Thomas Edison famously created his first commercial incandescent bulb in early 1880. By using a thin strip of bamboo, he had finally created a lasting solution that revolutionised lighting and introduced electricity into homes. The colour of the light was matched to the most common light source of the time – the warm orange glow of whale oil lamps.
For residential use, the light bulb remained largely the same for the next 130 years but this changed in 2009. The introduction of contentious EU regulations phased out the sales of inefficient incandescent bulbs and enforced the introduction of compact fluorescents.
The economic argument for the switch was easy to make. At the time, lighting accounted for 19% of the world’s energy consumption but if you cut that by two thirds, the energy savings would be enough to close 705 coal-fired power plants. Although the new bulbs were more expensive, this cost would be rapidly recovered by savings to the electricity bill.
The public response was one of outrage.
However, at Plumen, we saw an opportunity. Why not inspire the adoption of energy efficient lighting technologies by creating beautiful lighting products? We couldn’t believe that in a $100bn dollar industry, the very symbol of new ideas hadn’t ever really evolved. So, we challenged ourselves to create a low energy bulb that people would own because of how it looked, rather than due to the new regulations imposed upon them.
We launched in 2010 with the Plumen 001 – the world’s first low energy designer light bulb. The response was phenomenal, spawning a whole new category in lighting.
The Plumen 001 won the Design of the Year in 2011 and has received a host of other accolades, including entry into the permanent collections of MoMA, the Design Museum and the V&A. It was heavily featured in many of the world’s most recognisable and well read newspapers, publications, websites and blogs. Since then we have launched a whole range of lighting accessories as well as our first LED bulb, the Plumen 002 LED.
Bulb lifetime is now measured in years rather than months and as such, we no longer treat them as disposable items. This has allowed bulbs to do much more than just emit light. As a result, we’ve seen bulbs combined with speakers, smoke alarms and, most interestingly, the internet.
There has been much fanfare about the arrival of the IoT, or Internet of Things. By connecting devices over the internet, they are able to acknowledge changes in their environment, provide feedback and respond accordingly. Examples of this include smart electricity meters that allow real-time monitoring of consumption, traffic lights that change their timings based on traffic flow and drug delivery devices that feedback patient data to doctors to allow them to remotely adjust doses.
The first smart bulbs came out a few years ago and had basic smart functionality. They allowed the user to change the colour and intensity of the light with their mobile phones or to set up bulbs on timers to be remotely triggered.
So far we’ve not been convinced by either the functionality or the benefits offered. Using a phone isn’t that much easier than using a light switch and whilst being able to have a blue light might be fun for a time, it doesn’t really serve a purpose. The bulbs are also quite unattractive and, as a result, Smart Lighting is still a very niche product.
We’ve been waiting for a company to develop a technology that is truly smart and delivers real benefits to users. In April, we announced our partnership with Stack Lighting who we’re working with to develop the first Smart Plumen. Their technology is, quite simply, the best we’ve encountered and they know that for Smart Lighting to be widely adopted, it needs to be intuitive, easy to install and offer genuine benefits. In short, the bulbs should adjust to you and your day without you even thinking about it.
Plumen will be one of the first Stack-enabled partners to launch. Occupancy and light sensors are built into each bulb meaning they automatically turn on and off and change their brightness according to the natural light in the room. Compared to existing LED bulbs, this can reduce energy consumption by as much as 40-60%.
We also think that if a bulb is to change colour, there should be a purpose for it. Stack share this vision. Light impacts our mood and behaviour and a lack of it can make us feel sad, whereas lots of light can reinvigorate and energise. We know this from the changing of the seasons – in Spring we become livelier and by the time summer comes round, everyone is full of beans. The effect of light can be subtler, too. If you spend too much time on your laptop or smart phone before bed, your eyes respond to the blue light and it’s more difficult to nod off. This is the reason why office lights are much bluer than lights in your home as they keep people alert and working more efficiently.
Our smart bulbs will intelligently adjust their colour temperature to mimic the colour of the sun according to the time of day. This will help you to sleep soundly and wake up alert. Even more impressively, the colour varies based on the room they’re used in, meaning the same bulb can help you relax at home or keep you energized in the office.
The first Smart Plumen will launch in 2017. Our partnership with Stack Lighting has allowed us to start developing what, we believe, will be the most compelling Smart bulbs on the market – combining the best technology with the best design. The opportunity is huge because if the product is right, the benefits are so compelling. We believe it will inspire households all across the world to switch to Smart Lighting.