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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.

Color Changing

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 Build Your Own Dynamic Ambient Lighting For A Media Center Build Your Own Dynamic Ambient Lighting For A Media Center If you watch a lot of movies on your PC or media center, I'm sure you've faced the lighting dilemma; do you completely turn off all lights? Do you keep them on full blast? Or... Read More .

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.

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In addition to a smartphone app, look for an equivalent web interface which offers the same features but from any device.

Intelligent Control

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.

hue-scenes

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.

What’s Available?

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.

greenwave

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 How To Set Up Arduino Web Control Without An Ethernet Shield How To Set Up Arduino Web Control Without An Ethernet Shield For the last few weeks, I handed over control of the mood lighting in my studio to viewers during the live broadcast of Technophilia Podcast - you can see the results of that in the... Read More .

wemo

You’ll also find numerous cheap knock-off products, but as Erez explained from experience, it’s probably best to avoid those Burned: Why Trusting Shopping Reviews On FocalPrice.com Is a Bad Idea Burned: Why Trusting Shopping Reviews On FocalPrice.com Is a Bad Idea "Absolutely terrible," I wrote, proceeding to explain exactly what was wrong with the LED light I bought from FocalPrice.com and protect future buyers. Only the review was never published. Read More .

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.

relive-moment

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? Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You? Arduino vs Raspberry Pi: Which Is The Mini Computer For You? You're looking for a small computer to power a laser turret that can shoot multi-coloured balloons - it's a common situation we all find ourselves in at one point or another - and you've heard... Read More ). 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?

  1. Robert
    October 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks, James. I've done a little more research and believe that something like the Philips Hue system may be best for accenting framed photos.

  2. Robert Martin
    October 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Could this type of lighting be used to enhance photos (hung on walls) - like "gallery lighting"?
    Any info would be appreciated.
    Thanks,

    • James B
      October 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      I would have thought art generally wants to be well-lit - any form of lighting adjustment would change the way the art is viewed, surely? Unless the lighting itself was part of the installation...

  3. Eric B
    October 15, 2013 at 12:34 am

    I'd love to have any of the things mentioned in the article, but I can't think of any compelling reasons to have them other than maybe turning the lights on when I'm walking up to my door at night.

    • Dennis C
      October 15, 2013 at 1:28 am

      You have too admit, they're pretty cool. But I suppose the novelty would quickly wear off.

  4. Amy Brennan
    October 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I own several Philips Hue lights and I love them! They're without a doubt an expensive toy, but I've found some practical uses too. I find them bright enough and use them as my main lighting (dining room, living room, and bedroom).

    For the most part, I use Tasker to control them via the Lampshade app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kuxhausen.huemore), as well as some direct API calls to the Hue API.

    I also have NFC tags above the actual light switch, so I can use my phone to toggle the lights (had to write a custom task in Tasker to call the Hue API to check the current state of the lights and then toggle them). I also have actions on my sidebar on my phone, so I can access controls for my lights from any app by opening the sidebar.

    What I use the lights for:
    In the bedroom, I have the lights turn on in the morning to accompany my alarm. I have the lights slowly fade in starting 5 minutes before my alarm goes off, reaching full brightness in 10 minutes, so when my alarm starts going off, they’re at 50% brightness. I love waking up to a lit room and find many times that I wake up to the lights before my alarm even starts. I’ve noticed I wake up more energized because a lit room is much more inviting than a dark room with a noisy alarm in the background. Similarly, at night time, I have the lights dim over a period of 20 minutes, which helps relax me as I fall asleep.

    In the morning, I also have the lights turn on after I shower (so I don’t walk into a dark room); the Tasker task that I use to toggle my lights is set so when I turn off my lights between 6:15 and 6:35 in the morning (which is when I shower), that it will wait several minutes and turn the lights back on. I timed how long I normally shower and have Tasker wait that long before turning the lights back on.

    For the living room, I have the lights turn on when I get home. I also have all the lights turn off when I leave.

    I have a Google TV box, which I control using the GTV Tasker Plugin (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.entertailion.android.tasker). When I start watching a show, I have the lights turn off; when I pause a show I have the lights turn on; similarly when I’m done watching shows the lights turn back on.

    When I turn on any of the lights, the brightness and color are based on the current time. For example, for my bedroom lights, in the morning, I use the “energize” color at full brightness, when I get home from work it’s the “relax” color at full brightness and at night “relax” at 75% brightness.

  5. Harry B
    October 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    If it wasn't so expensive I'd get it, anyone know how to make your own?

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