Google? In My Lightbulbs? It’s More Likely Than You Think


With the recent announcement and release of their ADK, it was only a matter of time before Google started invading your home in a big way. From the looks of it, Google will be jumping into the home lighting market very shortly, which could prove to be quite interesting.

Partnering with Florida-based Lighting Sciences, Google is planning on developing consumer-grade 60W equivalent smart LED light bulbs. The bulbs will be able to wirelessly communicate using Google’s new open-source home networking protocol. The lights will be controllable using any Android device allowing users to dim, brighten and toggle the lights on and off without ever touching a wall switch.

We think it’s an interesting idea, and we’re all for getting quality LED lighting in the home. That said, some of Google’s other utility-centric endeavors such as PowerMeter have met only mediocre success, so it remains to be seen if this concept takes off. If it does however, we can’t wait to see the flood of ADK-based hacks the community puts together. Since their new wireless protocol will likely be extended to all sorts of other household systems, the possibilities are endless.

55 thoughts on “Google? In My Lightbulbs? It’s More Likely Than You Think

  1. The biggest hurdle will be the price, people won’t want to spend ridiculous amounts on ‘everyday’ lights they don’t need or won’t save them any money in the long run because of the initial cost of the lamp.

    A store near me has a shelf with 11watt CFL’s for 10p each (not a price typo), LED based lighting in bricks’n’mortar stores (not online from China) still has to come down to a level that competes with CFL’s in both price and light colour/dispersal.

  2. I work for a lighting designer, and LED lamps are still not *there* yet, in terms of light quality, ascetics, and retrofit-ibility. We just got samples of the new line of Toshiba E-Core lamps (replaces PAR and MR16 bulbs), and while they are quite an improvement over the previous generations from other MFGs, they are still not a 1:1 replacements for incandescent.

    The idea of having heat-sink fins is quite problematic in that the fixture you place it in will be the determining factor for good heat dissipation. fixtures that were designed to only let heat dissipate from the front of the lamp (in the same direction that the light is traveling) will quickly get very hot, as the heat will be trapped near the socket. this will cause the LED to fail sooner, rather than later (and at $30+ each, its not a blown lamp you’ll jump on replacing). Now this is more of an issue for the PAR lamps, especially with older fixtures, so I can see these working well with fixtures designed with them in mind.

    Also, most LED lamps (if not all)are dimmed with PWM, so the lower you dim the light, the worse the stroboscopic gets. Dimmed to 10%, you can wave your hand in front of the light and REALLY notice it. If these were in my home, I’d get nauseated quite quickly.

    Lastly, I know this is hack-a-day and there’s a penchant for over-engineering things, but seriously, who needs to automate their household lighting? It would be fun and rewarding to do as a project, but buying a home with such automation or retrofitting an existing home, I foresee this causing more problems than it solves (does is solve anything, for that matter)…

    my 2c.

  3. xeracy, the PWM issue is not that it uses PWM but the speed of the PWM, I’ve got one of those 5 meter 300 LED strips in this room which uses 5050 sized LEDs, I’m controlling it with a MOSFET on a Picaxe 18m2 with a cheap 5-button Maxell iPod remote control setup (the Picaxe reads a serial signal from the receiver), I’ve set the PWM speed to 8khz and I cannot see any flicker.

    The light colour on the other hand… the seller sent me cool white instead of warm white, it’s bordering on being blue, ok for electronics work when at full brightness but not nice for normal lighting so I’m going to get a warm white strip to compliment it. The Picaxe 18m2 has two PWM outputs enabling control of each LED strip separately.

  4. @xeracy

    Eh, I’ve been designing some LED lamps for my workshop just to learn the circuits. The lights you can see strobing must be crap. On the cheap LED driver I used (LM3414), the PWM frequency is adjustable from 250kHz-1000Khz. That would not be visible.

