A Wi-Fi connected lightbulb that'll cost you just an extra buck a pop may sound crazy, but it's a soon-to-be reality that promises to transform your house into a mood-lit, low-power, eco-friendly smart home. That's the suggestion from NXP, a Netherlands-based semiconductor company that invented the Greenchip technology that will be in many Wi-Fi connected lightbulbs on sale by early 2012.
Why on Earth would you want a lightbulb with an IP address? It's not obvious until you realize we're not talking regular incandescent bulbs here. The tech will go into advanced compact fluorescent units as well as LED light bulbs, both clean low-power replacements for Edison's aging invention. These lights already incorporate a few chunks of silicon in their bases to help control them, and it's this tiny circuit board that enables all sorts of new things—adding NXP's tiny Wi-Fi system to the board is relatively easy and cheap. And then you can turn your lights on and off from a computer hooked up to your home's wireless grid.
We spoke to Jim Lindop, NXP's general manager of low power RF, and he explained "one thing is to lower the energy consumption of the bulb, and the other is to make them smart" and this smart-making really is the "next stage, the evolution of lighting." Home automation has long been able to do some of this sort of thing, but the advent of LED lighting in particular (which can even include color variation lighting) and ubiquitous home networking means it's now much simpler to do. "You can now connect burglar alarm systems wirelessly to your lights...you can cycle your lights so it looks like someone's around.
Amazing, no? You'll also be able to control mood lighting "states" with a remote control, or via your iPad, as if you were a theater lighting designer; you'll be able to quickly and easily incorporate movement sensing automated lighting, that could even turn on dimly if it detects you're stumbling to the bathroom at midnight; and you'll be able to download apps to hone and polish your home's lighting energy needs so that you end up with a smaller power bill.
"It's part of the smart home" Lindop explains. NXP's tech actually enables the "Internet of Things," connecting literally everything to the Net. And lighting could be just the gateway to getting the average consumer excited about smart homes, which carefully manage how power is consumed to improve performance. By the end of the year, you may be able to buy a pack of "five light bulbs and a remote control" for just $50 from stores like Home Depot. Lindop says one of the breakthroughs of the new bulb and the apps that run it are that "it's simple to use, something I know my mother would've been able to use."
Greenchip uses 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi signals (over an 802.15.4 short range wireless protocol that won't compete with your normal home 802.11 g/n computer network). They use the new Ipv6 protocol too, so there's no worries that your lightbulbs will use up all the world's available Internet addresses. Plus, the JenNetIP system that NXP's built to let your computers talk to your lights is being open-sourced—in the hope that other manufacturers will embrace it. In fact, Google's already doing so, with its recently revealed Android Home automation system, something that Lindop notes validates the market.
Besides geekily playing with your home lights ("Did I leave the lights on? Let me log in and check!") the Net-enabled smartbulbs will shave precious dollars off the bill, every month for their years-long lifespans. And then when you've done that, you'll probably be tempted to hook up your refrigerator, your hot water heater, and so on...until you have a smart home on your hands.