The “smartness era” of light bulbs

Emitting light is a trivial capability of the modern-day bulb.

Thanks to new technologies and market changes, light bulbs are evolving to include new features, such the ability to act as musical speakers, smoke detectors and even indoor GPSs!

Initially forecasting that two million connected bulbs would be sold in 2015, IHS lighting industry analyst Will Rhodes says that number could grow as consumers are picking them up even faster than originally thought.

It’s evident that in combination with Internet of Things (IoT) architectures, LEDs are leading light bulbs into a “smartness era”.

Unlike compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs are based on semiconductors and typically already have a collection of chips and other electronics inside of them. This makes it relatively easy to add in other chips and electronic modules like radios and speakers.

But what is it exactly that makes a bulb “smart”?

Gartner defines smart lighting as a lighting system that is connected to a network and can be both monitored and controlled from a centralized system or through the cloud.

French supermarket chain, Carrefour, for example, utilizes a smart LED lighting system capable of sending special offers and location data directly to shoppers’ smartphones. Codes are transmitted to phone cameras via visual light communications (VLC) that is undetectable to the human eye, enabling shoppers to quickly receive information on promotions going on around them.

VLC can be used as a standalone solution or supplementary to radio-frequency. However, it cannot penetrate obstructions such as walls.


The benefits of smart lighting expand far beyond high-tech convenience, however. According to Gartner, smart lighting installations in office buildings and industrial areas have the potential to reduce energy costs by 90 percent, while LED installations alone result in energy savings of approximately 50 percent.

At this point in time, the installation of true smart lighting systems is driven primarily by government regulations around energy savings and bulb recycling laws. However, the costs of smart bulbs are likely to come down in the near future and standardized ways of connecting them will likely be developed.

Although it’s likely the current light bulbs in your house cannot do much more than turn on and off, one day we may wonder how we ever got by without smart bulbs!