'Smart' lightbulbs

I like seeing the ideas coming through Kickstarter. Some are crazy while others are pedestrian. But one just caught my eye and I thought it was worth blogging about. It is LIFX that is billed as a reinvention of light bulb. Basically, these people wondered what could happen if you put WiFi connectivity in each light bulb. As it turns out the answer is: a lot.

The basic idea is that the problem with light bulbs (and you probably didn’t think of it this way) is control. You have to be located near a switch to turn them on and off. Sometimes you can do other things like dimming. But what happens when you don’t have to be near the switch? Then you don’t have to be near the switch. You can control the light from where ever. Now that isn’t quite a new idea. Very expensive wiring can get you a lot of the same thing but you really have to conceive of it when you build a house and then you are locked into the technology of the day. What LIFX does is save on all of those costs and avoids much of the lock-in. That means you can control lighting from an app and if you watch the video you can see that it can have uses from fun, to kid’s night lights, one button turn off all lights in the house, to easy to program light timing (much like the Nest has made programming thermostats easy; and by the way, that totally lives up to the hype).

Now it comes at a cost. Each bulb may cost around $50 — it is hard to tell. But they do apparently last 25 years. Of course, it all might fall apart with implementation. You are dealing with a WiFi network after all. But I can see a great consumer value/use case here. This isn’t the only Kickstarter project aimed at this type of issue. Smart Things hits on a similar problem. But right now networking the light bulb seems like a very straightforward idea.

7 Replies to “'Smart' lightbulbs”

  1. The big thing you missed is that they can change colour. I already do this on my computer screens which are far more pleasant to look at as a result with the colour temperature changing throughout the day and night. I use Redshift for this which was inspired by f.lux. See this page for details and links http://jonls.dk/redshift/

  2. Pardon my scepticism on this one, Josh, but my guess is that these things are going to be brought to market by established lighting or home automation firms. Having this sort of idea; indeed, the home automation crowd has been going on about this and similar ideas or years (and believe me, wifi has occurred to them). Implementing it in a way that the customer likes to use and can afford is hard. Execution ability matters.

    Felix Salmon neatly describes how hard it is to bring this sort of hardware to market:

    As Salmon notes, the established networking firm Belkin already sells a run-the-house-from-your-phone system, called WeMo, that seems even cooler:
    WeMo has not yet taken the market by storm, but Belkin at least looks like a company that can credibly assemble the pieces. And in this case, that’s the hard part.

    YCombinator’s Paul Graham (http://www.paulgraham.com/swan.html) makes the case, quite convincingly to me, that the hard innovation case is not this sort of just-add-new-tech idea. Instead, the hard case is the Facebook idea, where someone describes the idea and you go “that won’t ever go anywhere” – and 19 times out of 20, you’re right. This, of course, is why venture capital has traditionally involved a large portfolio of investments. YCombinator has itself taken the venture capital model further by funding projects in their extremely early stages – and produced a couple of winners in Dropbox and AirBNB (plus Reddit, though that doesn’t make much money). You know all about this, of course: http://www.digitopoly.org/2012/09/10/black-swans-and-judging-entrepreneurial-ventures/

    I’m not saying this to knock Kickstarter. Kickstarter may indeed prove to be an important new way of assembling risk money for these ventures without the investors needing big portfolios. But if Graham is right, Kickstarter’s successes are likely to be obvious only in hindsight. They’ll look crazy to most people. The problem with LIFX, oddly, is that it is too obvious.

  3. My comment above that “Belkin at least looks like a company that can credibly assemble the pieces” is now inoperative. Belkin’s WeMo has been reviewed and found oh,so wanting. In the most scathing review I’ve ever seen on the site, Gizmodo concludes that “It Actually Makes Your House Worse”.


    Maybe LIFX can’t make a go of it. But it does seem to have that most wonderful of advantages, an incompetent competitor.

  4. This doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me. For a start why would you have wifi for each individual light, couldn’t you just have 1 wifi system to control all power distribution in a building. And then there’s the execution of the idea, I rarely use my phone, but lets assume our consumer is using their phone 100% of the time – opening a program to control a specific light would take about as much effort to actually go and use the manual switch in most cases.
    I think the idea of your average consumer controlling their house appliances remotely won’t become a reality until a marketable neural interface exists

    But there’s thousands of greater benefits from such a device then this application.

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