Martin LaMonica

A View from Martin LaMonica

Already Efficient, LED Lights Get Smarter

Digital convergence is rapidly coming to lighting as component makers pave the way for customizable, networked lamps.

  • April 15, 2013

Now that we have smart phones, smart TVs, and smart thermostats, perhaps its not surprising that smart light bulbs are just around the corner.

Lifex is a Kickstarter-funded project that’s making a Wi-Fi LED bulb that lets people control lighting color, dimming, and scheduled from a smart phone.

Component companies are creating the electronics to make it easier to control light fixtures or adjust light color from a smart phone or computer. These control products already exist but companies, including semiconductor company Marvell and LED maker Bridgelux, are developing technology to bring down the cost in both consumer and commercial lighting.

Philips last year introduced Hue, a kit that includes three LED lightbulbs and a Zigbee wireless hub to control them, a $200 package sold through Apple stores. (See, Apple Sells Philips Color-Shifting Wireless Lights.) At the industry conference Lightfair International next week, Marvell will be showing off chip sets that will allow light makers to add networking to light bulbs for additional two dollars, a cost that will help spur consumer sales of connected lights, says Kishore Manghani, vice president of green technology products.

It’s conceivable that by the end of the year, a package similar to Hue could be sold for $99 and half that price by the end of next year, according to Manghani. “We’re enabling OEM (lighting manufacturers) to make a connected bulb at a consumer price point, not an early technology adopter price point,” he says.

Marvell also developed a chip set that will make it cheaper to add wireless drivers to commercial lighting. The all-digital system, developed to work with Daintree’s lighting control system, means additional features, such as dimming or color control, can be added with a software upgrade, says Manghani.

Bridgelux LED package.

In another sign of digital convergence in lighting, LED maker Bridgelux tomorrow will introduce a product to make it easier to add features, such as wireless controls and sensors to commercial lighting. The company changed the packaging that accompanies its LED light engines—the semiconductors that give off light—to give light fixture makes more design flexibility, says Aaron Merrill, the director of marketing. For example, lights could be connected to corporate networks to measure energy usage, include motion sensors, or dim to take advantage of natural daylight.

Right now, it’s businesses that stand to benefit most from digital lighting because they can fine-tune schedules or use sensors to lower their energy use. For consumers, lights controlled by a smart phone are a cool feature, but not something many people will be willing to pay a lot more money for. But if a wireless LED bulb only costs five dollars more than a non-connected one, it might well tempt more consumers. Perhaps more important than remote control, smart LED bulbs will give people the ability to adjust light color in a variety of ways. (See, An App Store for Home Lighting.) That lets people customize their lighting, not something incumbent technology can do. 

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