LIFX: the light that listens

by Denis Semchenko
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It looks like the parochial saying “reinvent the lightbulb” is going to become obsolete with the advent of a bona fide 21st century lightbulb – or even lightpiece, if you like your sci-fi – that you can control with your smartphone. The humble invention has now been given an altogether new spin (pun intended) with LIFX – a Wi-Fi-controlled LED bulb that set the tech startup world on fire in just two days.

Before you start going “how many startups does it require to change a lightbulb?”, we’ll give you an exact answer: one. Melbourne-based creator Phil Bosua – already dubbed “the Australian who reinvented the lightbulb” as well as the man behind the innovative Scanbox – came upon a genius idea of connecting a light with a smartphone. No later than the proverbial lightbulb went off in his head, he gathered a dedicated team and set to task.

Making the front page on Reddit led to a tsunami-sized wave of interest in LIFX, launching Bosua into tech stratosphere overnight. What started as a weekend hobby raised a mind-boggling $270,000 through Kickstarter in 24 hours, soundly beating the initial $100,000 goal (as we speak, the amount pledged towards the project is pushing a million). LIFX now looks set to eclipse even the mighty Pebble smartwatch – another huge Kickstarter story of 2012 – as a gadget that’s both clever and highly useful, let alone gradually put the tried-and-true incandescent lightbulb that’s been around for a century out of production.

Environmentally friendly and cost-effective (the LIFX team claim the bulb uses approximately 1/10th of regular power consumption – cue considerably smaller electricity bills following installation) and smarter than assorted smart lightbulbs, the multi-coloured light can be controlled by both iPhone and Android via a specially-designed app. If you get a range of LIFX bulbs, then not only can you control every light at your place of residence and operate your own mini-disco as you please – you can also set the lights to respectively go on and off as you enter or leave the house. Speaking of commercial use, I cannot even imagine how funkier office spaces around the world would look with LIFX lights instead of the cold, characterless halogen bars.

Starting at $69, LIFX comes as either a single bulb or can be obtained in packs (but if you’re keen to get your hands on a set, hurry up – half the combos offered on Kickstarter have sold out already). Self-contained and ready to install straight away, the bulb comes in three types – Edison Screw, Bayonet Cap and Downlight. Two or more bulbs form part of your ‘mesh network’ – which means every additional LIFX you buy can be controlled by the same app without the need to reconfigure the setup. To reword the statement on the project’s Kickstarter page, you can keep your old light switches – they might just get jealous.

If you’re tech-minded, but still not “robot dancing like it’s 1999” (as ably demonstrated by Bosua in the accompanying promo) at the thought of turning your humble loungeroom illumination into Wi-Fi-operated disco lights, there’s an additional piece of thrilling info: there will be a LIFX SDK allowing app developers and home automation junkies full reign over their smartbulbs. Once a miniature scripting engine is incorporated, all kinds of hacks will be made possible.

All things considered, it’s still a bit of a wait until March 2013 when LIFX starts shipping – but that might just be the sweetest of all Kickstarter waits to date.

by Denis Semchenko
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