Kickstarter vaporware of the day, Lifx edition

By Felix Salmon
September 18, 2012
worried that Kickstarter was morphing into SkyMall for Vaporware.

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Back in March, I worried that Kickstarter was morphing into SkyMall for Vaporware. While Kickstarter is great for creative projects which can be realized by small teams, so far there’s zero evidence that it’s a good way of providing startup capital for would-be businesses. I gave an admittedly extreme example, of the kind of ultra-high-tech industry which needs much more than a Kickstarter campaign in order to succeed.

Getting a product to market is hard. Even companies with business plans and executives and millions of dollars in funding — and a fully-functioning product — can fall down on that front. Look for instance at the Switch lightbulb: in July 2011, Farhad Manjoo of Slate said it would go on sale in October 2011 for $20. In August 2011, Dan Koeppel of Wired magazine ran an article saying that the bulb would go on sale in October for $30. But here we are in March 2012, there’s still no sign of the thing, and the company’s Facebook page is filling up with comments saying things like “I’m going to start my own company making a product that no one can buy. Hmm….what should I not sell? So hard to decide.”

Six months later, the Switch lightbulb still hasn’t arrived. And Koeppel’s article explains some of the good reasons why it’s really, really hard to make these things. For instance: in 2008, the US government offered $10 million to the first company which could produce a 60-watt-equivalent bulb which would draw less than 10 watts of electricity, be dimmable, and generally be at least as good, in all respects bar cost, as incandescents. Philips won the prize, even though, as Koeppel writes, the development costs of doing so were much greater than $10 million:

Coming up with a truly worthy LED bulb is enormously complex, requiring expertise in physics, chemistry, optics, design, and manufacturing… nobody has built such a multidisciplinary lighting product before.

Koeppel’s story was of a small startup company, Switch, which was competing against the three giants in the space — Philips, Osram Sylvania, and GE. But to give you an idea of what you need to compete in this space, Switch has received “an eight-figure investment” from one company alone, VantagePoint Capital Partners. VantagePoint is an investor in a few of these companies: another is BridgeLux, which, according to CrunchBase, has received a total of $210 million in venture funding.

All of which brings me to Lifx, a small group of guys who have just launched a Kickstarter for their revolutionary dimmable LED bulb. It even has wifi! The Kickstarter campaign is going really well so far: it has raised more than $600,000 just since Saturday, far exceeding its $100,000 goal. They claim that the mechanics of the bulb (as opposed to the electronics) are really nothing special:

We are using as many standard LED lighting components as possible. These components have undergone rigid testing and stood the test of time.

At the same time, however, they admit they are still “looking into all the options on the best type/brand of LED lamp to use in the production model”. And you only get a brief glimpse of the prototype in their video; it frankly looks pretty shabby. Their big still photo, on the other hand, is gorgeous: so gorgeous that it’s not a photo at all, just an illustration. Here, compare the Lifx illustration, on the left, with the glossy Condé Nast photo of a real-life Switch bulb, on the right:

bulbs.jpg

The bulb on the light is quite lovely, in its own way, but also shows the kind of design compromises that real-life LED bulbs need to make: a big, heavy heat sink; clearly spaced LEDs, and so on. The illustration on the left, by contrast, looks just like a normal incandescent, only with the bottom half of the bulb replaced by a beautifully-contoured heat sink. You can’t see the LEDs at all.

The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb. The Switch bulb uses a patented thermally conductive gel to prevent the bulb from overheating; the Lifx bulb uses — well, we have no idea what it might use, since they’re not going into that level of detail. It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.

Lifx founder Phil Bosua, in the video, explains that what he’s doing isn’t cheap. “To produce Lifx at an efficient price point,” he says, “we need to buy thousands of RGB LED lamps, make dies for the outer casing, create custom-built computer boards, and finalize our onboard software and app development”. Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?

Put it this way: either Lifx is a genuinely revolutionary new LED bulb, or it isn’t. If it is, then it’s going to run into huge fights just on the intellectual-property front alone: I’m pretty sure they don’t have any important patents, at least on the hardware. And if it isn’t, then lots of people would be out there making LED bulbs, and Lifx would just be coming along to try to add some wifi-enabled control-this-from-your-phone whizz-bangery. (Which, Belkin, maker of the WeMo, might have some patent issues of its own.)

For while there are indeed a fair few LED bulbs on the market at this point, many of them substantially cheaper than the Lifx bulb, there are good reasons why none of them have really taken off. LED bulbs are undoubtedly the lighting device of the future; they just haven’t quite got there yet, and I can’t believe that Lifx has managed to solve the enormous problems that many huge companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying — and generally failing — to fix.

