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!”
Susan Hassler is Editor in Chief Emeritus of IEEE Spectrum. During her editorship, Spectrum has won numerous awards for both its print and online efforts, including five Grand Neal Awards and a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in the Thought Leader category.