Wi-Fi Lightbulbs Are Real And Awesome: First Impressions

Wi-Fi Lightbulbs Are Real And Awesome: First Impressions

The Island of Dr Moreau-style splicing of technologies is generally one trend the world could do without. “Haven’t you always wanted a lava lamp with a built-in hatchet?” No, Mr Pitchman, and please take your abominations elsewhere. But every once and in a while we get a combination that actually makes a lot of sense. Wi-Fi in your lightbulbs may just be the future of lighting.

The GreenWave Reality Connected Lighting Solution is pretty remarkable. You simply screw in the bulbs, plug GreenWave’s magical little box into your existing wireless router, and do a quick setup on your iOS or Android device. Done. No rewiring your house or anything like that. The LED bulbs fit in most standard sockets, and can all be controlled (individually or in groups) by a remote control or by any iOS or Android device. We spent the last few days with these bulbs, and here are some first impressions.

The bulbs themselves give off a warm, 2700K glow, which is a comparable color to incandescent bulbs. It’s a pleasing light, and it retains that colour even when dimmed. The LED bulbs are Energy Star Certified, and consume just a fraction of the power of incandescents. These are roughly on par with CFL bulbs in terms of consumption, but they are far more durable and should last a great deal longer. We tested the 40W equivalent lights and they cast a very nice, even lighting to the room. The top of the bulb is a disc that doesn’t light up, which makes the bare bulbs not particularly attractive, but they’re certainly not as ugly as others we’ve seen.

As we wrote nearly a year and a half ago, amazingly each lightbulb has its own IP address (using IPv6). That makes every bulb individually controllable, though they can be grouped together into fixtures. It’s an extremely scalable solution — each GreenWave router is capable of supporting as many as 500 individual nodes. Each bulb acts as a relay point for the others, which improves performance even across large houses.

For testing, I put two into my living room’s overhead fixture, one in my living room lamp, and one in my bathroom. Using the app I was able to name each individual bulb if I wanted, or combine two into a fixture, which I did for the two in the overhead light so they would behave as a unit. You can create custom icons for each light by taking a photo of its fixture on your phone, you then group them together into rooms, as you wish, making it easy to control an area’s lighting all at once. The included remote control has four group numbers, and you can assign lights or rooms to each. LED bulbs have many more levels of adjustment than CFLs, and it was possible to create some very mellow mood lighting.

You can also create schedules called “Smart Controls”. These could be very simple, as in “turn on outside lights at sundown, then turn them off again at sunrise”, or they could be intricate holiday modes, where various lights come on and off at various times, giving the appearance of someone moving around your home. But don’t worry, you need to have your phone or remote control with you at all times — you can still use your home’s light switches as usual.

Unfortunately the apps still have a ways to go—at least the Android one does, which, to be fair, is still in beta. There are some force closes and issues with responsiveness. However, once I was all set up, I was able to turn on my bathroom light before getting out of bed, eliminating a toe-breaking scenario. And I was able to turn lights on and off even when I was miles away from my apartment, which made for some rather fun pranks on my girlfriend.

This is all made possible through GreenWave’s partnership with NXP, which is responsible for the wireless technology within the bulbs and routers (and probably the NFC chip in your new smartphone). But the bulbs are just one piece of a much larger puzzle. It’s a part of a system which will soon be integrated with thermostats, appliances, IP cameras, motion sensors and much more. These systems have already been integrated in Europe (where utility companies aren’t quite so regulated) and have been well-received. I was worried that having dosens of bulbs, each with a little radio that is on and waiting all the time would end up costing a lot more on one’s energy bill. I was told, however, that each bulb only draws 100mW of power when off, which would cost roughly 10 to 20 cents per year. Not bad at all, considering the other savings.

We’re still waiting on confirmation of pricing and availability. GreenWave has licensed this technology to a number of leading bulb manufacturers in the US and China, but there’s no indication yet of availability elsewhere. We’ve seen a lot of companies take a stab at the “connected home” market (Wi-Fi washer and dryer… great), but this is one of the first that’s actually useful enough (and will likely be affordable enough) to catch on. [GreenWave Reality]

UPDATE: Just got this response regarding pricing:

GreenWave Reality is really the “brand behind the brand”, selling through utilities and other partners. Because of Energy Star rebates and other incentives through utilities, we can’t give an exact price, but we expect bulbs to be available for around $US20 or less. The full kit that you have should be at or under $US200.

The kit she references includes four bulbs, the router and the remote control. And $US20 a bulb after that? That would be very tempting.