A $99 Nightlight That Tells You When Your House Is on Fire

Courtesy Leeo
Smoke detectors are one of those essential household appliances whose faults you can overlook. They may go off at the slightest cooking provocation, but they have the potential to save your life and your stuff—as long as you’re home to hear them. If you’re out, all the beeping in the world won’t do a bit of good. That’s where Leeo comes in. It’s a sensor-laden nightlight that listens for when your smoke and carbon-monoxide detector sounds, then calls your smartphone to let you know that your home might be ablaze.

The advantage to Leeo is that it uses existing technology: your old smoke-and-CO detectors, mobile phone, and electrical socket. All you need do is plug it into the wall, download the app to your phone, and sync the devices. If Leeo “hears” an alarm from a smoke detector (detectors have a common frequency range), it will send a push message and call you. After you pick up, you’ll have the option to play an audio file of what the nightlight heard and then contact local emergency services. If you’re unable to answer the phone, Leeo will reach out to people from your prioritized list of buddies—family, friends, and neighbors—who can act in your stead. (The app provides an easy way to add and edit that directory.)

Leeo can detect a smoke alarm from 75 feet away. It also monitors temperature and humidity levels so if, for example, the temperature dips and you’re afraid the pipes might freeze, you can call a neighbor.

Leeo goes on sale today for $99, the same price as the Nest Protect smoke alarm, whose first generation was recalled after the company realized that its signature gesture for turning the device off—a wave of the hand—made it potentially unsafe. But Leeo has something Nest does not, says Robert Brunner of Ammunition, the San Francisco–based design studio behind this product as well as Beats headphones: It’s also a “really amazing” LED nightlight, with 16 million color options to choose among via the app. The user can also control light intensity by turning the gadget’s outer wheel.

“We didn’t start out saying, ‘Let’s design a nightlight,’” Brunner says. But he and  Ammunition partner Matt Rolandson kept returning to the form because nightlights can generally be found where smoke detectors are placed—in hallways and bedrooms—and most people have comforting associations with the small beacons that protect them from darkness. Plus, Brunner says, they’re familiar: “People understand how to use them.”

Ammunition has an ownership stake in the company, which was started by Adam Gettings, a co-founder of the robotics company RoboteX, and venture investor Eddy Chan. The startup has raised $37 million in the past year, with the goal of making smart home gadgets that are both affordable and easy to use. “Philosophically, we don’t want to force people to rewire their homes or add technology they don’t understand,” Brunner says.

Instead, like many other startups trying to enter the market for the Internet of Things, the makers of Leeo are trying to reinvent everything from home locks to thermostats, using intelligent technology and connectivity. “It’s a very exciting time to be a designer, because we’re being presented with all these opportunities to go back and design things that we thought were done,” Brunner says. “Who could have thought that a nightlight could have this kind of functionality?”

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