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The LEDs Have Ears: The Company Edison Founded Seeks Interactive Lights In A Crowdsourcing Competition

May 19, 2016
How many inventors does it take to change the future of a lightbulb? GE Lighting partnered with the maker movement magazine Make: and the hardware-hacking community Hackster to find out. Their crowdsourcing competition, called Lights for Life Challenge, invited inventors to take LEDs in new and unexpected directions. There’s one condition, though: The solutions must include voice commands.
Tom Stimac, who works as chief innovation manager at GE Lighting, has ideas of his own. He envisions a smart LED that changes brightness depending on your location in the home, or one that senses the weather and adjusts the light accordingly. “We are hoping to figure out how people want to interact with the various objects in their house and where the LED bulb fits into all that,” Stimac says.

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Stimac is even thinking about LED lightbulbs doing more than just generating light. “Imagine your lightbulb as your surround-sound system, your smoke detector — even alerting you when the kids arrive home from school,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”

GE wants the maker and hacker communities to come up with solutions for the home that combine LEDs with voice-command and sensor technology. The company will unveil the winners at the World Maker Faire in New York this October.

This newly invented LED will become an extension of the C by GE product family, which was just introduced at Lowe’s and Target.

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LEDs have come a long way since GE engineer Nick Holonyak invented the first red-light LED in 1962 (see video above). Today a 60-watt-equivalent LED bulb sells at Sam’s Club for about $3 — a price that helped LED sales grow 250 percent last year.

LEDs now account for 15 percent of the 1.7 billion bulbs sold annually in the United States. Stimac, whose business makes LEDs that consumers can remotely control from their smartphones, expects that within 10 years, more than 50 percent of light sockets in the U.S. will use connected LEDs.

LED lamps employ solid-state parts that use electroluminescence from tiny light-emitting diodes. When electricity is applied to an LED, the bulb emits light from the interface between two different semiconducting materials. LEDs already illuminate everything from gas station signs to flat-screen TVs to iPad retina screens. With a 22-year life span, a single LED bulb can light a child’s bedroom desk lamp from birth through college graduation.

The shift to LEDs fits with GE’s broader digital transformation. In October, the company launched a new division, Current, powered by GE, which integrates its LED, solar, energy storage and electric vehicle businesses with the cloud-based Predix platform to identify and deliver cost-effective, efficient energy solutions for commercial, industrial and municipal customers.