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Mensa for Lumens: Bright Minds from GE and Apple Just Made Lighting More Brilliant

GE will connect its intelligent Align LED light bulbs, which adjust their light waves to help promote the body’s natural sleep cycle, with Apple’s HomeKit platform, which allows users to control connected home devices from their phones.

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The history of lighting is also the history of GE. In the 1870s, Thomas Edison invented the first practical light bulb. Three years ago, GE engineers opened a 100-year-old time capsule with an Edison-era light bulb inside. When they turned it on, it still worked (see video). Image credit: GE Lighting. 

The combination of GE’s proprietary Align technology and HomeKit will give consumers the ability to synch lighting with their circadian rhythms. They will be able to control the bulbs from their mobile devices and with voice commands via Siri.

“It’s going to change the way we live,” says John Strainic, GE Lighting’s general manager for North America. “Some bands in the light spectrum keep you up and others help you unwind before you go to bed. By tailoring the spectrum of blue light output, you can enhance your body’s sleep and awake cycles. It’s a new science.”

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In 1963, GE engineer Nick Holonyak built the first practical LED (see video). Image credit: GE Lighting

Align is one of the latest iterations of the LED – or light-emitting diode – which GE engineer Nick Holonyak first developed in 1963. It works by stacking LEDs of different colors to make a light source that can increase or lower the concentration of blue light.

The bluer wavelengths help people wake up since they suppress the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin. In the evening, more amber tones reminiscent of candlelight or campfires help the body relax. “I use it at home and it helps me slow down from going 90 miles-per-hour and take me to a place where I can read,” says Tom Boyle, chief innovation manager at GE Lighting.

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Edison’s light bulb changed the way we live. In the late 1800s, it inspired public “torchlight parades” through the streets of New York. Image credit: GE

Boyle says that his team is constantly looking for new ways to improve on the LED. The latest specimens in his lab include a special kind of material called potassium fluorosilicate (PFS) that emits light near the ideal combination of brightness and appearance. “We are always looking for things that give us more knobs to turn and come up with the perfect light,” Boyle says.

Beth Comstock, GE’s chief marketing officer and CEO of GE Lighting announced the partnership with Apple at the LightFair trade show today. The first HomeKit-enabled Align LED light will ship later this year.

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