LIFX: A WiFi-Enabled LED Bulb that May Revolutionize Photographic Lighting

What if there existed a lightbulb that you could completely control using your phone? And by “completely control”, I don’t mean simply switching on and off. I mean being able to precisely control the brightness of the light emitted, and even the exact color of the light.

It sounds crazy, but it’s a light bulb that’s actually being developed. Created by Phil Bosua of San Francisco, the LIFX is a Wi-Fi enabled LED light bulb that can be wirelessly controlled using an iPhone or Android device. While Bosua imagines a plethora of home and commercial applications, it’s the bulb’s photographic potential that we find very exciting.

First of all, check out this introduction video by Bosua that explains the idea:

Basically, it’s an uber-flexible bulb that can be remotely controlled. The photographic applications of this concept are many.

No longer will you need external gels or colored materials to made drastic adjustments to your light’s color. You’ll be able to do precise adjustments with a small swipe of your finger.

Need your softbox to emit a little more light? Just flick a few virtual switches to turn on some more bulbs within, or turn a few dials to boost their intensities.

Designing dedicated photographic lighting systems using the LIFX won’t be too difficult, as the company is developing a software developer kit (SDK) that will let photographers and hackers write their own custom apps (the softbox idea we suggested, for example).

Bosua started a Kickstarter page to take pre-orders and raise funds for manufacturing costs. He originally planned to raise just $100,000, but has already managed to raise over $1.3 million from nearly ten thousand backers — and there’s still nearly two months left in the campaign. Contributing $69 will effectively pre-order you a single LIFX bulb [Update: The first round has actually sold out.]

The general public has obviously bought into this idea of a flexible, remotely-controlled bulb. Lets see if photographers do as well, and whether people take the idea and make it even more relevant to photographic purposes.

Update: Reader Gabriel points out that with the emergence of Android OS in digital cameras, you’ll be able to control your lights using your camera itself!

Thanks for sending in the tip, Justin!

  • Neoracer Xox

    Not nearly enough output for photography needs

  • 11

    All great, would buy one..

    But, Energy efficient? How much energy/minerals needed to make this bulb?

  • Mark

    Not trying to put the “inventor” down, but he’s talking as if he invented LED lights and color changing bulbs. In fact, you can buy one of these bulbs with a small infra-red remote from amazon for about $30.00. So really, he’s just selling a device that controls the bulbs with WiFi. Not really a huge leap to be honest and you would need dozens and dozens of these to use them for photography. Going from infra-red to WiFi control shouldn’t be such a costly investment to be honest, especially considering cheaper Z-wave alternatives are probably right around the corner.

  • Joan G.G.

    Take my money and shut up!

  • Paul

    Amortized over 25 years, compared to 1,000 hours of operation.

  • fuzzywuzzy

    I’m usually pretty cynical myself, but you are flat-out wrong. Infrared sucks, z-wave is a proprietary corporate circle-jerk and neither can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world.

    Yes, they are essentially combining existing technologies, but you have to admit that the concept is clever and novel, at least for consumer use. This has the potential to commoditize advanced lighting configurations.

    If they’ve done it right (and it sounds like they have) by making the basic functionality (on / off / intensity / colour temperature) the job of low-level firmware on the chip and then using external software to do the heavy lifting (custom control of the basic functionality) the possibilities are simply endless! The offering of an SDK will enable programmers to go way beyond the capabilities of the smart phone control software.

    Create mood lighting. Set your lighting to adjust colour intensity and temperature according to DSP at a party, concert or restaurant. Remotely control or schedule your lights to switch on and off while you’re on vacation. Have your lighting flash a pattern when your phone or doorbell rings, when your dinner is ready, when you get an email, IM … anything!. Connect them to a motion sensor and program any pattern you can imagine when detecting movement.

    I think I’ve made my point.

    Absolute backwards compatibility with existing light sockets and switches will make the transition painless and will really enable it to take off.

    And, no, I am not astroturfing, here, I really like the sound of these things.


  • MarkD

    Add on another one for “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY” :)

  • Mansgame

    Lutron, the company that invented the solid state dimmer has had many products like this out for years. The Lutron Radio Ra2 system or the flagship Homeworks QS system for instance allows you to control your entire house’s lighting, shades, temperature control etc. with their keypads on the wall and the iOS/Android apps – not just LED lights. Other companies like Vantage Controls, Lighttouch, and Crestron have similar products.

  • 11

    I agree with @79b40f04e9e0b3874867d755e9f23668:disqus. The only novelty is introduction of WiFi. Everything else is already there.

    You may think WiFi is great, but not always. The place where I live is overly crowded with most WiFi channels and frequencies. I imagine in the coming days it is going to get cluttered everywhere..

  • bd5400

    The biggest downside really is that they AREN’T going to be compatible with all existing light sockets. Since these don’t appear to make any advancement in the LED part of the bulb they’ll need open fixtures just like every other LED light on the market if you expect to get any decent life out of them. For some applications that may be easy but for others it will require changing out all of your fixtures that are enclosed so the bulbs don’t overheat and burn themselves out. Once they solve the cooling and price issues bulbs like this will really take off.

  • Mark

    Well my post wasn’t really meant to say that either Z-wave or IR remotes are better than WiFi. I was simply stating that the inventor seems to take a huge amount of credit for a small technological leap (since he did not, in fact, invent a color changing LED despite what the promo might lead one to believe). I can go buy a WiFi controlled thermostat, alarm system and any number of appliances (and yes, even WiFi to Z-wave) right now. So how is this revolutionary? As to the uses and tech itself, yes, I am all for it and think it’s a great idea, but one would think the man just invented a perpetual motion machine reading your post.

  • Patrick Ahles

    All existing light sockets? Why ALL? What if I already have open fixtures?

  • bd5400

    Yes all, as opposed to any. Of course they’ll work in open light fixtures which is why I didn’t say “they aren’t going to be compatible with any existing light sockets.”

    I’ve heard conflicting information about recessed light cans though. Some sources say that they’ll be fine, others say that bulbs like the one featured here are not appropriate for recessed cans because they trap heat and others say just make sure you get one that was intended for recessed cans.

    Sorry for the confusion!

  • duster

    Most of those links are reposts of a Reuters blog entry or posts discussing said entry, and the blogger’s (Felix Salmon) big point is that another company has attempted a similar project and its costs were much higher. What the blog fails to mention is that the second company was adding a significant change to LED lightbulbs: Liquid cooling using liquid silicone. The goal was to remove the need to modify recessed or enclosed light fixtures so these bulbs could simply replace traditional tungsten bulbs and immediately reduce costs (which difficult if you have to replace fixtures as well!).

    I doubt that the Lifx LED bulbs will be compatible with standard recessed fixtures (as bd5400 says above), as their goal seems to be to provide a product that combines two existing proven consumer technologies. So people who purchase them will likely need to install them in open fixtures or replace enclosed/recessed fixtures. It won’t be easy to finish and certify the product, but neither will it be as hard as the Reuters blog suggests. I think Felix would do well to make an appropriate comparison next time, but that doesn’t drive visitors to the Reuters site, does it?

  • tempo36

    The problem isn’t just heat management. It’s light quality too. Most LED bulbs on the market aren’t close to true 60W equivalents and the light quality is horrible. Since this repost is talking about using the lighting to photograph things, I can all but guarantee that the light quality that LIFX delivers isn’t going to be close to what you need. Not in output and not in color temperature.

    They don’t have a powerful enough heat sink solution to cool a powerful enough LED to do what they’re implying with their video and renderings.