The smart money is on smart lamps

The market for home lamps that do everything from dance to transmit data is about to turn on, as vendors will sell nearly a quarter of a billion smart lamps annually by 2020, according to a new research report.

In case you've just crawled out of a cave and have been living by firelight for the last few years: 'Smart bulbs,' as US-based ABI Research calls them, are LED lamps that tie into digital networks and can thus perform in all sorts of innovative ways. For instance, users can remotely switch them on or off and change their brightness or colour from their sofa or from around the world via apps; smart bulbs can flash when they detect smoke or intruders; they can pulsate to music and respond to other sounds; they can light up inside the house when your car pulls into the driveway or when you turn the house key in the lock;  and so on.

Smart lamps (bulbs in US parlance) are associated with smart home controls like Googles' Nest, and with the fledgling 'Internet of Things' (IoT, or IoE for those like ABI who prefer 'Internet of Everything') in which the planets' objects can all communicate not just with people but also with each other (favourite non-lighting example: the refrigerator senses a dearth of beer and promptly orders more from Tesco).

They can readily do this because they are built around LEDs - light-emitting diodes which are electronic chips and thus fit well into the digital universe.

Most LED lamps on the market are not yet 'smart.' While they offer all the energy savings of 80% or more compared to conventional incandescent bulbs, and while they are said to last for over 20 years, most manufacturers have yet to generally equip them with intelligence. But that has been changing; the LIFX bulb is smart, as is GE's Link and Philips' Hue, just to name some.

And as prices drop and vendors start to standardise wireless controls – ABI said that the ZigBee Light Link standard is catching on - shipments will rapidly accelerate. In one price-smashing move, GE announced a $15 Link bulb in June, a move that matched prices of 'dumb' LEDs and that weighed in at about a third of the price of competing smart products. ('Successful guy lighting at normal guy prices,' says Jeff Goldblum's slickTerry Quattro character in the GE video below).

'Annual smart bulb shipments are set to increase to 223 million by 2020, achieving a total installed base of over 400 million,' ABI said in a press release.

While a quarter of a billion might not seem like an overly impressive figure in a world with a growing population of 7.3 billion people, it's a boom next to the 2.5 million units that ABI Research said sold in 2013.

'Because of the additional dimensions smart lighting brings to the consumer lifestyle, including lighting automation, and because of its carbon footprint efficiency, this industry will rapidly become one of the key technologies that could bring IoE closer to consumers,” said Malik Saadi, ABI practice director.

The shift toward connected lighting is drawing companies from other industries into home and commercial lighting. Internet firms are poised to play a big role - Cisco is involved in Denmark's DOLL outdoor lighting programme, and Apple is selling Philips Hue bulbs, for instance. Even the automobile industry is on the convergence trail, as BMW recently announced a combination streetlamp and electric car charger.

All of which once again brings up the question: Whose industry is it, anyway? Put another way: How long until Google owns the lighting profession?

Maybe this guy knows the answer:

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Smart lighting's other object of desire:

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Video is from GE via YouTube. Photo is a screen grab from the video.

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