HomeHome AutomationSwitchBot Sensors - there is more to these than you think!

SwitchBot Sensors – there is more to these than you think!

A set of very interesting sensors

SwitchBot strikes again. After a successful start with SwitchBots and CurtainBots, a home automation robotics maker brings new toys to the table. There are 2 new sensors: a contact sensor and a motion sensor, and there is an IP camera looming over new gadgets in their press releases (not available at the time of writing). If you expect simple PIR and contact sensing, SwitchBot has a surprise for you – there is more to these sensors than meets the eye!

SwitchBot Sensors

SwitchBot sensors

I used the SwitchBot bots to flip the kettle switch and make myself a brew remotely, showcased that you can automate your curtains in less than 3 minutes and even used the IR blaster to toggle my Roth&Meyers stereo (review) in my Smarter Wall Switch tutorial. These little robots proved themselves time after time.

What started as a simple ecosystem of tiny hubless robots to do your switch-bidding turned into a healthy-looking ecosystem. The current SwitchBot line-up includes:

While BLE Bluetooth isn’t my favourite network protocol for home automation, SwitchBot Sensors and gadgets can work hub-less (at the expense of not being in the cloud) directly through your phone. But the biggest redeeming quality is the SwitchBot API (available if you have the hub) which you can use to integrate the ecosystem with anything you want.

Priced at £18 each (or whatever equivalent of your local currency) SwitchBot Sensors are not the cheapest out there, but considering what the sensor has to offer, the price isn’t unreasonable.

In use

I can’t fault Bluetooth pairing. I never had any issues with SwitchBot devices, they just show up instantly in the SwitchBot app and you are set in seconds. If you tried other ecosystems you know, you can’t take this for granted.

I never thought that contact and motion sensors would need a tutorial, but turns out there is more to these devices than the name indicates. It’s nice to see options for hub-less operation, it’s not ideal (as your phone must be in range) but cloud isn’t always what consumers are looking for. If you want smart home integrations, you will need the hub.

Once paired, devices will appear in the SwitchBot app ready to be configured and used. These can be assigned to different rooms (and houses) so it’s all pretty much industry standard at this point.

SwitchBot Motion sensor

One of the biggest sensors I held in my hand. It’s not as big as Shelly Motion (review), but powered with 2 x AAA batteries should last a long time before the attention is needed. Considering that the SwitchBot Temperature sensor had been running on double AAA since I got it and it still reports 100% – power is the least of your concerns.

Thanks to the magnetic base, which attaches to 2 mounting points on the SwitchBot sensor, you can place it anywhere. The base is optional, I appreciate the flexibility this offers. I can screw the base to the wall, put the sensor without the base on the shelf or angle it just the way I want.

Judging by the setup instructions, the vertical sensing had been trimmed. SwitchBot Motion sensor should be mounted above the heads of the animals to avoid false positives. This means that the sensor detects better in horizontal space than vertical. To trigger it properly observe the sensor’s orientation.

Not just PIR

I mentioned that there is more to it than just motion sensing. SwitchBot Motion sensor comes with luminosity sensing, which reports back in steps (Bright|Dim). These can be used to create extra automation triggers. For best performance, the sensor should be calibrated in the room that the sensor will be kept in.

Motion sensing is adjustable as well. There are 3 triggering settings:

Short0-2m distance 60° detection angle
Medium3-5m distance with 60° detection angle
Long7-9m range with 60° detection angle

It’s useful if you want to filter unwanted movement. Motion sensing is instantaneous and can be triggered every 30 seconds, which is one of the best timeouts I came across. In addition to that, the automation panel has motion detection settings, but also a trigger that fires if no motion was detected for X minutes.

The range is another thing I have tested. I disabled the Bluetooth on my phone and took the sensor across the floors to the furthest corner of the house. I’m pleased to report that the sensor was still connected to the hub. If you have a bigger than a 2-floor house, you may consider getting a second hub to increase the range as the sensors are bound to the individual hubs.

SwitchBot Contact sensor

Also powered by 2 x AAA batteries, this sensor will last you a long time. It’s not the smallest sensor for sure so the jury will be out on this one. Unlike other sensors, it reacts to the magnetic trigger on both sides. You can pick which side you will mount the sensor on. It comes with 3M pads and screws to secure it into position.

3 in 1

SwitchBot Contact sensor does more than just trigger sensing. Just like with the motion sensor, you will find the luminosity sensor reporting both bright and dim conditions. The oversized button isn’t just for pairing. If pressed within a specified timeframe after the contact sensor was opened – it will act as a “Set Alarm” trigger – notifying the SwitchBot cloud that you have left the building.

When configured for doors, it will also detect motion in front of the sensor. The range and sensitivity cannot be specified, but the sensor was detecting motion inside the room with a timeout of about 30s in my test. The motion sensor can trigger other devices, but it can also report back when the room no longer detects the motion. You can set custom timers to be notified when the room is empty.

Motion sensing enables the contact sensor to determine if you have left or entered the building. An interesting concept to custom automation further. Other options include the notifications when the door is left open and responding to motion and luminosity triggers.

Range test resulted in a decent but slightly shorter range of the sensor. Across 2 floor house, I had the range in 90% of the house with the sensor going out of range in the most extreme cases where the hub and the sensor were in opposite corners of the house.

Integration

With Alexa and Google Assistant integrations, you can enable custom automation based on the switch statuses. Unfortunately, SwitchBot sensors are discovered as simple sensors and information about the luminosity, exit and entry are lost in translation. On the positive side, the sensors respond quickly and if you have routines set, you will get them fired within a second or so.

If there is anything that SwitchBot could add to the sensors interfaces, are better logging display options. The timeline is nice but charts are usually better for this. With luminosity sense, I’d like to see lux values rather than just dim/bright indication.

All of this is just nit-picking as the system works well and both SwitchBot sensors simply deliver on the promise of smarter automation.

Automation ideas

It’s not just security. I started to think about these sensors to enable simple automating shortcuts. The contact sensor can be used on the door of my office to turn my computer as I walk in (in specified hours) and then when the “exit” trigger is done, put the entire office to sleep. It feels more intuitive than shouting at Alexa in the middle of the night.

The cleverly placed motion sensors in the bedroom can close and open blinds as required, just use the time and brightness values to fit your needs. Using SwitchBot sensors thanks to combined sensing introduces layers of automation that weren’t available with more traditional sensors. I have to say I do like this approach.

Final thoughts

While £18 per sensor may seem expensive at first, you have to admit that you are getting your money’s worth. Thanks to other sensors embedded inside SwitchBot sensors, contact and motion sensors create interesting opportunities for anyone who cares about home automation. I’m looking forward to seeing what information is available via their API and will most likely update the original article. Let me know what do you think about the latest SwitchBot Sensors. Feel free to use this Reddit thread as a comment section.

🆓📈 – See the transparency note for details.

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