    Heat is an issue but we will see lamp designs change accordingly. There may be some growing pains for people with fixtures that don’t work well with LED lamps, but it is worth it. The LED lights use 1/6th the power, don’t require any mercury or hazardous chemicals to make, and as long as they have proper heat dissipation they will last for 30 *years* or so (50k hours. 4 hours a day is over 30 years). By the time I have kids, they won’t understand why light bulbs ever need to be replaced. (Assuming I build my house around the time I have kids, they shouldn’t see any of our bulbs burn out until they have their own kids)

    Companies like CREE (I have no affiliation, just like their stuff) are really making some awesome LEDs now. You can get a single LED that puts out as much light as a 60W bulb but only draws 10W and costs $4 in bulk. Since the LEDs are more efficient at lower currents they actually use a few LEDs driven at less current to improve the life of the thing, so costs are still a little high, but they should go down. LED technology keeps improving and they project that LEDs will beat 200 lumens per watt in a few years, beating out sodium vapor lights becoming the most efficient kind of lighting we have.

    Honestly this stuff amazes me. If someone’s making crap LED bulbs right now, its not the fault of LEDs. Someone will make a good one and it will kick ass.

    One thing I think they should do is stop trying to maximize the life of the LED by using multiple LEDs at lower currents, and instead just use one and crank it up. Who cares if it only lasts 15 years if its cheaper? Though quality of light goes down too when they get driven hard.

    Anyway, someone will make a good bulb and they will be great. Probably within the next 6 months or year there will be good options (though still pricey). Then it will be about price but that always goes down.

  5. “…The bulbs will be able to wirelessly communicate using Google’s new open-source home networking protocol.”

    Did reading that sentence make anyone else’s hearts race a little? I dunno, I am an avid user of many Google services and products and am fully aware of their massive database of information on me and everyone else who has ever used the internet, but I think this might just be a step too far.

    Light bulbs are one thing, but once it starts inevitably including door and window locks, security systems and surveillance equipment, misc appliances, et cetera it will already be too late.

    I’m not trying to sound paranoid or anything, but isn’t that a whole lot of trust to be putting in one company?

  6. Just imagine someone showing this off to his friends and trying to show them how awesome these are. And how (s)he can controll them using an Android phone. Until… someone just flips the switch. Because when the lightbulbs get no power, the wireless connection will be useless.

  7. Xyrose, it is open source, so many many eyes capable of recognising dangerous code would be giving it a serious hairy eyeballing.

    Further, this is real life and not the movies. A little solenoid in an electric door lock isnt really capable of confining you to your home. I never met a security camera that could stand up to 2 minutes hate.

    Lastly, you can choose not to use their system, even if everyone on facebook says you should.

  8. I just want to say that this will be 10x better than the existing X10 method of home automation. X10 is complete crap and very unreliable so it would be nice to see something dethrone it. Still, I can’t see myself spending any money on home automation unless I’m doing it myself, HAD-style.

  9. They announced these lightbulbs as part of the FIRST FRC fundraising. Google sponsored with 3 million dollars, and now we are selling these to fund our FRC teams!

  10. I would love to buy a ton of these bulbs, as long as they’re not too expensive. And I haven’t decided how expensive “too expensive” is. Depends on the life of the bulb and it’s ease of use.

    But I’m worried that these won’t fit into my house. Our rental property has ceiling fan / light combos and existing bulbs go in sideways. They have to be short to fit in which is problematic.

    Also, prank, anyone? Replace a few bulbs in someone’s house with these, then set up a cheap Android phone somewhere, then start the flickering and spooky effects!

    Plus for those people wondering about Google trying to enter into every facet of their life, think about other companies like Mitsubishi: Cars, computers, heaters / A/C, TVs, aircraft etc.

  11. I can’t wait. I replaced all four of the 18w florescent light fixtures in my RV with 6w of LED lighting each. Cost about $30 and an hour each to do it (6 LEDs and 2 drivers each fixture). If I can just buy ready-made bulbs for the same or less money, I can replace all the lights in my house with them. And gain wireless control at the same time!

