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Humans have always wanted light at home, from thousands of years of fire based light through to 18th century gas lighting, through to the early 19th century and 20th century with electric lighting.

In the 21st century, lighting is something we’ve taken for granted.
You come into a room, flick a switch, and you have light.

While the technologies have changed over the years with incandescents and neon through to modern LED based lighting, the user interface has remained the same.
There have been remarkably few changes over the years to the user interface – press a switch, and let there be light.

While there have been a few specific use case divergences – i.e. motion based or sound based activation (eg for security lighting, or public lighting in buildings), or marginal modifications to output (eg dimmers), those haven’t really changed the way we work, as the original interface is just so simple and succinct .

It has been something we’ve taken for granted, but what if you want more?
Timbuk3 claimed that the future is always brighter, so where are our sophisticated lighting solutions?

The answer is Smart Lighting.

The smart lighting space has been an interesting one to look at.
In some ways, its a solution looking for a problem – its cool, but its not something that most people really need. Currently the market appears to consist of sophisticated consumers – eg ones looking for automated solutions for their upmarket cinema / projector rooms or similar, through to geeks that want to play with fun new tech.
Your average home user isn’t likely to want to try it, as its still nowhere near as easy as the incumbent solution.

That said, its getting to the point where its worth taking a look at so one can tip toes in so to speak.

Currently there are 2 mass market implementations that are out there that provide additional smart features over and above the typical light on / light off provided by a switch.

Both systems do pretty much the same thing – they provide features over and above the normal set of functionality.

First the downside – they’re parasites. In order to be controllable remotely, they need to be permanently drawing power. Its minimal, but its still a current draw – green, these are not.

They also complicate lighting slightly – If you’re used to turning the lights off and on via a switch, you still can, but you’ll need to flick the switch off/on again to turn them on if they’re currently set to off via the app.

To sum up – you can still turn the lights on or off via the wall switch, but if you leave the switch on, then you can also control the lights via your computer or smartphone.

The app for both solutions has fairly similar functionality. You can change the color of the light output, from white light, through to yellow, red, and blue lighting. You can also dim the lighting.

Both of these solutions are similar –

Philips Hue, and YeeLink.

Philips has been attempting to sell their smart lighting system for a few years now – it hasn’t really set the world on fire, but it has been a slow if unsteady seller.

The Philips solution is based on a small ST Micro 32 bit processor running the base station, listening over ethernet, which then communicates to the bulbs, via Zigbee wireless (Ti2530 chipset).

Bulb plus base station looks like this:

Philips Hue System

Inside, the bulb has a number of LED’s that control the light output, and light colouring.

Philips LED Internals

The Philips solution is ok, but its not as open as it could be. They do have apps with functionality, but the main complaint is that features haven’t been added, and they’re buggy.

Their solution is here –
http://www.meethue.com/en-US

Onto the Chinese solution!

Yeelink has a fairly similar product that came out around the same time as the Philips one.
Theirs is Arduino based, and a lot more open.

They have a github site with code for the basestation (arduino based), which communicates over Zigbee (noticing a trend here!).

Take a look below at a demo of functionality

What makes the Yeelink different is that they have a better UI and a better API.
They’re also not just staying with lighting. They’re adding temperature sensors and other sensors that will be tied to the base station for future upgrades.

Future is future, and now is now. Lets take a look at what comes in the box – firstly, its impressive packaging for a Chinese company – it looks good, and is well packaged. Kudos for good design.

Box packaging –

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Base system with 3 bulbs. This retails at 600RMB/ $99

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Base station

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iPhone app (comes in English and Chinese)

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All in all, I think the Chinese one is better than the Philips one, purely for the openness – its fairly easy to integrate into other things.
Its still a toy vs a must have, but its a fun toy.

Would I buy one – yes.

Site:
http://www.yeelight.com

Taobao:

http://yeelink.taobao.com/search.htm?spm=a1z10.1.w5002-232341356.1.qYAuEW&search=y

Update –

Received mine, and semi-happy. Its still expensive, but it does work.

Downsides –
There is a slight latency on the color changes – maybe 300ms or so, but otherwise can’t complain.
It doesn’t turn on when you turn the light off / on (which I would have expected). You really have to turn on the light with the App or not at all.
Price!

Upsides –
Works.
Fun.

Will be happy when the next set of items comes out that can interface with it.

Still have to play a little with the API side – might link it to Zoneminder for initial testing similar to the eBuddy we use. Everyone had a go with the app and enjoyed
the iPhone side. Price needs to come down to RMB50 a bulb + R100 for controller before it feels like I’d want to get more of them. As an early adopter though, I’m fairly happy.

Some actual photos below:

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