LED light bulbs are the brightest (no pun intended) stars at GE’s Lighting Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. After more than 100 years in the residential and commercial lighting business, the company has been a innovator in the development of bulbs and fixtures, with products spanning all types of technologies and applications. But no advancement since Thomas Edison’s invention of the first incandescent bulb, says GE Lighting & Electrical Institute Mary Beth Gotti, compares to the impact of the LED light bulb. “We’ve seen more change in the lighting industry in the past two years than the entire history of the light bulb,” she says. GE has invested more than a decade to the development of increasingly reliable, efficient and affordable LED bulbs, the newest of which is the GE Link, a connected LED fixture that can be controlled via an app and can be integrate with GE’s new Wink smart home control system.
The commercial introduction of this smart LED bulb, as well as GE’s other LED products, doesn’t happen overnight. Before a new version of an LED product can be packaged and sold, it must undergo hundreds of hours of rigorous testing, performed directly at the Cleveland, Ohio, facility. One of the main goals, says GE lighting expert Jeffy Duffy, is to continue to increase the efficiency of the bulb and to ensure that it will perform reliably under all types of conditions, including extreme heat, cold and humidity, and to measure its lumen output, color accuracy and other performance features. To ensure that an LED bulb lives up to its expected lifespan of 20+ years (based on 3 hours of operation a day), GE will first test the technology by operating it under controlled conditions for a minimum of 6,000 hours at its lab, adhering to UL standards.
The Wink app for controlling lights and other wirelessly-connected devices.
The result of this continual testing and innovation is not only reflected in the performance of the blubs but also in their design. “As LEDs continue to become more efficient, their designs will naturally change,” Duffy says. For example, the heat sinks and pixelated lenses that were once common will soon be features of the past, making the LED bulb even more on par with the look and feel of incandescent bulbs. We’ve also reached a point, Duffy continues, where the light output of LED bulbs looks just as good that of an incandescent bulb. “You should no longer expect a compromise in light quality. The early days of lousy looking LED illumination are gone.”
Free Special Report: Smart Lighting Control Starts with Smart Devices
With so many of these initial issues nearing resolution, and with prices continuing to drop, LED light bulbs are poised for their next level of advancement, and GE is one company that’s also leading this charge with its GE Link. Built into this $15ish bulb (which comes in three different flavors) is an RF antenna that enables it to communicate wirelessly via Zigbee technology with GE’s Wink mobile app. With the free app loaded on a smartphone or tablet, a user can control the lights remotely with a tap of a button. Built-in geofencing technology even enables the Link bulbs to adjust according to your location outside of the home. For example, if you’re a mile away from the house, the bulbs could turn off automatically then turn on as you approach the house. “All the great qualities of LED lighting can be leveraged by Link, and more recently Wink,” says GE Lighting president and CEO Maryrose T. Sylvester.
As GE’s first “smart house” type product, the GE Link has helped marshal the company into a new line of business: home automation. “Lighting is the gateway to the connected home,” says Ben Kaufman, CEO of Quirky, a GE Wink initiative partner. And a connected home by GE’s definition is technology that’s completely open to product developers and transparent to end users. The Wink hub supports several communication protocols, including Zigbee, Z-Wave, Lutron ClearConnect, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, among others. This means that end users are free to pick and choose products that from a variety of manufacturers regardless of which communications technology those products employ.
And GE isn’t stopping here. Through its relationship with Quirky, GE continues to foster innovation. With the help of Quirky, inventors from across the country are able bring their unique product ideas to life, some of which are being marketed as part of the GE Wink smart home ecosystem. Refuel, for example, allows a user to monitor the current level of a BBQ propane tank. A gauge attached to the tank communicates via the Internet to a mobile app on a smartphone or tablet. Another new Wink-ready product, Spotter, connects to the Wink app to update you on what’s happening at your house while you’re away. Designed as a multipurpose sensor, it monitors and reacts to motion, sound, light, temperature and humidity.
And to think, GE’s springboard into the smart home industry was a simple LED light bulb.
You can find all of GE and Quirky’s Wink-enabled products at Home Depot and Amazon.com.
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