All of which is to say that if the Lifx bulb ever ships, it’s going to be a gimmicky disappointment at best. The “white” light won’t be warm and rich, the illumination will come out in clumps rather than being even, the bulb will hum when it’s dimmed, the electronics will fail in the heat, etc.

And there’s a very real risk — I’d say it’s a probability — that the Lifx bulb will simply never ship at all. If Switch can’t do it, with their working prototypes and their patents and their tens of millions of dollars in funding, not to mention no desire that their bulbs be controlled from iPhones, then there’s no good reason to believe that Lifx can, as they’re promising, start delivering these things in March. Their last project, after all, was basically a collapsible cardboard box; it raised $184,500 — well above its $12,500 goal — and was meant to be delivered in July. The backers are still waiting; the most recent shipping date is mid-October.

The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.

Despite the fact that there’s really no reason to believe that the Lifx team can produce what it’s promising, in the first few days Lifx signed up five backers at the $5,000 level, each of whom was ordering “25 packs of four LIFX smartbulbs for resale”. That’s not actually allowed by Kickstarter any more, and they put an end to that after I asked about it. But still, there are lots of people putting in very large orders — already 108 backers have pledged $490 or more. Those people are going to be very disappointed if they end up receiving nothing.

These people aren’t just being seduced by a clever sales pitch: they’re being shepherded there by lots of very high-profile blogs, such as Wired and TechCrunch and Mashable and GigaOm. And, of course, Reddit, where at least there’s quite a lot of skepticism, not least when it comes to the question of how a phone can configure a lightbulb before the lightbulb knows what wifi network to join.

So my feeling is that both Kickstarter and the tech blogosphere should start being a lot more skeptical about the claims made in Kickstarter videos, where anybody can say pretty much anything. And anybody thinking about supporting Lifx should take a deep breath and just wait until the product exists, instead. It’s funded, now, so pre-ordering on Kickstarter doesn’t cause the product to get made, it just maybe gets you the product a couple of weeks earlier. And in return for that negligible upside, you’re taking on the risk of a huge downside — that you lose all that money entirely, with nothing to show for it at all.

Update: Lots of smart comments below, both defending Lifx and raising new problems — such as the need to get certification in multiple jurisdictions, since they’ll be shipping the bulb under their own trademark.

Lifx itself has three reactions to this post. First, they’ve made public the 12-step process for setting the Lifx bulbs up as part of your wireless network — it involves switching your phone to the Lifx network, configuring the Lifx bulb to your wifi network, and then switching your phone back to your own network.

Second is a comment from founder Phil Bosua:

Addressing the recent Reuters article: We originally had meetings with our Melbourne/Shenzen LED bulb supplier which proved the project to be viable but as the demand for the LIFX smartbulb continues to grow so will the scale of partners we work with. We have also recently had meetings with companies experienced in large scale LED light bulb manufacturing and will be utilising their experience and knowledge to attach the LIFX control chip into tried and tested LED light bulb technology.

We know that the demand for a smartbulb is clear. It takes a big vision, a lot of work and smart operations to revolutionize a main stay product and with your support this is what we are going to do.

And third is a comment on the Lifx tech blog:

An approach I’d really like to follow is “Please don’t feed the internet trolls“.  We must focus our complete attention on delivering your pledges and answering your questions and comments.  LiFx has attracted a lot of attention, not all of it good.  Some people are just waiting for a large KickStarter project to fail, without any regard for the interests of the supporters of that project.

We’ve all seen the Reuter’s opinion piece and I don’t want to waste time responding to it.  Primarily, because I don’t need to respond … thanks to “KenG_CA” whose comment at the bottom of that opinion piece has already made a rebuttal.  Thanks Ken … whoever you are !  I have nothing more to say about that piece.

So, if you think I’m an internet troll who just wants Lifx to fail and who doesn’t care about the supporters of the project, then you’re pretty much in line with the thinking within Lifx. But if you were looking for a more detailed response from Lifx, sorry — it looks like you’re not going to get one.

Comments
76 comments so far

While I am quite skeptical about the Lifx, the illustration itself does not demonstrate the problems you describe. The image seems quite similar to a Philips bulb illustrated at http://media.treehugger.com/assets/image s/2011/10/philips-LED-lights.jpg. The lighting internals would not be visible in a frosted bulb, so you would not see a heat sink inside. Again, the main point of your article stands.

Posted by thinkfaster | Report as abusive

There are definitely some growing pains as Kickstarter goes beyond hacker communities and becomes online shopping.

This seems like a really pessimistic attitude towards innovation though. Best case they ship it, worst case they tried and we’re all one step closer to the future. Either way they’ve struck a chord more than anyone else about a lightbulb.

Posted by stormriders | Report as abusive

“Lifx bulb uses — well, we have no idea what it might use, since they’re not going into that level of detail. It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

The bottom half of the bulb is a one big heat sink.

