Android meets LED bulbs in Google smart-home push

At Google I/O, Google and Lighting Sciences Group show off an LED bulb controlled by Android devices, a step for the Web giant into home automation.

By the end of this year, people will be able to buy an LED light bulb controllable from an Android device, part of Google's move into home automation.

At the Google I/O conference today, Google demonstrated how Android devices, including tablets and smartphones, can act as a hub for controlling multiple devices in the home, including lighting, appliances, thermostats, and music.

Coming to a home network near you: a Lighting Sciences Group A19 LED bulb controllable by Android devices.
Coming to a home network near you: a Lighting Sciences Group A19 LED bulb controllable by Android devices. Lighting Sciences Group

Google concocted a lighting demo system with Lighting Sciences Group, which developed an LED bulb that can talk to Android. It uses a new mesh network wireless protocol rather than Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or the other proprietary home automation protocols.

The hope is that software developers will create applications that use the home automation system of connected devices. The demo at Google I/O was of a person playing a shooting video game with the lights turning on and off as shots were fired, said Eric Holland, the director of electrical engineering at Lighting Sciences Group.

"Lighting is very visible and prevalent so it made sense for it to be first foray for the platform," Holland said. "Every one of the lights has a radio integrated inside the lamp so there's no additional equipment."

Many companies are building home automation systems built around connected objects, which give people a way to set up schedules around lighting and heating/cooling. People can also turn plugged-in items on and off from a central point, such as a tablet or small dashboard.

Having many devices communicating using ZigBee or Wi-Fi could create interference problems, one reason why a new protocol is being used, Holland said. Since it is open-source, Google and Lighting Sciences Group hope it will be adopted by other lighting and home automation companies. The networked bulbs will be available by the end of the year at the same cost as their general-purpose LEDs, for which prices range from under $20 to about $35 for a 60-watt equivalent.

Google enters a crowded field of home automation and consumer smart-grid companies that are trying to get a foothold for smart-home products.