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The Orro is yet another smart light switch with grand ambitions

It goes on sale today for $199

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Image: Orro

Smart light bulbs are a dime a dozen, but a new product called Orro is taking a crack at selling you a smart light switch. The Orro is a $199 gadget that is designed to replace any standard light switch. It’s designed to be exactly the size of a standard switch and easy to install in its place. Smart light switches costing about $50 each are pretty common these days, too, but the company behind the Orro is hoping its automated, learning software will make it stand out.

The pitch is pretty straightforward (with a side of not-so-straightforward claims about improving your sleep): the Orro can automatically set light levels in your room to an appropriate level. It detects your patterns and customizes itself to them, but it also tries to ensure that your lights are brightening and dimming throughout the day in a more natural way. It is designed to gently brighten your lights in the morning and dim them in the evening.

So, for example, if your room has a bunch of natural light in the afternoon, the Orro will be smart enough to not turn the lights on in that room. It’s a clever idea, but to pull it off, you’ll need to install Orro switches in any room where you want to use them. And at $199 a pop, that could get pricey. There’s another downside, too: it doesn’t work with smart light bulbs; Orro controls the lights directly through the electrical circuit where it’s wired.

Image: Orro
Image: Orro

The face of the Orro is a tiny little touchscreen, which you can drag your finger along to brighten or dim the lights. That touchscreen is also a button (and there’s another physical button underneath), so you can always just jab at it to toggle the lights as you would with any switch.

The actual smarts of the Orro live in its other sensors: there’s a motion sensor, proximity sensor, microphone, and ambient light sensor. It uses those sensors in concert to ensure the lights do what they’re supposed to. So if you’re sitting without moving, for example, the Orro will still be able to hear that you’re in the room and leave the lights on. It does not have a camera — fortunately.

Behind all of that is a box that contains the standard components you’d find in a smartphone: processor, RAM, Wi-Fi, memory, and an Android Open Source Project OS to power the whole thing. It’s essentially a tiny little computer in your wall, and it’s designed to work locally instead of needing to connect to the cloud to get everything done.

Put all that together, and, theoretically, you have a switch that is supposed to learn from your habits and then try to automatically turn your lights on and off or dim them based on what you normally do. Ideally, says CEO Colin Billings, you’ll get to the point where you’re rarely bothering to touch the light switch at all.

Billings hints at grander plans beyond turning lights on and off. Once you have this tiny Android computer in your wall, it theoretically could do all sorts of things via a software update: show your doorbell camera, let you talk to smart assistants, control other smart home gadgets, and more. The Orros are linked to each other via a mesh network, so they could become nodes of an ambient computing network in your wall.

That’s all a lot of promises, none of which have come to pass. For now, the Orro is very, very, very far from the first smart light switch we’ve seen, nor is it the first smart light switch with a touchscreen. And though it’s compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, it doesn’t use the microphones on board to let you talk to them (yet). Given that it doesn’t work with smart light bulbs, the early adopter crowd that might be interested in this kind of product could be put off.

As it stands today, the Orro seems to be designed for somebody who wants smart lights but also doesn’t want to deal with any of the apps or hubs that go with them. That’s not the worst pitch for a smart switch in the world, but it’s probably not as unique as it needs to be to be a hit. Perhaps it works so elegantly that its shortcomings won’t matter, but we’ll have to actually review it to find out.