Crowdsourcing, innovation and advanced manufacturing techniques are at the heart of a unique partnership between The Business Council member General Electric and Quirky. A year ago GE and Quirky partnered to share patents and together were able to develop a line of smartphone app-enabled products, including the “smartest air conditioner in the world” that launched just last week.
Quirky partnered with GE Appliances to make the air conditioner, called Aros, and it should be on Home Depot shelves in fewer than three months. Another member of The Business Council, Con Edison, is even looking to offer a rebate to New York City dwellers who use the product because of its energy-saving potential.
The partnership also resulted in an announcement this week that Quirky will establish a call center and testing lab in downtown Schenectady, home to several GE installations including its global research and development center.
The Quirky-GE partnership is just the beginning, said GE Global Research Director Mark Little at a news conference announcing Quirky’s move to Schenectady.
“We are a gigantic global company that spends billions every year on innovation,” he said. “We search the world for great partners to work with. We found an outstanding partner in Quirky. We combine our technical might and skill with a startup company that has tremendous energy to innovate around the world. This is a combination that can’t be beat.”
“GE and Schenectady gave the world electricity, the first television broadcast, the steam turbine and dozens of other transformative inventions,” said Quirky founder and CEO Ben Kaufman in a news release. “We can’t wait to set up shop here and be a part of that history. We’re really excited to join this community — which continues to be a world leader in technology and manufacturing — and continue Schenectady’s tradition of innovation.”
Quirky gives anybody with an idea, the potential to be an inventor. In September 2013, when Kaufman was 26, New York Magazine profiled the company and offered this explanation for how it all works:
“Here’s Ben Kaufman’s business, in capsule form. You have an idea for an invention. You submit your concept, one of 3,000 per week, to his website, Quirky. Hundreds of users vote on it, and the most up-voted ideas rise to the top of the pile. Then, every Thursday night, 200 people gather under a bank of webcams, with Kaufman and three or four other people up front, where they pick over the front-runners. Viewers weigh in again, and the room chooses three items to put into development, with Quirky’s engineers taking over. (They once got a kitchen item — an egg separator called Pluck — into Bed Bath & Beyond 29 days after it was selected.) If you voted for, say, the winning color, your name will appear, in micro-type, on the product’s packaging, and you’ll get a tiny slice of the profits. It’s a pretty rare company that’s so hippieish — Let’s have everyone get a say! — yet so purely free-market.”
When people buy the world’s smartest air conditioner, they will know that it’s a Quirky product, but also that it was invented by a guy named Garthen Leslie from Maryland. Leslie was working at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., when he came up with the idea for an air conditioner that knows when you’re on your way home.
“These air conditioners are a huge energy hog,” said Kaufman. “And [Garthen] thought, someone should make a smart air conditioner that learns your preferences and only turns itself on when you absolutely need it. He couldn’t just make an air conditioner though. So he sat on the idea until he heard about Quirky. He saw us on the Jay Leno show and submitted his idea and his idea got voted up.”