IoT: Aussies prepare to ship Wi-Fi connected lightbulbs

Melbourne startup prepares to add lightbulbs to the 'Internet of Things'

Australian startup LIFX is preparing to ship its Wi-Fi enabled lightbulbs later this year. The 'smart' lightbulb, which can be controlled by a smartphone app, is the brainchild of LIFX CEO Phil Bosua. Like most good ideas, its origins are a conversation in a pub.

Bosua and the other co-founders of LIFX took the idea of building a better lightbulb to Kickstarter in September 2012 and received a warm response, raising $1,314,542 on the crowdfunding platform; the team's initial goal was $100,000.

Now the Kickstarter pledges are close to bearing fruit, with the startup planning to ship its initial batch of lightbulbs in Q3 2013, according to LIFX co-founder and chief technology officer Daniel May.

"We have samples for certification and we're having beta bulbs going out to select users," May said.

"We're gearing up for full-scale production in the coming months, so it's very much the pointy end of things."

The LIFX bulbs each incorporate a computer system capable of connecting to standard 802.11n Wi-Fi networks; the bulbs communicate with each other using the low-power 802.15.4 networking standard.

Hue and brightness can be controlled by a smartphone app, and an SDK will allow third-party developers to build additional applications to control the behaviour of individual bulbs or a network of bulbs (blinking in response to social network notifications, for example).

The on-bulb firmware systems are based on Thingsquare's open source Mist system, which is a commercial spin-off from the well-known Contiki operating system for the Internet of Things.

"Each bulb is really a computer and the Thingsquare operating system lets you do networking saving to memory – things like that," May said.

As well as doing in-house development to get the firmware working, LIFX also drew on Thingsquare's developers, particularly around over-the-air firmware upgrade, May said

"We thought, we've got a tight schedule, you can get general firmware developers on some of the specialised functions, but we thought let's get guys who built the operating system."

The popularity of the Kickstarter pitch meant that the team hasn't had significant problems reaching out to distributors, May said. The big challenges have instead been actually designing and getting the lightbulbs built, as well as working on delivering a good user experience with the smartphone app.

The Kickstarter campaign helped build a community around LIFX, May said. "That's something that we've found quite useful for us and quite motivating," the CTO said.

The LIFX bulbs won't be the first 'smart' lightbulbs on the market. Philips also sells its 'Hue' system in Australia through Apple stores, but unlike that system LIFX doesn't rely on a separate 'bridge' device being connected to a Wi-Fi router.

The LIFX offering joins a burgeoning market segment of connected objects – the so-called 'Internet of Things'

Networking vendor Cisco estimates that only some 0.6 per cent of objects that may one day become part of what it dubs the 'Internet of Everything' are connected to networks. The company estimates the business opportunity in the space as being worth US$14.4 trillion over the next 10 years.

US company LogMeIn recently launched a cloud platform called Xively to help ease development of IoT applications. "Conservative estimates now are saying 50 billion devices on the Internet with the Internet of Things. I actually think that will be eclipsed," LogMeIn's CEO told <i>Computerworld Australia</i>.

"There's definitely a groundswell of interest in this stuff," May said.

"I think this is the next wave of computing. There are a lot of pieces ready for that to happen, but, consequently, we're also going to find 'okay we bet on this it didn't work, they bet on that it didn't work'. So there will be some market consolidation obviously. But there is a groundswell happening."

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