High-tech lighting control is one of the sleeper categories in home automation that is finally waking up. Over the last year or so we’ve seen a number of newcomers to the market along with new systems from existing lighting players.
So here’s another, bRight Switch. Like a lot of startups in the smart home category, bRight Switch launched a crowd funding campaign. You can check out the company’s Indiegogo page here. The company has a long stretch yet to reach its goal, but COO Ray Lundy indicated to me that goal or not, bRight Switch is probably going to happen. Right now an Indiegogo contribution is the only way to ensure you’re first on the list when products start rolling out in May.
How is bRight Switch different from other lighting control systems? First, it’s not a cloud-based or Wi-Fi control system (though a Wi-Fi component is available). There’s no central processor or hub, and you don’t connect it to your local network. The products include a wall outlet (with two USB ports for charging stuff), a wall switch/dimmer and an LCD touchpanel.
The switches and outlets have LED backlighting built in, so you can use them as night lights if you like.
The parts all communicate to each other via a proprietary low frequency wireless protocol. It’s not a mesh network, but the company tells me the range is about double what you’d get from a Wi-Fi device. Unlike lighting systems that put their radios in the bulb (such as the Philips Hue reviewed here), you still use a wall outlet to dim or turn the lights off.
So where’s the smart part?
There are a couple ways this lighting system is smart. Even though you don’t control your lights directly with a smart phone, you can program how the switches and outlets operate with bRight Switch’s smart phone app. With the app you can create scenes, timers and other light activities (even group lights that aren’t actually wired together) and then transfer the programs into the switch via a light pulse system the company designed. bRight Switch calls the system Visible Light Communications—you simply hold your phone in front of the switch and the app teaches your switches the new commands.
That’s all pretty neat, but it get really interesting when you add the nLine touchpanel controller. This is an Android-based touchpanel, about four inches—the size of a cell phone. Any bRight Switch system should probably have this (though it’s not required) because it adds several more important functions. First, it’s a cool looking touchpanel. The nLine connects via Wi-Fi to your network, which allows cell phone/tablet control of the system. It also connects to the other bRight Switch outlets and switches via the company’s own wireless system. From the touchpanel you can control any of the switches or outlets, program scenes, set away modes, etc. You can also connect directly to the internet with it to do things like play Pandora (there’s a speaker) or make an internet call (there’s a microphone). There’s also apparently a motion sensor, so you can set the nLine to turn on or off your lights based on how much jumping around you do.
The inLine Android touchpanel can be personalized via a selection of templates.
Since the nLine touchpanel connects the system to your Wi-Fi network and by extension, the cloud, you can remotely control your lights with your smart phone or tablet.
Can you integrate other automation products to work with bRight Switch? Sort of—since the nLine touchscreen is an Android device, anything that can be controlled with an Android app can be controlled with it. You can use the nLine to operate your Sonos music or Dropcam security camera. The company also plans to publish an open API to allow for integration with other control systems.
All of the devices (the outlet, switch and touchpanel) connect to your home’s electricity system via a base that goes in the AC wall box. Once that’s installed (use an electrician if you’re afraid of wires) you just snap the switch, outlet or touchpanel onto the base.
If all this sounds good—the kicker is the price. Prepare for reverse sticker shock. The outlets cost $26 (or $15 if you buy through the Indiegogo page). Switches are $40 (or $25 through the Indiegogo page), and the nLine Android touchpanel is $96 (or $75 through the Indiegogo page). Several product bundles are featured on the crowd funding site. At the $510 contribution level, you get 10 switches, 10 outlets and 2 nLine touchpanels. What other lighting system can cover so much at that price?
The company plans to ship in May. Initially the product will be sold direct to customers online, but they plan to have retail distribution later on.
We’ve seen some of these crowd-funded smart home launches take off and some fizzle out. This one looks interesting, and if it catches on, could get lighting automation into the hands of more people.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.