I had a classic facepalm moment recently. I was boarding a plane for a five-day vacation and realized that, in my rush to get to the airport, I had forgotten to turn out the lights in the entryway of my house. But moments later (after screaming “Duh!”) I sighed with relief. As soon as I had wedged myself into my Lilliputian airline seat, I reached for my iPhone and shut the lights off remotely.
This is the joy of home automation. As more tech-aware citizens are discovering, you can install light bulbs, appliances, climate systems and other home electronics that are connected to the internet. Controlling them — turning things on and off, setting timers, or adjusting the settings — can be accomplished on a smartphone or tablet from within the home, or from anywhere with a modest data connection.
The light bulbs I tested in my home are made by GreenWave Reality, a company with offices in Denmark, southern California and Singapore. The bulbs use energy-efficient LEDs for illumination, but they’re also armed with an internet-enabled chip that can be controlled wirelessly. To change the mood around the house, you can use GreenWave’s apps for iPhones and Android phones as well as a familiar remote control that’s included. Installation of the GreenWave Reality system is as easy as, well, screwing in a light bulb. There’s no re-wiring.
The basic $200 GreenWave kit I tested includes four 40-watt-equivalent LED bulbs, the remote control, and a small internet gateway that connects via an Ethernet cable to your Wi-Fi router.
When you insert each bulb, it fades up and down, and the app’s setup wizard finds its location. Within the app, you then assign it to one of four room groups. Using either the remote control or the phone app, you’re then able to turn lights on or off, create mood-setting levels of illumination (the bulbs are dimmable) and schedule lights to automatically turn on or off at preset times. Lights can be hooked up to motion sensors, and you can group several bulbs together.
The tablet and smartphone apps can also help manage your power consumption by showing you nice, clean graphs of your usage.
So there I was in Seat 14C on my way to Florida, and I was able to turn off the lamps at the front of my house, as well as set my living room lamps to turn on at the exact time I got home five days later. Remote access is only available if you set up a free account with the company’s online service, but you can do this directly from the phone app.
GreenWave’s Energy Star certified LEDs incorporate JenNet-IP network layer software, which creates a low-power mesh network inside your home and assigns IPv6 addresses to all the smart devices around the house. The tech is scalable, too — it’s expandable up to some 500 bulbs. This might explain why the bulbs cost about $20 each, or $200 for the kit of four bulbs plus the hardware remote and the gateway device.
GreenWave Reality is not alone in offering smart bulbs or other lighting systems that weave seamlessly into the ever-growing internet of things. The soon-to-arrive Lifx bulbs, birthed from a Kickstarter campaign, will perform similar functions, but will also notify users of new text messages or tweets via pulsating lights. Lighting powerhouse Philips Electronics also offers its own wireless bulb, the Hue. The Hue bulbs are $60 and they’re available exclusively at Apple Stores right now. The $80 Lifx bulbs are shipping sometime in early 2013.
Currently, GreenWave Reality kits are available from participating local utilities in both in Europe and the United States. You’ll be able to find them in wider circulation throughout 2013.