The Orbnext wants to color-code your cloud

With a full array of multicolor LEDs and promises of IFTTT compatibility, this smart-home conversation starter might prove surprisingly useful.

Ry Crist

Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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4 min read

Advanced Lumonics Labs

EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated April 29th, 2014 to include comments from IFTTT CEO Linden Tibbets.

We've seen plenty of creative LEDs on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and new multicolor smart bulb options like Lifx and the LuMini LED are getting increasingly diverse (and increasingly affordable). Even so, the $99 Orbnext from Colorado-based Advanced Lumonics Labs looks to be a potential standout.

The attractive, 3-inch, Wi-Fi-enabled glass cube is (according to Orbnext's Kickstarter page) an "always-on LED data display device" that's capable of visualizing any piece of information you deem important simply by changing colors. The light show comes courtesy of the 10 integrated multicolor Cree LEDs. Sweetening the deal is Orbnext's promise of integrating IFTTT, the emerging standard for easy DIY programming and automation.

If this concept sounds familiar, that's because it's been around for longer than you might think. Ten years ago, CNET's Brian Cooley reviewed the Ambient Orb, a color-changing sphere that would alert users to changes in the weather, the Dow Jones, or -- for a monthly fee -- specific things like whether or not the kids were online. 2006 saw a Lagomorphic twist on the idea that added wiggling rabbit ears and audio output.

Check out the color-changing Orbnext (pictures)

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As a spiritual descendant of the Ambient Orb, the Orbnext promises more robust alert options without the monthly fees (and without the orb shape). There's also the Orbnext app, which offers those same default weather and stock notification modes, along with a mood-lighting-ready color changer. For more user-specific lighting alerts, Advanced Lumonics appears to be relying almost entirely on IFTTT.

In addition to the app's lighting controls, you'll be able to connect the Orbnext to your Wi-Fi network simply by letting the app flash a light pattern at it. That's the same nifty connection method that Quirky + GE smart devices use -- which isn't surprising, given that Quirky products and the Orbnext use the same Electric Imp platform. Advanced Lumonics is also offering a retrofit kit -- developed in cooperationg with Ambient -- that will allow owners of the Ambient Orb to upgrade to the new platform.

Advanced Lumonics is offering a retrofit kit to instill Orbnext-level smarts into the original Ambient Orb. Advanced Lumonics Labs

If the Ambient Orb was perhaps a bit ahead of its time in its attempt to color-code the smart home (it predated the original iPhone by three years), then the Orbnext might be a bit on the tardy side. Products like the Philips Hue line of LEDs already offer smart color control and full IFTTT integration, as does the $30 Blink(1), a tiny, hack-friendly RGB LED that plugs into your computer's USB port.

Still, by putting more of an emphasis on product design, the Orbnext might be able to claim the same appeal as its predecessor. As Brian Cooley put it back in 2004, "All we know is that we like this thing."

Connect with these 35 IFTTT-friendly smart devices (pictures)

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Now, a decade later, there's even more to like, given the sheer scope of services and devices IFTTT integration brings to the table. The list includes the usual social-networking services like Facebook and Twitter, along with Web services ranging from ESPN to Pushbullet, as well as popular connected gadgets like SmartThings sensors and Belkin WeMo switches. As the Orbnext website puts it, IFTTT integration provides "virtually limitless flexibility to build custom notifications or monitor other Internet-enabled devices on your network."

The only question is whether or not that IFTTT integration is as much of a done deal as the website -- which talks about the Orbnext's IFTTT compatibility in unconditional, present-tense terms -- would have you believe. Manufacturers and developers can only submit an application for a dedicated IFTTT channel after a product or service is available to the general public. Orbnext won't be available until late summer at the earliest, and can't even launch a full-scale preorder run until the close of its Kickstarter campaign.

Advanced Lumonics Labs

Still, Advanced Lumonics R&D Lead Mike Costigliola tells me that the Orbnext team has received confirmation from IFTTT that they can begin working on programming their channel. He also pointed to the recent announcement of dedicated IFTTT channels for each device in the Quirky + GE lineup. With the same Electric Imp hardware running inside of the Orbnext, Advanced Lumonics is anticipating an equally seamless integration.

I reached out to the team at IFTTT, as well, and here's what CEO Linden Tibbets had to say: "Orbnext looks incredibly cool and is exactly the type of product/service we are aiming to support with our upcoming platform."

A limited number of Orbnext units are available for reservation through the product's Kickstarter page (including a limited number discounted to $79), with shipping scheduled for August. That said, given the number of eggs Orbnext is placing in the IFTTT basket, consumers might want to wait for official confirmation of that dedicated channel before making a purchase.

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