For years, smart lighting has been mostly about automation — even as far back as the days of office lighting triggered by motion detection. Most of us have at some point sat working in a conference room where we were forced to wave our hands in the air to get the lights to turn back on.
Sure, at the high end a few companies were putting well-designed mood lighting into people’s homes for millions of dollars. These systems relied on proprietary software and required a programmer to visit the home to set it up and keep it running. Smartphones democratized this somewhat, and companies such as Signify (the maker of Philips Hue lights), LIFX, and Cree all got into the brave new world of colored bulbs and automation.
But there are signs that the focus on automation is changing. Home automation is becoming smarter and taking the backseat to other priorities such as lighting design and wellness.
For example, late 2017 saw the launch of Noon, a lighting company that makes a connected switch to assess a home’s existing bulbs and then adjust them automatically to create professionally designed lighting scenes for different activities. Users can install Noon’s switches in their homes and get movie lighting, party lighting, and other settings without having to program anything.
Then we saw Brilliant launch its connected lighting switch, which packs lighting control with a capacitive touchscreen to control other aspects of your smart home. Brilliant’s switch is less about smarts and more about the automation play.
And this week Orro launched, with a focus on wellness. Orro’s smart switch, which sells for $199, does away with the automation challenges and also adds a focus on circadian rhythms to help people live their best lives (and get their best sleep). It’s not alone. Signify through the Philips brand has been pushing this circadian rhythms concept for a while, and this year at CES, GE launched lights that work with the Google Home and optimize for warmer light at night and cooler light during the day to promote better sleep.
Colin Billings, CEO of Orro, has gone a bit further. His company’s switch comes with sensors, including microphones and a PIR sensor, to determine if people are in the room and if it should turn on. It also uses an ambient light sensor and an algorithm to figure out how bright the light should be, as well as the color temperature needed to meet the person’s circadian rhythms.
Billings founded Orro in 2015 and has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors to bring the light switch to market. He was inspired by his own journey to get better sleep. “I wanted to create f.lux for the entire home,” he says. F.lux is software that turns the blue light from your computer to a warmer light that follows its cues from the path of the sun.
I’m inspired by his focus on better lighting and the promise of a light switch that has all of the smarts needed to do the work of programming itself to meet my needs, but I’m highly skeptical that it will be a good experience in a home with lots of moving parts. It’s one thing to have a switch track one person’s schedule or even a few people who are all on the same schedule. It’s another to deal with a home where one party gets up at 7 a.m. and another wakes up at noon.
However, if you take out the focus on sleeping, the promise of a smarter light that I don’t have to talk to or program would be worth investing in. I’ve tried a similar product baked into a smart light bulb from a company called Stack Lighting, but in practice, it didn’t work very well. I want to try these out, but since I’m moving I’m going to have to wait. If they really are smarter light bulbs that can intuitively adapt to my needs then I’d pay $199 a switch for a few to get me started.