Will the Android LED Light the Way for Home Automation?

Google and Lighting Science Group's LED lamp will be controlled by the Android@Home platform.

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Last week Google and Lighting Science Group announced their Android-based LED (light emitting diode) lamp that can be controlled wirelessly by an Android-based phone or tablet. Much fanfare followed, and some have postulated that Google’s Android@Home platform could take over home automation, perhaps starting with lighting.

The A19 LED lamp will replace a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb and will allow users to turn on or off or possibly dim the light via their phone or perhaps turn on lights automatically when they enter a room. The LED lamp will use an open-source wireless technology being developed, as Google has identified limitations with both Wi-Fi and wireless ZigBee-based technologies. The lamp should be available later this year.

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So is this a killer Google app? Will this introduce both home automation and energy savings to the masses getting Android-based phones? After all, lighting represents a significant slice of an average home’s energy usage. And energy management in the home absolutely needs to be automated.

A Generational Thing?

Longtime electronics industry expert and current lighting systems designer Tom Doherty of Doherty Design Group in Indianapolis, for one, isn’t convinced that the Android-based LED will have a large impact.

“Android and iPhone apps and tablets are powerful interfaces for a lot of people, but I don’t feel like the adoption rate [of the Android-based LED] is going to be great. Lighting control seems like a tiny entry point in the home. There are a lot of other things they can integrate [with the Android@Home platform].”

Google engineering director Joe Britt was quoted on WallStreetDaily.com as saying:

“To bring this vision to reality, we’re partnering with several industry players [and] opening the platform up to everyone to do whatever they can imagine… We don’t think we’re going to come up with what the killer apps are … but by embedding the ability to control any device in your home, we think it enables a crazy number of new opportunities.”

That may well be, and an Android-controlled LED has the potential to introduce many to the convenient and energy-saving benefits of lighting control and home automation. Still, Doherty believes that using a phone to control your home systems is more of a generational issue.
“Smartphones being used to control things is for a younger crowd. Twentysomethings are Android app users, but they can’t afford some of the home automation stuff. I think home automation is still for those with discretionary incomes—or if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and a geek and love it.”

Doherty also points out that he and others of Baby Boomer and older generations don’t necessarily walk around the house with their smartphones in hand. “When more and more devices in the house are really robustly controlled by an iPhone and iPad [and Android-based device], then having the phone and remote in the hand [will be more common].”

Yet he doesn’t rule out using smartphones for home automation. The cable companies and ADT have to be really successful in selling connectivity solutions that double as basic home automation and energy management systems using smartphones, he says. “Then people will say, ‘I can use the phone to control some things, and now I want more of it.’”

As for lighting control, Doherty says, “Its biggest value is convenience. My clients see the value in getting rid of wall clutter and having the system easy to use and to control things. Very few value the energy savings. We show them the iPhone app and they think it’s cool, but I wonder if the novelty wears off.”

“I think home automation and integration have a ways to go,” he says, likening it to the Internet in the mid-1990s, when it was still in its nascent stages but about to take off. “Right now, it’s still a niche thing.”

Though like the Internet in the late 1990s—home automation with energy management could take off very quickly. Stay tuned.

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