Use LED Lighting to Start Your Own Smart Home Project
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 leading innovator in the development of bulbs and fixtures, with products spanning all types of technologies and applications. But, according to Mary Beth Gotti of the Institute, no advancement since Thomas Edison’s invention of the first incandescent bulb 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 these is the GE Link, a connected LED fixture that can be controlled via an app and can be integrate with GE’s new Wink home automation system.
The commercial introduction of this smart bulb, as well as GE’s other LED products, hasn’t happened 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 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 at its lab, operating it under controlled conditions, which adhere to UL standards, for a minimum of 6,000 hours. The result of this continual testing and innovation is not only reflected in the performance of the bulbs but also in their design. “As LEDs continue to become more efficient, their designs will naturally change,” says Duffy. For example, the heat sinks and pixelated lenses that were once common will soon be features of the past, putting 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 looks just as good as 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.”
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. GE is one company that’s leading this charge with its GE Link. Built into this $15ish bulb (which comes in three different varieties) is an RF antenna that enables it to communicate 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, when you leave home, the bulbs could automatically turn off when you reach a certain distance—say a mile away from home; conversely, as you return home, the lights can turn back on at a predetermined point. “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 connected home by GE’s definition is technology that’s completely open to product developers and transparent to end users. Adhering to this philosophy, the Wink hub supports several communication protocols, including Zigbee, Z-Wave, Lutron ClearConnect, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, among others. This means that regardless of the communications technology those products employ, end users are free to pick and choose products from a variety of manufacturers and know that they’ll work with Wink.
And GE isn’t stopping with lighting. Through its relationship with Quirky, the company continues to foster innovation by helping inventors from across the country bring their own unique product ideas to life, some of which are being marketed as part of the GE Wink smart home ecosystem. Refuel, for example, is a newly developed product that 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 (homedepot.com) and Amazon.com.
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