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Wi-Fi LED Light Bulbs: Gateway to the Smart Home?

Greenwave Reality’s LEDs can be controlled from a smartphone. Will they sell because they’re cool or because they can save energy?
October 22, 2012

In the future, we’re told, homes will be filled with smart gadgets connected to the Internet, giving us remote control of our homes and making the grid smarter. Wireless thermostats and now lighting appear to be leading the way.

There’s an app for that: LED bulbs equipped with a wireless chip from NXP can be controlled from smartphone or tablet. Credit: Greenwave Reality.

Startup Greenwave Reality today announced that its wireless LED lighting kit is available in the U.S., although not through retail sales channels. The company, headed by former consumer electronics executives, plans to sell the set, which includes four 40-watt-equivalent bulbs and a smartphone application, through utilities and lighting companies for about $200, according to CEO Greg Memo.

The Connected Lighting Solution includes four EnergyStar-rated LED light bulbs, a gateway box that connects to a home router, and a remote control. Customers also download a smartphone or tablet app that lets people turn lights on or off, dim lights, or set up schedules.

Installation is extremely easy. Greenwave Reality sent me a set to try out, and I had it operating within a few minutes. The bulbs each have their own IP address and are paired with the gateway out of the box, so there’s no need to configure the bulbs, which communicate over the home wireless network or over the Internet for remote access.

Using the app is fun, if only for the novelty. When’s the last time you used your iPhone to turn off the lights downstairs? It also lets people put lights on a schedule (they can be used outside in a sheltered area but not exposed directly to water) or set custom scenes. For instance, Memo set some of the wireless bulbs in his kitchen to be at half dimness during the day.

Many smart-home or smart-building advocates say that lighting is the toehold for a house full of networked gadgets. “The thing about lighting is that it’s a lot more personal than appliances or a thermostat. It’s actually something that affects people’s moods and comfort,” Memo says. “We think this will move the needle on the automated home.”

Rather than sell directly to consumers, as most other smart lighting products are, Greenwave Reality intends to sell through utilities and service companies. While gadget-oriented consumers may be attracted to wireless light bulbs, utilities are interested in energy savings. And because these lights are connected to the Internet, energy savings can be quantified.

In Europe and many states, utilities are required to spend money on customer efficiency programs, such as rebates for efficient appliances or subsidizing compact fluorescent bulbs. But unlike traditional CFLs, network-connected LEDs can report usage information. That allows Greenwave Reality to see how many bulbs are actually in use and verify the intended energy savings of, for example, subsidized light bulbs. (The reported data would be anonymized, Memo says.) Utilities could also make lighting part of demand response programs to lower power during peak times.

As for performance of the bulbs, there is essentially no latency when using the smartphone app. The remote control essentially brings dimmers to fixtures that don’t have them already.

For people who like the idea of bringing the Internet of things to their home with smart gadgets, LED lights (and thermostats) seem like a good way to start. But in the end, it may be the energy savings of better managed and more efficient light bulbs that will give wireless lighting a broader appeal. 

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