How many tech companies does it take to change ‘the light bulb’ as we know it? Smart lighting is rapidly increasing in popularity, but one company is lighting the way when it comes to the future of the smart bulbs. Joe Young reports.
For most people a light bulb is just that – a light bulb. But in recent times that has been changing, with more and more players in the market turning their attention to developing light bulbs that are ‘smart’.
Belkin’s WeMo and Philips’ hue started the smart lighting trend and there are now over 40 different suppliers operating in the market.
Now, Shanghai-based Sengled‘s bright ideas are taking smart lighting to the next level of innovation.
Increased functionality is the key to Sengled’s point of difference from the rest of the field. While most other companies’ smart bulbs are ‘smart’ purely thanks to the inclusion of WiFi connectivity, allowing users to control lighting from their phones, Sengled bulbs have audio playback capabilities, a security camera and WiFi boosting functionality.
At its full potential, the Sengled light bulb range can allow the user to control the brightness levels of up to eight lights around the house, play music from those same eight bulbs and get a live video stream of the happenings out the front of their house, all from an app on a device that is using a WiFi connection that has been extended by a Sengled bulb.
Designer David Clerk has innovation in his blood. He is a descendent of one of the greatest physicists of all time, James Clerk Maxwell, who created the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation and was considered one of Einstein’s heroes. His father was Fred Clerk, who founded General Innovation Australia. As a result, David grew up playing with electronics as a kid.
He started working in the automotive lighting sector, where LEDs were used a lot more widely than in residential lighting. When LEDs became bright enough for the home David ran projects to bring them into residential and industrial use.
“We started to realise that these LEDs weren’t a traditional light bulb with just a filament anymore, they have smart electronics inside. This meant we could control a lot more than just the bulb,” he says.
David is now the managing director of Machtig, the Australian, New Zealand and Indonesian distributor for Sengled, and says while feedback has been great from customers, the key for Machtig is to educate consumers about how easy the lighting system is to install.
“A lot of people don’t jump into new technologies because they are scared that once they get it at home they won’t be able to use it properly. The feedback about Sengled has been fantastic. Our mission is to make it simple and easy, so you don’t need a hub, WiFi or an IP device; you just need to change a light bulb.
“The tech may be becoming more and more complex but the usability and interaction for the consumer is becoming easier and easier.”
There are four lights in Sengled’s smart bulb range.
Pulse bulbs: Using 1.75” hi-fi JBL Bluetooth stereo speakers, this smart bulb allows users to adjust light brightness and audio volume from the Sengled app. Users can connect up to eight satellite bulbs at one time creating a network of stereo sound. The sound quality is decent, remembering that it is coming out of a speaker built into a light bulb. Obviously it is not at the level that could be obtained from a large high-end speaker, with a subwoofer but the speakers do still get to a good audible volume and with sound quality. The Master Set comes with a master bulb and a satellite connected bulb with additional satellite globes available for purchase. The Bluetooth transmitter has a frequency range of 2.40-2.48GHz with a transmitter power of 4dBm. The speakers run at 8Ω; 100Hz-20kHz frequency response with a power consumption of the light and audio of 15 watts. The 8watt, 600 lumen LED light fits into E27 and B22 sockets and has a warm white light that is rated to last 25,000 hours (more than 10 years). The lights are available in Candy Apple Red, Neutral White and Pewter Silver with a trimming kit available for fitting the light into a roof.
Pulse Solo: The pulse solo is a more basic version of the Pulse bulbs which do not have the functionality of connecting to multiple bulbs simultaneously.
Boost: The boost acts as a WiFi range extender, with the ability to boost wireless signals up to 30 metres into dead zones around the house. Two built-in antennas support high speed data which allows 300Mbps of data to flow through at one time. The wireless signal is compatible with all smart devices which support WiFi, IEEE 802.11b/g/n standard at 2.4GHz. The more boost bulbs that are installed the further the WiFi is boosted. App control including dimming of the lights is available with the Boost. The light runs at 7.5W when both the LED and WiFi repeater is running peaking at 9W. Simple to install into a E27, B22 or GU10 light socket with a voltage range between 100-240V the boost is only available in neutral white. The light runs at 470 lumens and provides a warm white light.
Snap: For peace of mind, the Snap bulb uses an ultra-wide angle 1080p HD camera to capture high-quality video. The camera operates over Internet protocol allowing users to view footage via the Snap app. The snap is outdoor rated for year-round use. It is WiFi (2.4GHz/5Ghz compatible) connected meaning no wires are required. The light boasts motion detection, intelligent alerts, night time visibility, cloud storage plans, two way audio communication notifications and scheduling functionality. For easy installation the bulb takes an E27 socket with a power consumption of 14W. Providing 810 lumens the snap is rated to last 25,000 hours.
So, what can we expect in the future?
Sengled recently won a gold award at CES 2016 for the prototype of a smart bulb expected to be released later this year called ‘Voice’.
As indicated by the name, the bulb will have voice recognition capabilities. Once activated by the keyword the user can turn on, off and dim the lights, play music and make phone calls.
“You can ask it what the weather in Melbourne will be tomorrow, you can ask it for a recipe for chocolate cake, you can also hold a conversation with your mate on the phone while walking around the house,” David says.
More features of Voice include home alert functionality which will send a message to the user’s phone if a smoke alarm goes off, if a window is broken or if a baby is crying.
“You can even sample a sound, program it into the lamp and make your lamp alert you if that sounds occurs,” David says.
“We can make a house a modern connected home without actually cutting holes in a roof, running wires or causing any obstructions in the home but simply by changing a light.”
In the not too distant future we will be asking each other: ‘Do you remember the humble light switch and filament bulb?’