Smart light bulbs – like the Philips’ Hue connected bulbs or those from LG, GE or Samsung - are an easy jumping off point for those wanted to experiment in the “connected home” arena without the complexity or costs involved with the installation of a full “smart home” system. But even still, those bulbs aren’t cheap: A 3-bulb starter pack of Hue bulbs is retailing for $200 on Amazon, for example.
But a new company called Emberlight wants to make it easier and more affordable for you to enjoy the benefits of a connected bulb by offering a product that works with your existing lightbulbs. It also doesn’t require the “wireless hub” that ship with competing smart bulb products.
That company, called Emberlight, grew out of CEO Atif Noori‘s “hacking around” with Arduino boards last July. Born and raised in Silicon Valley to parents who had worked at places like Atari, A&D, and Digital Equipment, Noori’s own background is in the semiconductor industry. After receiving his PhD in semiconductor devices at UCLA, he spent 8 years at Applied Materials developing and shipping low-power technology products.
“I’ve always been interested in connected devices and semiconductor devices since my undergrad years,” says Noori. But, he adds, “it seemed more logical to decouple the connectivity of the lightbulb. That’s where I came up with the idea [for Emberlight]. I think LEDs are a great thing, but I look at them as more of a commodity. I think the connectivity is the more valuable part of the solution,” he says.
To bring Emberlight to market, Noori brought on an experienced team of designers and engineers, which includes co-founders Gordon Kwan (hardware) who worked at Raytheon, Intevac, and Enphase; Steve Arnold (designer) an ex-Googler, also of Autodesk; Kevin Wolf (firmware), of Raytheon and Booz Allen; and Levi Wolfe (cloud), who has worked at Yahoo, Adify and Dynamic Signal.
Other team members include Kevin Rohling, whose mobile testing platform Cisimple was recently acquired by Electric Cloud; David Sanghera (marketing) who worked with DreamWorks, Oracle, Involver, and TrackR; and former Acer CTO Arif Maskatia is a technical advisor.
“I think the advantage our team has is that we’re all industry veterans – we all have 10 to 20 years experience,” notes Noori.
How It Works
As for the Emberlight device itself, the product is simple to set up. The Emberlight works with any existing dimmable bulb, including incandescent bulbs, halogens, dimmable CFLs, and dimmable LEDs. The team is also planning for a future version of Emberlight that would work with any bulb – dimmable or not.
To use Emberlight, you just screw in your current lightbulb to the Emberlight base, then configure the Wi-Fi connection via your smartphone. There is no additional hardware, like a wireless hub, required.
Emberlight actually uses a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Noori says, which allows for a simple set up process as the phone will automatically see the bulbs you want to get connected. Then it’s just matter of selecting your Wi-Fi network and typing in the password.
After the device is set up, you’re able to control your lights from your mobile phone (iOS or Android) via an accompanying app which is also currently in development. This will allow you to enjoy all the features that most connected bulbs offer, like the ability to dim them or turn them on and off from your phone, configure a variety of “mood” presets (like lighting for a romantic dinner, e.g.), configure groups, set up a vacation mode for turning lights on and off while away, and even configuring a bulb to gradually get brighter so it can function as a more natural alarm clock.
The team is also working on a feature that will allow bulbs to turn on or off as you enter and exit a room, but though the Emberlight hardware will support this function, the software isn’t quite finished.
But Noori explains the process may involve using the Bluetooth signal strength in combination with the user setup process, allowing you to optionally “configure” your room size by pressing a button then walking to your door while holding your phone. When this feature is finished, it will ship to all Emberlight customers via a software update.
The team has been participating in the Orange Fab accelerator in San Francisco, but outside of the $20,000 in seed funding involved with that program, the company has been bootstrapping their efforts.
Today, Emberlight is live on Kickstarter where they’re aiming to raise $50,000 to bring the product to manufacturing.
Kickstarter backers can pre-order devices starting at $49 per bulb, and going up to a 10-pack for $399. The plan is to later bring retail costs of the bulb down to $60 per bulb, or $499 for 10, depending on the costs at volume Emberlight can achieve.