With the GreenChip, each bulb becomes a small networked device

NXP has just announced its GreenChip, which gives every light bulb the potential of being connected to a TCP/IP network to provide real-time information and receive commands, wirelessly. This feels a bit like science-fiction talk, but NXP has managed to build a chip that is low-cost enough to be embedded into regular light bulbs (and more in the future) with an increase of about $1 in manufacturing cost. Obviously, $1 is not small relative to the price of a bulb but, in absolute terms, it’s not bad at all — and the cost is bound to fall steadily, thanks to Moore’s law.

But what can you do with wirelessly connected bulbs? For one, you can dim, or turn them on and off using digital commands from any computer, phone or tablet.

You can also do it remotely: those chips have the potential of making home automation much easier and more standard than anything that came before. Better home automation can also mean smarter (and automated) energy -and money- savings. the bulbs are also smart enough to know how much energy they have consumed.

Although the bulbs use internet addresses, they are not connected directly to the web. They don’t use WIFI either, because that protocol is too expensive and not energy-efficient for this usage. Instead, the bulbs are linked through a 2.4-GHz IEEE 802.15.4 network and in standby mode, the GreenChip consumes about 50mW.

The network itself is a mesh network that is connected to a “box” that will itself be connected to your home network. Computers and mobile devices send commands to the box, which sends them to the bulbs. Because it is a mesh network, every bulb is considered to be a “network extender”, so as long as there is 30 meters between two bulbs, the network can be extended across very large surfaces. In a typical house, that would mean no “dead spots”.

The first products will be manufactured by TCP, which manufactures about 1M efficient light bulbs (of all sorts) per day. TCP supplies other brands like Philips or GE. The prices of the final products have yet to be determined, but NXP expect them to be attractive to consumers. Of course, we need to see what the applications will look like too.

This is an interesting first step in embedding low-cost smart chips in low-cost goods. Yet, this is a critical step in creating a smarter local energy grid in our homes.

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