“The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb”

No, that’s irrelevant. Do you know there’s even an SD card with wi-fi built into it? It has no heat sink, as neither does the wi-fi part of most products with wi-fi radios these days, as they don’t generate that much heat.

““we need to buy thousands of RGB LED lamps, make dies for the outer casing, create custom-built computer boards, and finalize our onboard software and app development”. Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?”

Yes, they can do that. If the founders are not taking a salary, they can do all that for under $1M, and if they are really good and efficient, they can do it for $100K. The circuit boards won’t cost that much to fabricate (less than $1 each in large qty for that size), and tooling for the heat sinks, if made in Asia, won’t cost more than $15K. If they have a big company with lots of overhead, they can’t do it for that amount, but a few guys working in their garage or basement, not getting engineers salaries, can definitely pull it off (not all can, but it is absolutely doable).

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”

You can buy LED light bulbs for under $20 – adding a wi-fi interface can be done for $10 or less in volume. It is very likely.

Felix, I don’t know how many electronic products you have developed, but I have been involved in lots (mid-double digits), and I can tell from experience that what they are trying to accomplish is absolutely feasible and doable. I don’t know if these guys have the right stuff, but you’re totally wrong in dismissing this project as impossible.

It’s also not fair to compare them with Switch; the latter company was trying to create new technology. Lifx is just adding proven commodity hardware to proven commodity hardware. There are challenges, to be sure, but they don’t have to invent anything new.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

wow, it looks like the comments were fixed – this one was posted immediately. Now I get why you’re skeptical of the Lifx team – you work for a company that took 4 weeks to fix an existing website.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

This project is an interesting idea, but I welcome the more skeptical outlook on all the hype generated by KickStarter. KickStarter and the project on it have yet to prove themselves. They are too new, too lofty and not many have been delivered yet, so no track record. I think if people somehow assume that KickStarter or other source crowd-funded projects are imune from the laws of business that any other business and startup is subject to, in that, most of them fail, they are (frankly) delusional.

Posted by VictorBStan | Report as abusive

I don’t know what stone age LED bulb you have found to compare it with. But there are many out there on the market that looks just like Lifx’s design.

Actually, it looks just like Phillips LED bulb – dead on actually.

Posted by DavidBL | Report as abusive

“And, of course, Reddit, where at least there’s quite a lot of skepticism, not least when it comes to the question of how a phone can configure a lightbulb before the lightbulb knows what wifi network to join.”

That’s not an insurmountable problem. If you disable security when the master bulb is configured, it can connect to the network, and a phone, tablet, or computer running their app can easily find and connect to it. Once it’s connected, you can configure the bulb for security, so encryption can be enabled on your wi-fi network.

Only one “master” bulb is required, so it sounds like they are using a lower cost mesh network, like z-wave or zigbee, to get all of the other bulbs in the house connected to the network. The master bulb acts as a gateway to the network. It is entirely feasible; I actually tried to do something similar (without the wi-fi) 8 or 9 years ago, but the LED technology was not far enough along, so I abandoned the project.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to raise issues about quickstarter, but this is not the right project to use as an example. In fact, it’s a perfect project for quickstarter, where the founders can’t raise VC funding, but still believe in the product enough to be willing to put in a lot of sweat equity. The early customers are performing an incredibly valuable service, and I think most are very aware of the risks they are taking. Very few people risk a lot of money on quickstarter projects, and it allows the millions of people who do invest this way to be part of the process that they are normally excluded from. If anything, Felix you should be supportive of quickstarter, this is a valuable tool for the 99%.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

KenG_CA, you don’t solve the problem of telling it which network it connects to. There are a couple of ugly ways around this (it could be pre-configured to connect to a random SSID that you’ll have to set up yourself; or it could start by creating an ad-hoc network of its own that you’ll have to connect to). But people have asked about this and not gotten any serious response.

Posted by absinthe | Report as abusive

absinthe, the master bulb can automatically connect to an open network; in a home it can just pick the one with the strongest signal. The app can then find it easily.

I don’t know how far along Lifx is in their development, or why they haven’t responded. My comments are addressing the points that Felix raises about this product not being feasible or doable.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

“The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb.” No the heatsink has nothing to do with the WiFi. The heatsink is required to keep the LEDs from burning up. Have you ever opened up a WiFi router? There aren’t heatsinks on the chips.

The bulbs are 802.15.4 only. There is some kind of gateway from WiFi to 802.15.4. Otherwise costs would be too high.

BTW, you can buy OEM chinese Zigbee (802.15.4) bulbs on alibaba already. Nothing new here. No great leap. Basically these guys are marketing a ZigBee gateway, the bulbs, and a iPhone app.

