‘Smart’ Light Bulbs: A Gimmick Or Are They Actually Useful?

‘Smart’ Light Bulbs: A Gimmick Or Are They Actually Useful?

If you follow the smart device market, or more specifically the smart home market, you definitely won’t know what ALL the products coming through are, but what you will know is that there seem to be truckloads of new ones every week.

We have well and truly entered the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), which in its simplest form means that everything is now connected to the Internet in some way or will be very soon. “Everything” is both ambitious and subjective, but that is the plan. I mean just last month I saw a pair of running shoes that look exactly like the pair you and I have, but embedded somewhere in the shoe is the required technology for them (both of them, left and right, I imagine) to directly connect to your other fitness applications and tech devices. That’s right, there’s no need to take your phone, Fitbit or any other device at all on your next run. Just shoes – and possibly some clothes too, I guess.

Now on to a simple product that we’ve used in our homes since Thomas Edison commercialised it back in 1878 (it was “invented” some 50 years prior to that): the incandescent light bulb. This is an incredible product that has remained active in our lives until just recently, when LED lamps were introduced into the mainstream residential market. In fact, due to the challenges still faced by LED lamps (aesthetics, price point, reliability, dimming, etc.), many conventional bulbs (incandescent, filament, halogen) are still being produced and sold.

But now we’ve entered a new era again: smart light bulbs.

So now we’ve got bulbs that can be switched on or off or dimmed from your phone. Many of these bulbs can be switched or cycled through the RGB colour scale (approx. 16 million colours!). Some can alter the colour rendering from a cool 6500K down to a warm 2700K as they dim to create more ambience. But my question is: Is any of this useful?

Well, here’s the upside. Connectivity is getting better, integration is becoming more seamless and the bulbs themselves are also evolving into Phase 2 designs.

The latter point first. One of the best things introduced in the bulb itself by technology is integral presence detection. This small feature alone means that these lights aren’t just about razzle-dazzle, but are now moving toward a more functional outcome. A simple motion detector can add bulb life, work as a night light for the kids, increase home security, and improve the overall efficiency of the home.

But sensors are nothing new. Squeezing one into a light bulb is a definite step forward, but does it make it smart? Many so-called “smart” devices today really only give us an alternative or fancy way to control something (think TVs with voice control). I’ve got a basic 3-step qualifier to determine if technology is smart.

Intelligence: Can it gather and store data?

Intuition: Can it use and learn from this data to operate autonomously?

Integration: Can it import and export data to create an ecosystem with other devices?

So do today’s smart bulbs tick the boxes?

Let’s look at one that’s new to the market, the Stack bulb (www.stacklighting.com). As of February 2016 they have now begun shipping pre-orders in the US with international shipping of their CLASSIC bulb not to far away. So while I haven’t had the opportunity to physically play with one, here are some of the listed features:

  • Occupancy/presence sensing
  • Light level sensing
  • Circadian lighting (auto adjustment of colour temperature based on the time of day)
  • Intuitive learning
  • IoT integration

So all of a sudden we’ve now got bulbs that can easily be retrofitted into a home that utilise sensors to gather INTELLIGENCE, learn from your day-to-day actions to offer INTUITIVE control, and seamlessly (so they say) INTEGRATE with third-party devices such as your smart alarm clock for a more holistic smart ecosystem than previous DIY applications.

It’s is worth noting that, as I’ve just mentioned, these manufacturers are playing in a rapidly exploding DIY market, and there is one very important criterion that needs to be met when creating products for consumers rather than smart home professionals and installers – the need to be simple. Simple to set up, simple to use and simple to integrate.

So if you’re not ready to commit to an entirely automated home (which may involve expensive wiring, installation and professional programming), but want to create a smarter ecosystem, perhaps today’s smart bulbs are a good place to start. Give it a go. I guess only time will tell…