Smart light bulbs are a bit like smartphones—they’re something you never thought you needed until you got them, and now you just can’t live without them. And while we may have all survived just fine before smart bulbs came along, as soon as you introduce these intelligent illuminators into your life, you’ll discover that the convenience and fun they offer is as indispensable to daily life as smartphones have become.
Smart bulbs are LED light bulbs that have a chip in them enabling them to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and be controlled remotely through a smartphone or tablet. They cost between $15 and $60 each, depending on capabilities, and generally require you to buy a hub or bridge to connect them to the Web.
At the moment, Philips Hue bulbs are the industry leader in this space, with the most third-party apps available to control them, so we’ll explore their usage specifically as an example of what’s possible.
Here’s a look at four fun and functional things you can do with smart bulbs in your home.
- Run Your Lighting Hands-Free
At their most basic, all smart bulbs can be set to turn on and off or dim and brighten at pre-determined times, when certain actions occur within your home (such as a door opening), and at specific times of day that aren’t determined by a clock (such as sunset or sunrise). Many smart bulbs can also work with your smartphone’s geo-tracking capabilities to alert them when you’re away and when you’re home so they will turn on or off accordingly.
While the act of turning on a light switch is not strenuous or particularly time-consuming in itself, the convenience of having light when and where you need it automatically is one you will quickly find indispensable. When you’re rushing out the door in the morning and every light in your house shuts itself off as you leave, that’s a big time saver. Coming home at night and having every light turn on to welcome you is not only convenient and comforting, it’s also a great safety feature, making you quickly aware of any problems that may be present.
- Perfect Your Environment
The ability of smart light bulbs to change to any color in the spectrum means you can create scenes to fit with your mood, task or even your sleep cycle.
According to Hue, cool blue light in the mornings can energize us and warm yellow in the evenings will help our bodies relax. To help you achieve the biological benefits of light, Hue offers pre-set color lighting “scenes” in its native app that create specific environments for your needs. The “Reading” recipe provides the ideal light for reading; “Relax” offers a soft, soothing glow; “Concentrate” is a combination of color and brightness designed to help you focus and remain alert; and “Energize” bathes you in bright and vibrant light to help provide you with an extra kick.
With every color in the spectrum available in these bulbs, you can even simulate the changing of natural daylight in your living room throughout the day, or replicate the glow of sunrise and sunset in your bedroom. Pair your Hues with the app Sleep Cycle, which monitors your sleep and wakes you in your lightest sleep phase, and you can experience the glow of sunrise as you wake up at the perfect time for your body.
- Color Your World
Of course, colored light bulbs are great for recreating a disco in your living room, but there are so many other ways you can use the light in color-changing light bulbs to add fun, function and style to your home. By integrating Hue light bulbs with the free service “If This Then That” (www.ifttt.com), you can turn a lamp in your home into a notification center, allowing you to close the laptop and put down the phone but still be alerted (by a flashing color of your choice) if your boss emails you. You can also have a lamp turn red if you miss a call from a VIP, see a blue glow when someone tags you on Facebook, or have the lights blink when you get a Facebook message.
A Hue bulb can also act as a weather station: have the lights turn blue if it’s raining outside and choose one light to turn to a certain color to indicate what the temperature range will be that day.
Hue also offers a range of different types of lights that can help create a truly immersive lighting experience in your home. This range includes light strips, and portable lamps called Bloom and Iris. The addition of these to a room can really amp up the ambiance, whether you’re playing with IFTTT recipes that turn all the lights to match the album art of the music you’re listening too, or crafting a more sophisticated lighting plan—say, to enhance the art on your walls.
You can even precisely match your lighting to your artwork. Simply take a picture of it in the Hue app to use as your palette, then drag the color picker across the image and your bulbs will match instantly.
- Automate Your Home
Smart light bulbs integrate with many different home automation systems—including Smart Things, Lutron, WeMo and Insteon—to allow your lights to be controlled by other smart devices in your home. Pair your bulbs with motion sensors, garage door openers, presence sensors and contact sensors and you can essentially cut out the middle man—you!
Nest, the makers of a smart thermostat and smoke alarm, has come up with smart home integrations where your smart home does things for you automatically. For example, you can authorize your Nest to communicate to your Hues and tell them to shut off when it sets your HVAC system to “Away,” (which it does when it senses there is no one in the house). If you have a Nest Protect Smoke Alarm, you can have your Hue lights flash red when the Protect senses smoke or high CO2 levels anywhere in the house.
This type of integration is just a glimpse into the powerful possibilities that the marriage of household devices and the Internet of Things promises. And because your smart things are connected to the Internet, they can be easily updated. Consequently, if there’s one thing you can be sure about when it comes to smart light bulbs, it’s that they are only going to get smarter.
Jennifer Tuohy?is?a gadget enthusiast who writes about the amazing things you can do with smart LED technology.? She provides cool tips on how to make your?life easier and fun with the automation and?color changing capabilities?of smart LED lights.? For more info on the Hue and other smart LED light bulbs, visit The Home Depot’s light bulbs page.