In the last few years there have been a lot of attempts to reinvent the light bulb. The latest stab at it comes from a Kickstarter project called LIFX.
The LIFX is an LED light bulb that has a "brain" that allows one bulb, a "master," to connect with a local Wi-Fi network, as well as to other LIFX bulbs. Bulbs talk to each other via a slightly different protocol than the master bulb to form a mesh network.
Using an app on a smartphone, a person can control either individual lights or a whole room full of them. The light can, its inventors claim, even change color because the LEDs are red, green and blue, with the three combined providing white light and the color change coming from adjusting the relative brightness of the individual LEDs.
The LIFX inventor, Phil Bosua, has a video on Kickstarter that claims that each bulb uses less than 10 watts of power, and produces as much light as a 60 watt bulb. At $69 -- the pledge amount that gets you one light bulb –- it's competitive with some of the higher-end models of LED bulbs. Even though one can get an LED bulb for about half that, it's also worth noting that the electronics would increase the value.
The site also says the regular light switches in the house will keep working, so if you lose your phone it won't be as though you've lost control of the lights. It isn't clear whether the switch has to always be on for the LIFX to work, though.
Kickstarter pledges are to help someone complete a project. If the project gets funded -- raising a certain amount of money in a specific time frame -- the money goes to the inventor (or artist, or filmmaker). If not, it goes back to the contributors. Most projects in the arts offer T-shirts and the like as mementoes of contributions. But in the technology section of the site inventors offer a real product.
The goal for the LIFX project was to raise $100,000. So far, it has raised $830,000 as of this writing. The inventors say they have working prototypes and that the money will be used to build LIFX on a larger scale and fund app development.
That said, there has been a certain amount of skepticism about whether LIFX can deliver. Over at Reuters, Felix Salmon has noted that it's very, very difficult to get a product to market even when one has millions in backing and a well-thought-out business plan. And there are other Kickstarter projects –- notably an iPad keyboard called the Touchfire that ran into several problems with actual production. The keyboard was successfully funded (a some twenty times what the inventors asked or) in 2011; but many did not ship until just last month.
We'll keep our eye on this project to see if it lights up the LED world.