Tech firm makes everything smart


Matt Simms focuses on designing electronics-embedded products. Courtesy Simms Electronics

In the next 20 years, it’s possible almost every piece of technology will be “smart.”

That’s what Matt Simms, owner and founder of Grand Rapids-based tech business Simms Electronics Inc., is basing his business on.

Simms Electronics specifically focuses on connected devices and electronics. The business was founded in 2001 by Simms, who’s also the owner of Grand Rapids-based audio and lighting company Corporate Sound, which works on live production events at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, B-93 Birthday Bash, LaughFest, ArtPrize, and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in downtown Grand Rapids.

Making a product “smart” means giving it the ability to be electronically controlled and connected to the Internet. Few in the business locally know how to do it like Simms. In his mind, anything from a phone to a toaster can — and might as well be — connected electronically.

It’s a technology shift that’s happening not only for productivity but also for pleasure, he said.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity to taken an existing product (any company) might have and make it smart, make it connected,” Simms said.

“We are basically an electronics-embedded design company. We design and develop electronic products, basically down to the circuit-board level.”

One of the company’s most recent products is a gas-monitoring device called GX4, he said.

“One of the products we just got done with last year is basically a product that is used in hazardous environments, so if someone has one of those safety suits on and they go down and do sandblasting or welding inside the hull of a ship or oil tank, they need air pumped into their suit. So, what (GX4 does) is monitor the air an individual is breathing,” he said.

“It will not only alarm when there’s a dangerous level to let the guy know there’s something there, but there’s a secondary function to be able to record and log all that data, so there’s trackability of what that individual was breathing while working.”

Simms was the speaker during the inaugural meeting of The Internet of Things, West Michigan, held Jan. 27 at the GR Makers headquarters in Grand Rapids.

Simms said the new group was formed as a way for technology professionals and other interested individuals to connect and discuss all things related to the Internet of Things, which refers to all objects that can connect to the Internet.

The fact that such a group exists supports the importance of this technology shift, Simms noted.

“In a way, that’s why that got started. They’re projecting like 50 billion connected devices by the year 2020. It’s crazy what we’re connecting,” he said.

“We’re tracking all that technology and putting it into products you couldn’t even imagine. … You look at home automation: You can get on your phone, turn on your lights and look at who’s at the door.”

Simms’ enthusiasm for new smart technology isn’t without reservations, however. There are always risks with any new technology, he said, but the bottom line is: The biggest challenge is always security.

“The biggest worry is, we’re going to have all these products — these billions of products — all based on the same security, and someone’s going to hack into it. Then what are we going to do with all these devices? The biggest issue we have today is managing security. People haven’t done enough to protect themselves,” he said.

“Some people don’t like it. They feel like they’re being watched. But the new generation, they don’t care.”

In an ideal world, Simms said his favorite project would be creating a real version of the Iron Man suit from the Marvel blockbuster movies. And in the next 20 years, such a project might not be that far from reality, he said.

“What’s interesting is the drone world — the whole ability to fly. … Whether we like it or not, there’s already drones you can get in and fly,” he said. “That’s, I think, around the corner.”

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