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Savant Systems Buys GE Lighting

The luxury home-automation company has its sights set on mass-market home networking, which giants like Amazon and Google have been trying to crack for years

2 min read
Photo of Reveal bulb packaging.
Photo: Elise Amendola/AP

If you were trying to identify the handful of companies that created a business out of the emergence of electrical engineering in the Victorian era, certainly the list would have to include General Electric. GE’s lighting business was established by Thomas Edison in 1892, and it was just sold to engineering wunderkind Robert Madonna and his team at Savant Systems, in Hyannis, Mass. Savant builds high-end home-networking systems for the well-heeled.

By buying GE Lighting—and licensing the use of the GE Lighting and GE Smart Home names—Savant hopes to become a force in the emerging market for home networking devices, a business that has been a battleground for some of the biggest names in technology: Amazon, Apple, and Google.

I spoke to Savant president J.C. Murphy about the acquisition and Savant’s plans for the future.

Can you tell me a little about where Savant came from?

Bob [Madonna] tells a funny story about buying a place in [New York City's] SoHo and getting his first automation system.

And so he bought this system and nothing really worked and it took weeks and weeks of programming to get simple functions up and working and when he would switch out a cable box or he’d switch out a TV, the whole system would come down and it was back to the drawing board.

That was really the beginning. He said, “I can definitely build a company and do this better.” And he took a lot of the thinking that we used previously in the telecommunications space in terms of reliability and redundancy, and fault tolerance, and we’ve imported that into what we build at Savant.

Basically, it’s a combination of hardware and software that ties the way you live in the home together through an elegant user experience. A simple app that’s on a touch pad or on your Android or iOS device, it basically allows the different things in your home to communicate seamlessly together. So your heating, and your lighting systems, and your audio and your video systems, and your security systems are all tied together in this unique app.

Our vision is to be able to expand that same quality look and feel to a broader marketplace. And obviously, we want to maintain the integrity of the Savant brand in this high-end custom home-automation area, but we want to import our technology into the iconic GE Lighting, and soon, the GE Smart Home brand, to bring it to more and more people at a better price point.

So why are lightbulbs central to this vision?

When you look at what you have in GE Lighting, it’s this unbelievable ability to build and manufacture and engineer quality products at scale.

There are some great individual point solutions out there, but there’s no company that has really introduced this at scale across the entire system. Our vision is to take the Savant DNA and technology and really build out an ecosystem of products and solutions that can be deployed very broadly.

This article appears in the July 2020 print issue as “Google Has Nest. Amazon Has Echo and Alexa. Savant Systems Has—GE Lighting!”

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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