Electric Imp guest blogger Robin McKenzie is head of national marketing and sales at New Zealand-based Pebble Air, creator of the imp-enabled Pebble WiFi controller for residential HVAC.

It was 2005 and I had just completed a residential air conditioner installation at a property in my home country of New Zealand. The savvy homeowner, an IT professional, asked about the control options for his expensive new air conditioning unit. Without irony I replied, “You’re holding it.” “It” was an infrared remote control – 30 year old technology that was still being used as the latest and greatest our industry had to offer.

But the question gave me an idea. What about a mobile phone controlled solution?

At the time, there was no such thing as a “smartphone,” and it would take nearly 10 years and a few iterations of hardware and services before the idea would come to fruition in the form of the Pebble WiFi controller from Pebble Air.


The Pebble WiFi controller is a much more powerful and flexible replacement for your residential HVAC system’s original remote control device. The Pebble WiFi controller connects and communicates with your HVAC system via three infrared diodes with a range of nearly 50 feet. Once securely connected to your wireless router, your smartphone enables instant access and control of the HVAC unit anytime and from anywhere through the Pebble Air iOS and Android app. If you need to turn on your system, change its mode, adjust the temperature, fan speed or even set up or change a schedule, everything is right at your fingertips.

When technology finally caught up with my idea in 2010, Neil Gilmore – a friend from my electrical wholesaling days – and I began to prototype a solution. Neil was an electrical engineer who had previously developed a Smart Switch SMS controller, an SMS based I/O unit. Yet, in spite of the advent of smartphones, he and I were surprised that no major air conditioning manufacturer had yet released a smartphone controlled solution.

Building the controller hardware would be relatively easy, so we turned our attentions to figuring out the most ideal connectivity solution. We chose WiFi, a protocol that had become the standard in most residential and commercial properties in New Zealand. In addition to becoming the defacto wireless standard, WiFi presented little to no ongoing cost barriers, unlike our original concept of an SMS-based controller.

However, early on in development we realized that WiFi network security and product connectivity was going to be a major hurdle. Not only would both require significant investment to develop, but a further challenge was how to do it in a simplistic and user-friendly way. The project hit a major snag and nearly came to a standstill as a result.

Thankfully, Neil came across Electric Imp on an electronic engineer’s blog. After looking more deeply into the Electric Imp’s breakthrough WiFi connectivity platform he concluded it would be the ideal solution. We ordered an Electric Imp development kit straight away.

At the beginning of the project, we were pessimistic about the connectivity aspect of our product. Electric Imp made it sound easy, which isn’t always the case, but we encountered no challenges. In fact, it was just what we were looking for but didn’t realize existed. Integrating connectivity into the Pebble WiFi controller was seamless.

There are other devices on the market similar to the Pebble WiFi controller, but they are typically complicated and require a certain level of knowledge about WiFi setup. Electric Imp enabled us to greatly simplify the process, which is why the Pebble WiFi controller features an elegant and easy method of WiFi connectivity.

The Electric Imp platform was ultimately the most complete, offering hardware and software integration along with WiFi connectivity and a simple user-friendly interface. Most critically, instead of having to build out connectivity ourselves the Electric Imp solution enabled us to focus valuable time and resources on developing the Pebble WiFi controller and making it the best product possible.

Robin McKenzie
Head of Marketing and Sales for Pebble Air