At IEEE Spectrum, we’ve long covered attempts to build an Internet of Things. This is the notion of giving virtually every manufactured object a network presence, so that, say, a washing machine could automatically download instructions for the best way to clean a load of RFID-tagged clothing. Unfortunately, results so far have been uninspiring. Giving the door of a 140-kilogram refrigerator the functionality of a 650-gram tablet computer has not energized demand for intelligent appliances.
But now we’re starting to see products that might spark such mass-market interest. Notable among them is GreenWave Reality’s Connected Lighting Solution, a mouthful of marketing jargon for smart lightbulbs. Each bulb has a built-in wireless controller that reports its status and allows users to turn it on and off or dim it remotely.
So how is this more than an incremental improvement over existing home automation technologies? For starters, the lights—40-watt equivalent LEDs—fit into standard lighting fixtures. This system has a stand-alone remote unit that controls the lights wirelessly without any additional gear, unlike traditional home-automation systems, which require you to either add adapters to outlets or fixtures or install additional wiring. Not only does this make it easy to bring automation to existing ceiling lights, for example, it also permits a much finer degree of control. For instance, you can turn the three separate bulbs of a floor lamp on and off individually and even give them their own dimmer settings.
However, the stand-alone remote control isn’t really up to the task of easily managing a whole house full of smart bulbs. So the system lets you control and monitor the bulbs via Android and iOS mobile apps from anywhere with an Internet connection. This requires connecting GreenWave’s wireless gateway to your home router. The bulbs form a mesh network, relaying messages to lights that are out of radio range of the gateway, so only one gateway should be required per house. (As I live in a single-floor apartment, I haven’t been able to put this long-distance claim to the test.)
The interface of the control app does need polishing, but after a bit of poking, it’s not too hard to group installed bulbs so that you can turn a room, or a floor, on and off at once or dim the living room for movie night while simultaneously turning on the porch light. You can also set lights to come on at specific times. GreenWave says that up to 500 bulbs can be controlled at a time.
Wisely, the system lets you override settings made in the app by simply flipping the local switch, so you’re not left hunting for the remote or your phone in the night when you just want to turn on the bathroom light. I also had a problem with one light that refused to turn off one evening. This marked the first time I’ve ever had to reboot a lightbulb.
Drawbacks include the current low brightness of the bulbs (GreenWave says brighter LEDs are on the way, along with compact fluorescent versions) and the price: The starter kit, which comes with four bulbs, the remote control, and the wireless gateway, has a recommended retail price of US $200; individual bulbs will sell for between $20 and $25. But we can safely expect that all these issues will rapidly improve, and that the sun is rising—albeit with only 40-W brightness—on the Internet of Things.