  12. I can’t turn on the lights to look for the stupid phone that turns on the lights! :P

    Seriously… Google controlled wifi lights? (you don’t really think these are free of some sort of surveillance, do you?) really? Sorry sir, but according to our anonymous data collection you’ve been using your light too long and that is a violation of one of the green commandments! Don’t worry, we’ll turn it off for you… :P

    Just give me an LED bulb that costs the same as a CFL and gives out the same amount of light and you have another customer.

  13. This is really cool. I love the idea but it will take some serious engineering and invention to make these lights safe for people to use in there homes.

    The first (more obvious problem) is malicious people toying with the lights in peoples houses, hospitals, stores, etc. being able to control light at night could the wrong people a serious advantage. So a fail safe switch might be needed or some sort of wireless kill switch for the wireless component it’s self. (pure speculation on my part but def. possible)

    The second problem I see coming to ‘light’ is the light it’s self. Even the best LED lighting is amazing when used in the right environment/aesthetic but from what I’ve seen most LED bulbs worth a piss still don’t provide the “comfortable” feeling of an incandescent bulb. I myself use LED bulbs in my bedroom and I like them but I have had friends say they don’t like the intensity the light seems to give off.

    We will see. This is definitely an exciting prospect. I look forward to this idea coming to life.

  14. @JB

    “I can’t turn on the lights to look for the stupid phone that turns on the lights! :P

    Seriously… Google controlled wifi lights? (you don’t really think these are free of some sort of surveillance, do you?) really? Sorry sir, but according to our anonymous data collection you’ve been using your light too long and that is a violation of one of the green commandments! Don’t worry, we’ll turn it off for you… :P

    Just give me an LED bulb that costs the same as a CFL and gives out the same amount of light and you have another customer.”

    Sounds like Russia.

  15. How is the networking component of the lamp to be powered when it is off? It would seem that you’d have to use Android to turn the light on and off, if you turned it off at the switch the networking setup would lose power. Its unlikely to have a large enough battery or whatever to meet its networking needs unless regularly powered on.

    I also wonder about the phantom load it would represent. Its all fine and good to save electricity by making high-use lighting more efficient, but leaving a dozen closet lights drawing a watt each for the network might increase electric usage, and the components are more resource intensive than Edison’s older invention.

  16. I wonder if we ever will reach the point where all these low powered RF transmissions will raise the noise floor to the point the receivers that are supposed to received those low power signal become swamped to the point they can’t? Actually I, unimpressed with this direction. More can be done by working to reduce the cost, and environmental impact from the manufacturing the newer lighting devices. Parents bellering at their kids or spouse to turn off the god damn light can still do wonders.

  17. These bulb are pretty awesome…Google has helped FIRST teams sell the (non-smart) version and theyre diesent bulbs…so if you want to buy them, try to buy them from a local FRC team…

  18. I don’t get people’s paranoia here. That’s no obscure internet service you can’t dissect. As soon as I get my hands on one of those bulbs, I will crack it up to look what is inside. If there’s anything looking conspicious you will notice.
    The software side, as somebody already commented, will be open-source, so no obscurities there, too.
    And I’m pretty sure the wireless connection will be safe in some way (like you can’t connect to your wireless router without the proper key). If it’s not, make it safe (hey, it’s open-source).
    If they really manage to get them out for a decent price, I’m in.

  19. The idea is great, but it’s not far from the usual remote controlled switch. It’s great to have it, but lacking it is no serious drawback.

    I don’t see how the communication will happen. Wi-fi or bluetooth will be really expensive to integrate into each bulb (i guess) and having a low cost transciever will require some additional bridge or some sort.

  20. A few thoughts on the issues raised here:

    – Google may be many things, but not stupid. I’m sure they’re well aware of people’s concerns about them controlling/monitoring their lights, so I’m also pretty sure they’ll make sure to address those when the time comes. This will probably include open-source proof that they can’t actually control your light and prominent warnings with opt-out checkbox of any potential data collecting. Just because you’re using Android it doesn’t mean your phone has to connect to THEM to switch something on or off.

