Next Gen of Smart Bulbs Has Several Jobs

With the basic predefined standards in place and billions of light sockets, bulbs have a strategic position in the smarter home.

Lights, cameras, motion detectors. The latest generation of smart bulbs are moving beyond illumination to performing double duty for their connected users. Enabled by the longevity of LED bulbs and low-cost sensors, light bulbs are evolving from commoditised disposable staples into serious consumer electronics and home security products.

Billions of centrally-located light sockets are in place around the globe, providing product designers with a method of camouflaging other household electronics such as Hi-Fi speakers, home security cameras, wireless repeaters and scent diffusers into bulbs. The standards are well established in all regions, providing a convenient source of power and straightforward installation. Users in developed markets with high smartphone penetration rates have the infrastructure in place and the technology knowledge to string things together. CCS Insight noted last week that many of the latest wearables are looking a lot less like wearables (see Daily Insight: Beauty and the Beast). Now many of the latest connected home gadgets are looking a lot less like gadgets.

At CES 2015, Sony introduced an LED bulb speaker — an E26-based light bulb that doubles as a wireless speaker to provide 360-degree sound. It was one of several lamp-related consumer electronics products shown by Sony at the event. The company also unveiled two stand-alone luminaires that double as high-fidelity speakers. Bulky audio products are mutating into hidden connected devices.

Sengled, an LED manufacturer from China, also introduced several bulb-hybrid devices at CES. These included two wireless speaker bulbs, a bulb that doubles as a Wi-Fi repeater and a smart bulb called Snap that includes a security camera, microphone, speaker and motion sensor for home security. Snap works with facial recognition and geo-fencing software to keep track of who’s at home and when they leave.

However, Sengled isn’t the first company to offer a security bulb for households. French company Awox makes a bulb with an embedded HD video camera with motion detector and infrared capabilities for night-time image capture. The bulb also has a micro SD slot for local storage of video, enabling it to work independently from a smartphone or online connection. The company also offers a series of speaker bulbs and produces the AromaLight coloured bulb that uses oils to emit scents into a room to create atmosphere through light and smell.

Crowd-funded start-up BeOn is developing a modular, self-teaching, security-centric smart bulb that can simulate an occupied home to deter break-ins. BeOn bulbs listen for doorbells, have built-in battery backup for power outages and a fade out feature. BeOn hints that future bulbs could double as smoke detectors and alarms.

Light sockets are now being recognised as well-placed outlets in the home, useful for many functions beyond illumination. Philips introduced the Hue smart bulb a little more than two years ago, establishing a market for connected light bulbs. Now, like the evolution of the smartphone, bulbs are getting feature-rich through the use of sensors and standardised components. Complications include the array of connectivity specs currently in use — including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and ZigBee — and the inter-device incompatibility issues of the competing lighting profiles, creating additional consumer confusion. However, after more than 100 years, light bulbs are changing fast.