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LIFX bulb shines light on connected home vs gadgets

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A new Kickstarter project aims to offer Wi-Fi connected light bulbs to the masses and the best part is, you can change the bulb’s color with the help of a smartphone. The bulb is called LIFX and thanks to the LED technology inside, it’s an energy saver when compared to traditional or CFL bulbs. You control the brightness and color directly from an iPhone(s aapl) or Android(s goog) device using the LIFX application and there’s smarts in the bulb itself: It can notify you when a new Twitter message arrives, for example.

Take a look at the LIFX explanation video and you can see that the creators my be correct in calling LIFX the “smartest light bulb ever made”:

The project impresses me for a few reasons. LIFX, which can be backed for as low as $69 a bulb, has already surpassed its $100,000 goal for backing, taking in over three times that much with nearly two months left for fundraising. It also brings a wide variety of functionality to something most people consider mundane but necessary: a light bulb. And it appears simple to use through the dedicated smartphone application or can still be turned on or off through the existing light switch.

This last point raises a question, however, and I’ll be asking it later this week on a connected home panel that I’m moderating at our Mobilize 2012 event. When it comes to connected homes do we want a central system, or is it better to have different interfaces and apps for various connected home gadgets?

Mobilinc Pro app for a central smarthome systemI actually use both scenarios today but many visitors to my home find it all confusing when I explain. I have a small server device that controls and monitors my home automation system: heating/cooling, various indoor and outdoor lights, and a garage door sensor, to name a few. The system is controlled in one place and all of the parts are manageable in a single app or web page.

Then there are the standalone bits that I have or have used in the past: A Nest thermostat and a web server you that monitors and reports the status of our 41-panel rooftop solar array (you can see the real time output here). Each of these has its own app and isn’t able to “talk” to other devices on the central system. It would be nice, for example, if the solar panels could tell the thermostat to boost the air conditioning on a hot, sunny day, for example, when they are generating excess power.

For now, I think standalone connected gadgets such as LIFX are more appealing to most, simply because they bring new smarts into the home and, let’s face it, one more smartphone app installation isn’t a big deal. Over time, however, I’m thinking a centralized system with a single interface — possibly voice — will make all of these gadgets work even smarter by having them work together.

12 Responses to “LIFX bulb shines light on connected home vs gadgets”

  1. Michael Van De Berghe

    “Over time, however, I’m thinking a centralized system with a single interface — possibly voice — will make all of these gadgets work even smarter by having them work together.”
    Looks like someone is working on it now. Though it seems in its infancy. Its open source and will grow like thingeverse

  2. ironargonaut

    Just read an article on how WIFI router passwords can be easily hacked. Even 8 and 12 character ones in a few hours. What is going to happen to this market when some nerds decide it is humorous to make the neighbors lights switch on and off all night long and it make the drudge report?
    “Regarding security: LIFX will be as secure as your WiFi network. eg. without the WiFi network password you can’t control the smartbulbs.”

    Personally, I think light-o-rama’s flexible led strip is much more impressive, but it is also $250 for 12ft.

  3. What would be the extra consumption for being constantly attached to the Wi-Fi network? How much strain do these put on Wi-Fi capacity (especially when it starts to be a lot of wirelessly connected bulbs)?

  4. I like my Comcast Xfinity Home system. Having one app to control all my devices is simple and easy. It ties in my lights, thermostat, and video cameras, and I can access everything on my phone.

    I hope they help me save energy in the future, and I hope they can get color changing bulbs. Those would be really cool.

  5. Kevin,
    I found your comment about your visitors being confused by your mixed modes of interfacing interesting.

    The LIFX bulb obviously has some type of server embedded in the design, to be able to interface to a networked smart phone. Seems like it would connect through WiFi to the net.

    Network connectivity and power have been the bane of standalone sensor/loads for years. LIFX seems to have finally broken at least the standalone networking device part of it.

    As you pointed out most people just don’t get why you’d have a “server” running in your home. It’s been my experience that even most Linux people don’t really think much about using “servers” at the home or consumer level. Plenty of inexpensive Linux (multi-user, multi-tasking) boards are finally coming on line, so maybe we’ll see a change to more centralized device management. The Raspberry Pi and CubieBoard offer some exciting (and inexpensive) possibilities. For more stationary applications, there are also the Plug Computer and Fit-PC lines.

    No doubt the LIFX bulb is a giant step in the right direction. I hope they license or make their connectivity solutions available so lots more cool devices can be invented.

    Keep the great articles coming.

    Rob Reilly