Feb 11, 2022
1,294 words | 4.5 minutes
A young Ottawa company is using its Internet of Things outlets, switches and sensors to revolutionize industries — from ag-tech to elder care.
A product that is on the cutting edge of the Internet of Things is poised to become a household name in construction, ag-tech, seniors living, air quality and security, just to name a few. And Ottawa is proud to have a hand in its success.
Swidget is a technology company that designs and manufactures electrical devices (outlets and switches) and smart sensor inserts that allow devices to monitor everything from humidity in a farming situation to anomalies in the home of seniors who live alone.
Swidget’s patented design separates the wiring device from the modular smart technology in the insert, allowing clients to easily update as their technology or needs change. Swidget devices are installed the same as any other wiring device and work either in new construction or in renovations using a building’s existing wiring.
“We have a proprietary ecosystem of sensors built into electrical devices that characterize many attributes of one’s environment and can, for example, monitor and control ventilation or security systems and provide notifications to family members when anomalies occur in the daily patterns of seniors, among many other applications,” explains Swidget CEO Cam Wilson. “What the company does is make hardware that is calibrated to provide data for multiple industries — from security, air quality, elder care and ag-tech. There are many verticals we can reach by mixing and matching our sensors and devices to satisfy a particular need.”
Swidget, which launched in 2019 and then restarted in 2020 after redeveloping its software, now goes to market through strategic partnerships. Its largest and newest is Panasonic, which has exclusive distribution of Swidget product throughout North America in the electrical and HVAC channels. Wilson expects the value of that relationship to top $10 million by next year. Swidget products will also retail at Home Depot as part of the Panasonic deal.
Swidget is also making an impression with celebrity influencers such as Mike Holmes. As an Approved Holmes Team member, Swidget products will be installed in homes and featured on his new series Holmes Family Rescue.
“As a result, we’re making a lot of progress into the building community,” Wilson says.
Swidget is also working with PhD students at the University of Waterloo on a seniors’ living project partly funded by the Ontario Centre of Innovation. The company has a couple of test apartments on the university campus and seniors volunteer to allow their movements to be tracked. The sensors and artificial intelligence can report any anomalies in behaviour and notify nursing staff or a family member.
“The project is to build AI around the data we provide, without being intrusive,” Wilson says. “For example, if a loved one usually passes a motion sensor in the hallway at 8 a.m., our inconspicuous sensor would show that had happened. Our temperature and humidity sensor could let you know when the shower was running, and yet another sensor could detect when the kettle has been turned on or when a bathroom light went on, and so on. Without a camera or microphone, we can characterize the behaviour and anomalies and then follow up with a family member.”
Swidget is also working with Telus and the Canadian Internet Registry Association (CIRA) to connect its Internet of Things devices over 5G on the Telus network.
“The idea of this project, which is called IOT Safe, is zero-touch provisioning,” Wilson says. “You scan our insert, and on the phone, it automatically pings the CIRA database for an authentication token before it can get on to the Telus network.”
Successful partnership attributed to Invest Ottawa
Swidget has had successful interactions with Invest Ottawa over the past two years and credits the organization for its partnership with Telus. Telus has an annual crowdfunding campaign with its 78,000 employees and this year, Telus is facilitating Swidget equity to employees.
“It is an honour and a feather in our cap to be selected,” Wilson says. “I believe they would only do it with companies that have some future commercial relevance for Telus.”
The company is also working toward an offering in ag-tech to monitor the levels of ammonia, mould and other environmental attributes of concern in agriculture.
“We’re going down the path of being able to sense anything and everything in one’s environment,” Wilson says. “There are a lot of products that will tell you something’s wrong, but they can’t do anything about it. Ours will tell you there’s something wrong and trigger a mitigation device that will take care of it for you. That’s why Panasonic has partnered with us.”
The next product launch will be an HD video camera, in the second quarter of 2022 and the working prototypes were demonstrated at the International Builders Show in Orlando. Next on the product roadmap are radon, particulate matter and CO detection, based on new intellectual property filed late last year.
Swidget has also taken advantage of the ENCQOR 5G testbed provided through Invest Ottawa and Wilson has met with advisers and entrepreneurs-in-residence.
“Just knowing they’re there is a help,” he says.
And, being introduced by Invest Ottawa experts to potential clients raises the profile of a young company such as Swidget.
“Telling them we are involved in the ENCQOR program and having introductions from Invest Ottawa gave us more credibility and legitimacy with Telus and CIRA,” Wilson says. “Had we not been part of the testbed, we would have been a more dubious candidate.”
In December 2020, the company opened a second office in Ottawa in addition to its original Kingston office, to access a larger talent pool. Since then, Swidget has added 15 new staff members to its team, which now totals 21.
“The level of support that is available from OCI and Invest Ottawa was one of the factors that drew me to Ottawa,” Wilson says. “
The 5G testbed also allowed the company to explore a partnership with Canarm in Brockville, which supplies farm equipment. Swidget is working on incorporating 5G into Canarm’s ventilation and water trough equipment because not all agricultural facilities and buildings have internet and 5G offers a way to provide connectivity to sensors.
“Without 5G, that wouldn’t even be a discussion,” Wilson says. “And that’s just one project.”
Besides allowing Swidget to access new verticals, 5G will allow the company to branch out into new regions.
“We’re a young company and we really just got a reasonably full line of product put onto the market,” he says. “The team of people we hired are fantastic and we probably have the best app and software in terms of privacy, cybersecurity and user functionality. It has been tested by Panasonic in Japan, and they love it and are adopting it. Because of the form factor of our devices — the switches and the outlets — Japan is the next market for us.”
As Swidget prepares for a Series A investment round, Wilson will access more of Invest Ottawa’s consulting services,
“I will engage with them,” Wilson says. “I’ll certainly use the services more now than I have before. And we will continue to use the testbed.”
Swidget received a number of awards in 2021, including Best Technology/Educational Service of the year from the National Association of Home Builders’ Global Innovation Awards and the EnerQuality Innovation Gauntlet Award for its smart ventilation solution. Kicking off 2022, Swidget won the Best of IBS Award for Best Kitchen and Bath Product. The award was announced on February 10 at the International Builders Show.
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