decision early in our Kickstarter campaign to remove the cellular and Bluetooth radios. This allowed us to do two great things: add a Z-Wave radio to accomodate those devices people may buy “off-the-shelf” and change the power requirement so that we need only a Micro USB power cable that will make it much easier for our international backers and customers to use in their countries.

We’ve replaced the ZigBee radio with a chip that uses our custom ThingModule firmware. It also includes a ZigBee radio. With each of the ZigBee and Z-Wave radios we’ve improved the antennas and we boosted the power of the ZigBee radio so that signal strength won’t be a problem across the average home.

Motion Sensor

We’ve changed the battery clips for the motion sensor after finding that it was sometimes easy to knock one or both of the AA batteries loose. We’ve also added a USB power option in the event that some want to conserve batteries and just leave the sensor plugged into the wall or a computer. We’ve designed the enclosure in a way that allows for it to stand in multiple orientations or be mounted in the corner of a wall or ceiling. Though you maybe cannot tell from the photo of the 3D print above, we’re still not quite happy about the size (too big) and have revised the design and are printing the first copy of the new design at the office today.

Contact Sensor

More power tweaks: In an effort to make sure we hit our goal of measuring battery life by year between replacements, we altered the contact sensor to use 2 AAAA’s (yes that is 4 A’s) instead of the coin cell batteries we were using. We’ve also replaced the magnet we were using but that decision and the enclosure design are still in flux.


Last but not least, here is a run down of the changes we made to the multi-sensor SmartTag: After breaking several battery holders we changed it out for a sturdier way to hold the coin cell battery in place. We also decided that it was worth the delay and changes to the enclosure for the SmartTag to add a speaker. This will add some functionality to perhaps find your keys with a beeping sound. We’re sure there will be a lot more uses for the speaker, and we’re excited to see how it ends up being used in SmartApps.

The SmartTag hardware, in full enclosure, was submitted for comprehensive FCC certification testing. The battery of tests is impressive! Covering duty cycle, bandwidth measurements, radiated measurements for the integrated antenna and peak power output, and spurious emissions within the frequencies we use. It has passed all of its tests and is compliant with all applicable FCC guidelines and regulations. The FCC filing itself is now underway. The team is excited and proud of this milestone.

As you can see we’ve been making changes but we are finally seeing the results of those efforts and we’re excited to share them with you. We’ve got more in store very soon, too. Look for an update for details of a new web-based IDE that you can use to create virtual and real SmartApps.

Something about Ben Edwards

Avatar of Ben EdwardsCo-Founder of SmartThings and heading up Community engagement while keeping a foot in product design and development.

14 Responses to An update on all those SmartThings

  1. Avatar of Josh D
    Josh D November 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Awesome – can’t wait to get my hands on the hub and sensors!

  2. Peter November 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    Thanks for the update! I reckon it will take some time to produce all of the things since you haven’t decided on the design? Getting the ramp going, adjusting design, fixing the yield. Nevertheless I am really excited and please take the time you need!

  3. Jason November 20, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    I am still very curious as to whether or not the hub will have the capability to upgrade to include a cellular radio in the hub. If it will not be upgradable, i’m curious as to if us initial (no monthly fee backers) will get the ability to upgrade to a hub with cellular and keep the no monthly fee perk. I know the device being cellular seemed to be your original intention for its use, (as well as mine.)

    Still, great to see process and i’m excited for what lies ahead!

  4. Avatar of Eric Schuld
    Eric Schuld November 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Awesome to see some of those changes – thanks!

    @Jason – from what I’ve seen and understand – I don’t think you will ever see a free cellular option. From my understanding – they put the cellular chip into the hub and THEY (being SmartThings) pay the bill on the cellular service. Your monthly subscription fee covers the costs they incur for having the cellular chip/service in the hub. You would not have the option of putting your own SIM card in for example and using your own cell plan. Kind of how the Amazon Kindle (eReader – not tablet) works over the AT&T network… while the amazon solution in this case is “free” to the end user – there are certainly fees that Amazon has to pay to have that cellular access. The SmartThings cellular hub would most certainly use more data than a kindle – hence why you would see the monthly fee for the cellular hub… no way around it I fear.

