Invented over 200 years ago by Humphry Davy, the first electric light was not even a bulb. He connected a battery to a carbon wire and made the wire glow, producing light. Called the arc light, it ushered in a new era where streets and factories could be lit at night. Since then the light bulb has been re-invented, perfected and optimized to its present form – the LED light bulb.
The LED light bulb comes in various flavors, from regular bulbs that can replace traditional incandescent bulbs to colourful RGB light bulbs that can connect to the Internet. Using a fraction of the energy of a incandescent bulb and lasting 20 or more years, these seem like the perfect light bulb. But wait, having a light bulb connected to the Internet, is there more to the light bulb than just providing light?
Enter the Phillips Hue Light bulb
I recently purchased the Phillips Hue Light bulb starter kit to explore the Internet of things and the light bulb. The starter kit is a bit pricy, about $200 CAD, but with all new technology I expect to get hit with the ‘first adopters fee’ until mass consumerism takes a foot hold. The kit comes with three RGB LED light bulbs that can be screwed into a regular light bulb socket and something that looks like a WiFi base station.
The Wifi base station, is actually not Wifi, but uses a technology called ZigBee which sends radio signals to the light bulbs to control the brightness and colour of the bulb. Setup is easy, just plug the base station into your home network, download the Hue App from the App store, press the discover button on the base station and your App will be connected to the base station and the bulbs. Security is based on someone having physical access to press the button on the base station to take control or hijack your light bulbs.
So the first night with my new LED starter pack was spent on the porch. Using my iPhone I could control the colour of the bulb and brightness. I discovered that this shade of blue seemed to keep the bugs away. But this really isn’t the Internet of Things, it’s just me controlling the colour of a bulb.
Connecting ‘Things’ to the light bulb
So what kinds of things could we connect to the light bulb? Maybe, a light sensor that turns on the light bulb automatically when it gets dark. Perhaps a motion sensor, so light up the porch when someone approaches. Or maybe I am concerned with using energy so the light will be turned off if I accidentally left it on.
Going to bed at night, I would set the alarm on my Internet of things alarm clock and shut off the bedside light. These things would all talk to each other and realize that I am no longer on the porch and tell the porch light to shut off to save energy. Automation and energy savings, brought to you by the Internet of Things.
But wait, what if my wife, Ginny, is still on the porch and now she is left in the dark? Do we really want the Internet of Things to control our lives or make it better? The standard user interface to a light bulb is the wall switch and everyone knows how to use it. Having lights come on and off by different rules just might make it all confusing and frustrating. I remember sitting on a deck at night a long time ago at a friends place and every once in awhile we would wave our arm, just so the motion detector didn’t shut off the light. It was amusing, but not very practical.
I see the Internet of things lightbulb as a means of presenting important information. What information is important is different to everyone, but if the light bulb could present information, then it becomes part of the Internet of things family. Its normal function is to give off light, controlled by a light switch. Perhaps add a dimmer to control how much light it gives off, or during festive occasions use an App to change the colour of the light.
Imagine a light bulb that flashes green to remind you to take the garbage to the curb. Or perhaps turns red to warn of severe weather approaching. Pick what is important to you and imagine a simple light bulb letting you know. Wake up in the morning start the coffee maker and have it tell the light bulb to change colour when the pot is ready.
I’ll be posting some projects, beginner to advanced on how you can get started with an Internet of things light bulb.