    – The bulbs would likely be “always-powered”, but if done well, they would consume MUCH less then a watt when not in use. Your wall switch would probably be switched out to a RF transmitter looking just like the old switch, but without direct control over the bulb’s power wires. Possibly battery (good for “N” years) or push-energy operated.

    – The RF protocol would almost certainly be encrypted, with nobody but you having access to the encryption keys. That’s industry standard by now. Tampering would be highly unlikely.

    That being said, WHERE THE HECK ARE THE DETAILS on that darn RF protocol?!? NDA much or what…? I can’t even find the whole thing mentioned by Google officially (as in not in a video…)!

  21. @Bogdan:
    They might want to use the new Bluetooth 4.0 feature – Bluetooth Low Energy – which is expected to start being integrated into new handset’s Bluetooth chipsets soon-ish. But it’s more likely (at least for now) they’ll just connect by WiFi to a bridge on your LAN, as you say. And you’re right, I don’t expect this to be much different from existing RF schemes (there aren’t really any major advances to be made in that field in short term I think – it’s just which compromise you choose to make), the difference is only Google being behind it this time (which may or may not be enough of a critical mass to get it rolling this time)

  22. hmm now a google controlled alarm clock and coffee maker. Mail my girlfriend complaining about how i have to get up at 6 tommorow. Google reads this, for advertizement offcourse, set my alarm clock and switches the lights on half an hour before i have to get up, and makes sure my coffee is ready.
    The massive privacy invasion aside, it would be fun to see some much easier when apa.. uhm google uses everything they could know about you to make your life easier.

  23. We noticed you dimmed your lights and ignored incoming texts for an hour.

    Now we’re going to target you with condom adverts.

    Oh, and update your facebook relationship status for you.

  24. @Haku: that’s because CFLs are currently subsidised. The good ones with a good colour cast still cost £5, where as the cheap non-dimmable Phillips with their crappy colour and brightness are dirt cheap.

    I personally would spend £15 for an Android controlled table lamp.

  25. @Everyone: I don’t think these things will talk to your router, and they should have a unique ID that’s registered to the remote…but what’s to stop the Android app from snitching on you?

    Ah hah! He stays up late and has moved apartment. Things only a terrorist would do. And look at this porn! Sick. It’s a good thing we can collate all these searches and patterns to a light bulb, IP address and phone number.

  26. It is all part of the so called “smart grid” that the ridiculously well connected green movement want so badly.If the choice is google light bulbs or burn whale oil for lamps I will get a whaling ship and slaughter as many whales as necessary to keep it like daylight in my house 24x7x365. This is absolutely the stupidest thing I have ever seen

  27. @Alan/everyone else who doesn’t share apprehension

    I’m not Worried about Google abusing their power and spying on everyone, they have already made it clear that they will give you full warning before/as they collect your information.

    What I am mainly concerned about is, as with any company, the potential for failure/compromised security. Google is fantastic for all the services they provide, but with more and more integration, that’s just more and more things that can be affected by a singular threat.

  28. @Sariel

    More like Blue Sun. Or Weyland-Yutani.

    Seriously what is this?
    First internet searches, then maps, then phones, then self navigating cars, and now light bulbs? What comes next? Food and drugs? Not gonna buy food from that kind of megacorp. [begin:”sarcasm”] Unless, oh man, they start selling “earth friendly” and organic food! [/sarcasm] (I’m not hating on earth friendly foods. Just buy local, buy small, that’s all.)

    Also, am I the fist to comment on the horrible photoshopping? Ever heard of the eyedropper tool?

  29. And while you are trying to read a book the Google Lights will flicker incessantly in order to draw your attention to the Google Ads being projected on the ceiling.

    Google won’t be satisfied until they have tattooed Google Ads on the inside of my eyelids.

  30. Obviously if it’s not an Android reader, the light will go into emergency strobe mode until you read it on Google approved hardware.

    Yes, it knows what you’re looking at…thinking.

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