This gadget lets you control your window blinds with your voice
Brunt, a Korean startup specialising in tasteful tech, has the answer to a question I've been asking for years: where are all the smart blinds? The Brunt Blind Engine, a fully-funded campaign on Kickstarter, is a small, surprisingly elegant device that turns most types of blinds into automated smart blinds, complete with Amazon Alexa voice control. It's priced at just $99 on Kickstarter (£75), with a planned $150 (£112) price at retail.
That might seem steep, particularly considering Blind Engine doesn't include a blind, but as someone that has spent the better part of two years searching for a such a device, it's very reasonable indeed.
Internet of things devices have taken what was once the preserve of the rich and put it in the hands of the common consumer. Complex home automation that would have once required custom installation can be achieved with a handful of smart hubs and a mobile phone. You can even add voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. But few IoT companies – and certainly not any ones you will have heard of—have successfully tackled the smart blind.
Lutron's Serena Smart Shades are well regarded, but cost $350 (plus another $150 for a smart hub) and aren't available in the UK. Somfy's motorised blinds require an installer, and don't integrate with third-party smart home tech. MySmartBlinds, a motor that attaches to existing blinds, is a good solution on paper, but reviews are poor. There are devices of questionable quality available on Amazon too, which cost around £50, but they're complex to install and can only be controlled via an included remote.
Blind Engine is the first smart blind product I've used that actually works as intended, without costing the earth. It consists of a high-torque motor attached to a notched gear, which accommodates most types of string cords and ball chains (a second gear is included for blinds with particularly chunky ball chains). Blinds up to 6.8kg in weight and up to three meters in height and length are supported.
Installation is simple. You stick the included bracket onto a wall beside the blind—or like I did, inside the window frame—slide the Blind Engine onto the bracket, and thread the chain through the gear. The whole process takes no longer 10 minutes. The only thing to bear in mind is that the supplied double-sided tape is very strong. Once it's stuck, you won't be able to remove it without tearing off some paint in the process. Those with wallpaper are better off using the included screws instead.
There are just two downsides to the Blind Engine's simple design: it doesn't work with Roman blinds, or anything that has one of those irritating pulley mechanisms, and it requires mains power. The included 12V DC adaptor does feature a pleasingly neutral white cable, but it's still difficult to conceal without using trunking or chasing the cable through walls. Brunt says a battery would reduce "the coverage of blind size," but does hope to develop a version in the future with a "mountable battery pack."
Once the Blind Engine is installed on the wall, setup is done via an Android or iOS app, which also powers Brunt's other smart products like its PowerStation charger and smart plugs. While the Blind Engine itself is ready for production, the software isn't. Theoretically, the setup process guides you through connecting the Blind Engine to Wi-Fi and setting the highest and lowest points of adjustment. Unfortunately, I had several issues getting Blind Engine to talk to my Wi-Fi and the software to talk to the Blind Engine.
Since the software is in beta, theoretically these issues should be ironed out by launch in November. Voice control for Amazon Alexa is guaranteed for launch too, with support for Google Home arriving at a later date.
Even in an unfinished state, Blind Engine works brilliantly. The app allows you to raise or lower the blind to any height you like, or you can just tap either button to automate it. You can set a timer too, setting the percentage you would like the blind open and the time, which is handy when you need to wake up in the morning. The app is also location aware, which means it can automatically lower the blinds when you leave the house, and raise them when you arrive. All that's missing is IFTTT support, which is planned, but unlike Alexa support isn't guaranteed.
Still, an Alexa skill puts Blind Engine ahead of most smart blind solutions out there. Even the motor itself is better designed than most, with buttons on the front from when you don't fancy getting your smartphone out and a super-smooth, if not super-quiet motor. I admit that automated blinds solve a first world problem. But, after going all-out with Philips Hue bulbs, Harmony Remotes, and Hive heating and sensors, finally being able to integrate blinds into my smart home setup without breaking the bank is a wonderful thing.