A Smart LED Bulb
Tom Lombardo posted on May 08, 2013 |

How many innovators does it take to change a lightbulb? Apparently, just one.

In mid-2012, a team of entrepreneurs from Australia, led by inventor Phil Bosua, introduced a unique LED bulb. The LIFX  fits in a standard light bulb socket, it’s dimmable, and it’s multi-colored. And you control it with your smartphone ... from anywhere.

What makes this LED bulb different than the rest? Each LIFX bulb has WiFi capabilities, allowing it to connect to the internet via a home network. Using a smartphone app (iOS and Android apps are currently in the alpha-testing stage), the user can control the brightness and color of any individual bulb. The bulbs are also programmable; they can turn on and off (or bright and dim) at predetermined times, including a “vacation” mode.

LIFX provides an open-source client complete with an application programming interface (API) so the bulbs can be integrated into a home automation system. The LIFX bulb is as secure as your WiFi network, so your neighbors won’t be able to turn your lights on and off unless your network is unsecured or your neighbors have good hacking skills. A password is required in order to control the LIFX bulb via the Internet.

The LIFX bulb consists of white LEDs (which are actually blue LEDs with white phosphorous coating) as well as red, green, and blue LEDs. The combination of white, red, green, and blue LEDs allows the LIFX bulb to emit any one of over a million of different colors, a great feature for night clubs, restaurants, and anyone who wants to “set the right mood” with lights.

Some LED bulbs look like ears of corn, with individual radial-lead LEDs soldered to a printed circuit board. Others use surface-mount LEDs soldered to a board. A LIFX bulb uses a COB (chips on board) package. With COB technology the LED wafers are bonded directly to a substrate using a proprietary non-soldering technique. This allows more LEDs in a smaller area and provides better heat dissipation, which increases the lifespan of the bulbs.

A LIFX bulb emits over 900 Lumens of light while using 15 Watts of electricity. By comparison, an incandescent bulb uses 60 watts for the equivalent light output. Many other LED bulbs use less than ten watts to produce the same amount of light. I assume the WiFi and other control circuitry is using a significant amount of energy. LIFX documentation says that the bulb uses less than 1 Watt in standby mode. I think LIFX is going for features over energy-efficiency. At $79 each, a LIFX bulb will have a longer payback period than other LED bulbs. Despite that, LIFX has obtained over 9000 "crowd funding" backers; all of the backers have pre-ordered one or more bulbs.

In this video, LIFX founder Phil Bosua describes the LIFX and its features:

According to the US Department of Energy, lighting accounts for 12% of energy usage. Incandescent light bulbs are terribly inefficient, converting almost all of the electricity into heat instead of light. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are more efficient, but are made with toxic mercury and need to be treated as hazardous materials when broken or disposed. LEDs are the best of the bunch; they are the most energy-efficient light bulb available and they can last up to 50,000 hours (about 17 years if they’re on for 8 hours a day), compared to 10,000 hours for CFL and 1000 hours for incandescents. And using a little innovation, LEDs can produce nearly any color of visible light. Unlike CFLs, LED bulbs turn on instantly, needing no time to warm up. Although LEDs have a high initial cost, their total cost of ownership is much lower than incandescents and CFLs when factoring in electricity and replacement costs.

It’s been more than a hundred years since Thomas Edison made a commercially-viable light bulb. Since that time, the technology hasn’t improved much. Thanks to the LIFX bulb, the industry might undergo a bright - or at least a more colorful - future!

Images and Video: LIFX

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