SwitchBot – Teaching old Switches and Buttons new tricks

The SwitchBot Bots are small, battery-operated, Internet-of-Things (IoT) robotic switch (or button) presser. In short, it is a device with a robotic arm that physically toggle a switch or press a button. It can be triggered via Bluetooth LE or voice assistants (e.g. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri) when operated with the SwitchBot Hub Mini. The SwitchBot Bot retails for US$29. At this price, you can teach old mechanical switches new tricks – that is, to be IoT like their newer smart switch counterparts.

Using the SwitchBot in daily life

The SwitchBot works with just about any rocker switch or buttons as long as they are not too stiff or jammed. You can install them pretty quickly by sticking it near your switch with the provided 3M mounting tape. In case you are worrying about battery life, the manufacturer states that the user replaceable CR2 3V lithium battery would last about 600 days (~2 years) of use.

Storage water heater

Now the storage water heater can be controlled remotely via SwitchBot!

There are certain routines in life. Switching on (and off) the water heater is almost a common daily routine in humid Singapore. If you are using a storage water heater like me, you will probably need to switch it on for five (5) to 10 minutes before bathing. This does not include the time and effort to drag yourself out of the bed in the morning, walk to the water heater switch, flick it on, walk back and wait for the water to heat up before you shower. At the end of a tiring work day, don’t you wish that you can take a hot shower straightaway after you stepped in the house?

With SwitchBot, you can schedule the time to switch on or off the water heater. For example, schedule it to switch on the storage water heater 10 minutes before you wake up or reach home. Of course, setting it to switch it off as well. If you do not like the idea of scheduling, you can also switch it on remotely via the SwitchBot mobile app.

Ceiling fan

SwitchBot solved the nagging KDK ceiling fan issue I had

Although the KDK ceiling fan that I have comes with a remote controller, the remote controller does not differentiate between the “On” and “Off” signal. The same signal simply toggles the state of the fan – the fan turns on if it is currently off and vice versa. This is a problem when you have the ceiling fan as part of a sequenced routine like: (a) switching on the TV; then (b) switching on the TV tuner; then (c) changing video input to TV tuner; and lastly (e) switching on the ceiling fan. Life is not a bed of roses and the fan will definitely desync from the rest after a while.

Switching the KDK ceiling fan on (or off) via the wall mechanical switch is the sure-fire way. Not only will SwitchBot solve the routine sequence issue, it also allow you to switch off the fan if you forgot to do so while you are outside.

Unboxing the SwitchBot

Taking a look at the SwitchBot Bot

The SwitchBot Bot is the mechanical switch or button presser in the SwitchBot ecosystem. It is available in two colours, black or white, to suit the installation area. It is not exactly a small device but it is not an eye sore when mounted.

Taking a look at the SwitchBot Hub Mini

The SwitchBot Hub Mini is the Internet gateway/hub in the SwitchBot ecosystem. It bridges the Bluetooth LE peers (e.g. SwitchBot Bot, SwitchBot Curtain) to the Internet, allowing them to controlled via Cloud services like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, etc. Without this, you will not be able to control the devices remotely.

Using the SwitchBot

Installing the SwitchBot Bot on the rocker switch

Although the SwitchBot Bot is small, it requires a flat area of approximately 3.5 x 2.0 cm for the 3M mounting tape to adhere to. Insufficient mounting space may result in weaker pushing or pulling strength. In my case, I had to exercise a little creativity to mount the SwitchBot to prevent it from wobbling too much or falling off due to lack of mounting space on the switch’s faceplate.

I reckon that the lack of support on the lower half of the SwitchBot Bot would result in weaker pushing strength as it would be rocking its bottom. To reduce the amount of movement, I dug out some LEGO bricks and built a support for it. From the front, nobody would realise that there are LEGO bricks behind it.

Hooking up the software

You can control the SwitchBot Bot via the SwitchBot mobile app. Through the app, you can add and manage the various SwitchBot devices you own.

The SwitchBot Bot push buttons in two modes:

  1. Button. It is like pressing the buttons on the elevator panel or the Nespresso coffee machine. You can configure it to press and hold for 0, 1, 2 or more seconds before releasing.
  2. Switch. It is meant for those rocker switch. It can push and pull the rocker switch. The on/off direction can be switched around. That is, you can state that ‘On’ state requires the SwitchBot to pull instead of push.

If you intend to control the SwitchBot Bot using Cloud services like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, etc., you will need to enable Cloud Service feature for each of the SwitchBot Bots.

For Amazon Alexa, you will need to enable the skills for SwitchBot.

Controlling via Amazon Alexa

I will be controlling the SwitchBot Bot using Amazon Alexa. The SwitchBot Bot appears as one of the devices after the Alexa SwitchBot skill is enabled.

SwitchBot working with Alexa

Once everything is connected up, I was able to get Alexa to physically toggle the switch to the KDK ceiling fan. It does not toggle immediate due to the latency but I am not complaining. Now I can also do a “Alexa, turn on heater” with another SwitchBot Bot set up on the storage water heater’s switch.

Closing up

The SwitchBot Bot is an inexpensive way of making the existing mechanical switch smarter if you do not want to rewire it into smart switch. The convenience it brings about in automating daily routines (like switching on the water heater) is worthwhile.

It works for both button and rocker switch. The mounting could require some creativity. You can change on/off direction. That is, you can state that ‘On’ state requires the SwitchBot to pull instead of push. As for the battery life, I have only used the SwitchBot for a short while so I could not validate it but changing the battery is not a difficult task.

To maximise the benefits of the SwitchBot Bot, do get the SwitchBot Hub Mini too. Being able to control the devices remotely is pretty useful especially when you want a nice warm bath after getting caught in a sudden downpour.

On the whole, the SwitchBot is an awesome device with potential to solve a bunch of problems. It is just limited by your creativity.

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