Bright ideas abound at CES, as gadget makers produce smarter lightbulbs

Photo: Philip Michaels

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LAS VEGAS—Nobody is running around International CES screaming “Fiat lux“—but maybe they should be, given the number of products aiming to smarten up your home lighting setup that are getting a showcase at CES this year. The 2014 show has yet to even officially open its doors, but it seems like a spotlight will shine on improvements to light bulbs this year, if demos at product preview events are anything to go by.

One of the more practical enhancements to the common light bulb was shown off by iFi Systems during Sunday night’s CES Unveiled showcase. The company is developing the SmartCharge, a simple LED light bulb that packs more power than meets the eye. That’s because when the lights go out at your house due to an unexpected outage, a SmartCharge bulb remains on.

smartcharge Photo: Philip Michaels

The power may have been cut, but the SmartCharge keeps glowing for another four hours, thanks to a built-in battery.

The bulb contains its own battery, enough to keep giving off light for four hours after you’ve lost power. During that time, you can control a SmartCharge bulb just like you would any light bulb, turning it on and off at will. “You switch it on, it remains on,” iFi CEO and founder Shailendra Suman told me during a demo Sunday. “You switch it off, it remains off.” And when the lights come back on again, the battery in a SmartCharge recharges so that it’s ready for the next outage.

It’s a clever idea, especially if you’ve ever had to fumble around a dark room for a flashlight or a candle when your power suddenly cuts out. Keep a handful of SmartCharge light bulbs strategically positioned around the house, and you never need to worry about being entirely in the dark.

The SmartCharge is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign, though the project already topped its funding goal ahead of the January 15 deadline. A pledge of $35 gets you one SmartCharge LED bulb, with the finished product expected to arrive in April.

Accessory maker Belkin also is looking to build a better light bulb, expanding its line of WeMo home automation products to include LED connected bulbs. The 60W-equivalent Smart LED Bulb is controlled via a mobile app, letting you dim the bulb as your will dictates. A single bulb costs $40; a $130 set includes two bulbs and a link that can connect up to 50 bulbs.

belkin wemo bulbs Photo: Philip Michaels

The $130 starter kit for Belkin’s new line of WeMo light bulbs includes two LED bulbs, plus a link (plugged into the outlet in this photo).

The WeMo Smart LED Bulb joins Belkin’s other home automation offerings, which include switches, motion detectors, a baby monitor, and a new crock pot also introduced at this CES.

Both the SmartCharge and the WeMo bulbs from Belkin may be the first smart lighting products out of the gate at this year’s CES, but they certainly won’t be the last. Look for a handful of other manufacturers to shed some light on their plans for giving you smarter light bulbs this year.

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