The Internet of things is upon us, and its next victim is your household light bulb. Are you ready to bathe your room in a world of colours, or ditch the humble light switch for an intelligent smartphone app? Read on to find out all you need to know about “connected lighting”.
Full disclosure, and warning: I love lighting. Interactive lighting systems are entirely to blame for my shockingly bad lecture attendance during university – I had spent most nights operating lighting shows for clubs, making the huge lights move, beaming pretty shapes and changing colours in time to the music. I still can’t shake that addiction today, which is why nearly every room of my house has mood lighting. It’s an expensive addiction, so fair warning now!
What is Connected Lighting?
Connected lighting is a catch-all term, a marketing buzzword used to describe any kind of lighting equipment that has an element of intelligence or connectivity to it . Each fixture or bulb in a connected lighting system has it’s own unique hardware address, though most will need a separate “bridge” which connects the bulbs to the internet. There’s a variety of features that would come under the blanket term of connected lighting, so let’s take a look at some of the features you should look out for.
Also known as hue adjustment, which means exactly the same thing but sounds fancier, the ability to change the color of your lighting was brought about by low cost RGB LEDs. Do bear in mind though there are only so many LEDs that you can fit into one traditional sized bulb, so the brightness output by these will never match that of your existing high intensity lighting. If you have an AmbiLight TV from Philips, these can be connected to your Phillips Hue bulbs too, extending the immersive ambient lighting. Or you could make one yourself.
Smartphone & Web Control
From the simple ability to switch on lighting from anywhere in the world with a Wi-Fi connection, to more advanced features like using the location data to turn on lights automatically when you arrive home – connected lighting systems will come with some kind of app.
In addition to a smartphone app, look for an equivalent web interface which offers the same features but from any device.
This could mean a custom solution from the manufacturer which activates lights according to a specific schedule, or integration with services such as IFTTT. The top recipe on the Phillips Hue channel, for instance, is to change the lighting blue when it’s raining.
Scene Favourites and Grouping
If you especially like how the room looks when the table lamp is pink, the uplighter by the door is blue and the reading light is green, then (a) you’re weird, but (b) your smartphone app can probably save that to a list of favourite “scenes”, ready to recall at a moments notice without individually setting each bulb again. Smart grouping means you can assign any number of bulbs to different rooms of the house then control all of them at once.
Phillips Hue is the most well known and supported brand, available in a set of 3 bulbs and one bridge for $200 – they certainly aren’t cheap. 3 bulbs should be sufficient for one room, but additional bulbs cost $60 each; each system can support up to 50 bulbs.
GreenWave also offer a starter kit with 4 bulbs and Wi-Fi bridge for $200, but these are only dimmable – not colour changing.
LiFX is still on pre-order with shipping expected next year, but at a rather pricey $90 per bulb.
WeMo isn’t strictly connected lighting, but can be used on free-standing lights as it connects to existing electrical outlets. Each WeMo socket costs from $50, the more expensive models enable you to monitor the electrical usage as well. WeMo also has an IFTTT channel, if you care to hand over your lighting control to the Internet.
You’ll also find numerous cheap knock-off products, but as Erez explained from experience, it’s probably best to avoid those.
Why Would I Want Connected Lighting?
Some might argue that being able to turn off your lights remotely if you forgot is great for saving energy, but the power leeching of these smart bulbs would negate any savings in the long term. Any other power saving properties comes from the fact they’re LED based, but you can buy LED lighting without the bulbs being “connected”.
There are some clear benefits when it comes to security – making a house seem active when you’re only holiday, for instance – but only a little better than you could get from using an electrical timer. The difference is that a connected bulb can be retrofitted to the existing lighting system – a timer is a simple mechanical device that attaches to a plug, so can only be used for things like floor-standing lamps.
The IFTTT recipes and AmbiLight integration for the Hue system make them a really fun but very expensive toy, so let’s be honest and admit there’s no compelling reason to own them. Being able to choose colours from a photograph in order to “relive the memory” is a gimmick at best.
Personally, I would recommend holding out until the price falls significantly – but if you’re really keen to start lighting your home in weird and wonderful ways, consider investing in a few RGB LED strips and an Arduino or Raspberry Pi (not sure which is the right mini-computer for you?). You’ll have fun learning hardware hacking, and will be restricted by by only what you can imagine.
Do you own a Hue or similar smart light bulb? Let us know: are they bright enough, and what compelling use case have you found for them? Do you have a favourite IFTTT recipe you’ve got them attached to?