  5. Avatar of chrisb
    chrisb November 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm #


    I asked a similar question on Kickstarter a while back. My concern was if a Hub broke and a replacement was needed. They said that replacement hubs would be granted the “no fee” right.

    Not sure if that would apply exactly to cellular upgrades or not. My guess is they could “move” the no fee to the new hub, but then the hold hub if you still used it would start getting the monthly fee. I would also guess this would be beside any cellular data fee that you have to pay to the cellular company that you contract with.

    Don’t quote me this of course. Just my opinion.

  6. Phil November 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Thanks for the update. Do you have any “things” finished so you can show us some pictures? Also that’s great that you added the speaker to the smart tag… I would love to see a microphone in there as well, so you can use it as a sound sensor… (think of the clapper, but more advanced). I’d also love to see some sort of camera, that can send you pictures when stuff happens. (Like when someone opens the door it takes a picture of who opened it and sends you a text or push notification)

  7. Avatar of freetobelee
    freetobelee November 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    A little disappointed that cellular is being dropped from the hub, but really, only time will tell which customers will truly need that as a feature. I do hope it comes to the hubs soon so we’ll have the option.

    I’m REALLY excited about the speaker on the smart tag. I hope we’ll be able to customize the sound it plays :)

  8. FredM November 28, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    I’m disappointed that there won’t be cellular. Not the end of the world but it would of been a really good backup connection to standard wifi.

    How will that affect us backers? How will it affect future buyers’ monthly fees?

  9. Avatar of Cal
    Cal November 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Which ZigBee application profile is supported? Is it ZigBee Home Automation, Smart Energy, RF4CE, Light Link, etc…?

    • Avatar of Ben Edwards
      Ben Edwards November 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Thanks for the question. ZigBee Home Automation (HA) is what is supported at this point but we are looking into Smart Energy and Light Link. There is a good chance that even if a different protocol is used we’ll be able to integrate with other devices at the API level.

      • Tim December 10, 2012 at 10:27 am #

        May be the wrong forum but this was the first contact I have been able to find. I was a part of the original kick starter investor group. Who would I contact to see where my deliveries may be, I haven’t heard back. Thanks-Tim

  10. Clark January 25, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    I’m really disappointed to see that they have removed the cellular. To be frank, this was the primary reason I was interested in this solution. If you have a modern internet connection, remote monitoring is easy and there are dozens of new devices being released that make it easier every day. However, if you don’t have a modern internet option (my situation) your choices are far more limited. For my use case, removing the cellular radio removes nearly ALL of the value that the product was to provide. Additionally, without the cell service, the idea of a monthly fee is a joke and thus there is no value in a waived monthly service fee. One final complaint – the communication of this change was also poor. This should have been communicated more frequently and more prominently as this is a major change to the feature set.

    • Avatar of Garrett Steagall
      Garrett Steagall January 25, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      @Clark Cellular is awesome. And this may be built out in future revisions. We weren’t sure if it would be included in our initial launch so we made sure to put it on the front page of Kickstarter:

      “Note: SmartThings Packs will support a variety of connectivity methods, including Ethernet, cellular, Zigbee, Z-wave, and Bluetooth. The initial launch units will be U.S. only, and may or may not include cellular connectivity.”

      And noted that ethernet is the connectivity medium on our website FAQ:

      “The SmartThings Hub connects to the Internet by an ethernet cable. It communicates with wireless and wired devices with radios. You can interact with SmartThings via your smartphone, tablet, or web browser.”

      I had someone mention SimpliSafe to me. Much different, more security-based. They give you “FREE” cell service, but only if you purchase the $14.99 monthly monitoring plan. I’m not sure if there’s a company out there that does provide the free cellular. Just like cell phones, service isn’t cheap :(

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