Computer, Lights!

I want to live like I’m on the Enterprise. There is so much in every run of Star Trek that the creators and writers of the show try to pass off as 24th century technology that is possible today. One can say that 3D printers wil be the grandparents of the replicator or that virtual reality goggles are the first step towards have a functioning holodeck, the the ‘futuristic’ technology from Star Trek that I am currently pursuing are the lights.

How many scenes in Star Trek start with someone waking up or entering the room and setting up the level of apprehension by yelling “Computer: Lights!” to illuminate the room. The call for “Computer: Dim lights” has set the table for some romantic encounters across the series. The point is the crew of the Star Trek have lighting control integrated into their computer system and there is no reason we cannot have this as well.

While it does not (yet) allow for a voice interface smart LED bulbs are hitting the market as part of the awful catch all ‘Internet of Things’. There are many reason why this is infantile way to speak of the future connectivity amongst devices but that is something for another post. We want to know more about lights.

Connecting lights to a computer or network is not really that new. Many buildings have lights connected to motion detectors or timers and the often forgotten Street lamps operated in a connected network, though not a very smart one. Three advances are driving ‘smart’ lighting out farther into the mainstream; the phasing out of incandescent bulbs, miniaturization of microprocessors and radios, and more advanced software.

Many states have started to limit or ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs, to encourage energy efficiency. Washington has a sales restriction on the bulbs though a few can be found around. In California new homes are no longer being built with the standard E26 size build socket. Instead all home are constructed with new G27 sockets supported only by energy efficient bulbs. Changing a burn out compact fluorescent in my kitchen I found that I had some of these new sockets as well. A new fluorescent bulb with this new socket type was going to be over $7 but which made me look more favorable at the $15 connected LED bulbs that are starting to come to market.

In the not to distant past to create an automated light one would have had an adapter in the lamp or somewhere in the wall controlling the power to the bulb. With low power LED bulbs and small microprocessors and transmitters the radio and power controller can be contained inside the light bulb. Smart bulbs will fit in standard lamps with no modification. The only change is that the switch can be left on and the bulb will manage the light levels.

So a move to LEDs and better cheaper smart bulbs can get Star Trek lights into the home, but with out anything else there is very little reason to have them. Need a phone handy to turn out the lights is more of a nuisance than flipping the light switch. Clever applications of software and other hardware are what is making these bulbs behave like Star Trek and better.

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