Now that we have smart phones, smart TVs, and smart thermostats,
perhaps it’s not surprising that smart light bulbs are just around the corner.
convergence is rapidly coming to lighting as component makers pave the way for
customizable, networked lamps.
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 light bulbs and a Zigbee wireless hub to control them, a $200 package sold
through Apple stores. 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 an 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.
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, businesses 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 that let people customize their lighting, not something incumbent
technology can do.