Seriously. Do much better research next time.

Posted by Samcomments | Report as abusive

I had the same feeling about Kickstarter projects a while ago talking as someone considering Kickstarter for an open source software project.

http://masticate.com/2012/05/08/to-kicks tart-or-not-to-kickstart/

From what I understand, Kickstarter was initially about getting art/small projects off the ground but now it seems to be the new VC. But its very lack of accountability makes it vulnerable to abuse. Yes there are guidelines to what projects can or can’t say – but there is no real governance here. In an age obsessed with financial governance in the wake of the financial crisis, this appears odd.

Posted by xyglo | Report as abusive

KenG, yours is one approach to the wifi config problem.

Another is to default the master bulb as an ad hoc network setup similar to how phones can be used as mobile hotspots. The bulb would act as the hotspot that you’d connect to with its own pre-configured SSID. You’d connect to its network and then feed it your home network info through the browser or through an install app. That would be a relatively simple setup procedure.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

Here Felix:
http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/556010 135/Zigbee_Wireless_Smart_Lights.html
http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/609399 817/Popular_model_A19_E27_led_bulb.html

Just so you know that I’m not lying… They already make these… Not vaporware really is it.

Posted by Samcomments | Report as abusive

“Have you ever opened up a WiFi router? There aren’t heatsinks on the chips.”

There also aren’t a ton of hot LEDs.

Posted by benwo | Report as abusive

spectre855, I think phones that run as hotspots are actually access points, not ad hoc. They basically use the phone’s 3G/4G connection, and act like a wi-fi router. They could be ad hoc, if the only use was to connect to whatever wi-fi device was around, but then the phone would have to be re-configured, and that would be confusing for many users. The bulb has to be able to connect to the home network, so it can be accessed from the internet. An ad hoc network will not allow that.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Really cool idea, I created something over the past year that is similar to this. I guess I should have started a kickstarter. I’m not sure how lifx will execute this. Anywho check out the lamp I made if you want to see another example of LED’s Micro-controllers blah blah blah.
http://charlesfesta.com/post/31814601314  /say-hello-to-the-john-hancock-building -living-room

Posted by festta | Report as abusive

@KenG, I’m not talking about the hotspot functionality itself, just the way that you can connect to a phone’s nic card in ad hoc mode.

You should be able to search for wifi networks and then find a network called “LIFXBulb1″ or something to that effect and connect to it ad hoc. Once connected, open your browser and go to 192.168.1.1 which takes you to a config page where you enter your home wifi credentials, hit save, and the bulb reboots connected to your network. Then you swap your phone back over to your wifi and everything is on one merry network.

I don’t think that’d be that difficult. If it is, then I question why you would be buying a wifi capable light bulb in the first place.

Posted by spectre855 | Report as abusive

spectre855, you can do that, but it’s an extra step. the bulb ultimately has to join the home wi-fi network, and if it can do that automatically, there is no sense forcing the user to change networks on the phone (or PC or tablet) just so it can connect. If encryption is disabled, the user could access the bulb by going to “Lifx” or something like that, and not have to change networks.

You want the config process to be as simple as possible, and not use it as the filtering mechanism for retaining customers. They’re not looking for a wi-fi controlled bulb, they want an internet or phone controlled bulb.

Here I am debating configuration options on a finance blog. I guess it’s ok, I’m sure I have discussed economic issues on tech blogs.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

I work in the LED industry. The heatsink is for the LEDs not the wifi chip you really need it for todays high power LED chips. Most of This has been done before its not an invention. The controler display looks better but also like a copy of what is on the market alredy on Andriod and Apple. The company will also have to submit to the testing bodys UL for the USA CE for Europe and another for Australia this takes time and lots of money as they are using there own trade mark they have to do this themself. Showing your product to lots of Chinese companys and asking how much to make means your going to have a lot of compitition in the market before your product is ready as well. As the idea is not new and been shown in the public domain it will be hard to get patents unless its a rectangle shape light bulb that looks cool.
This company has presented very well been picked up by a lot of media without questions as a design idea and marketing company it could do well, Manufactoring is a compleately different ball game there is over 1500 Led light bulb companys in China not many make money and have much lower overheads. There is probally the same number of mobile phone makers yet Apple do extremly well, they design, Patent lots, and market the product well. Smart people let others do the hard work.

Posted by JamesGBC | Report as abusive

To agree with many other commenters on the Wi-Fi and heat front, I would point out that the Eye-Fi, on sale for several years now, is a Secure Digital format card that can carry gigabytes of memory, a CPU and support circuitry, and an 802.11n radio, and functions independently when inserted into a camera.

As a reporter on Wi-Fi and wireless for over a decade, the choice of a master unit (for infrastructure connection) and then 802.15.4 for a mesh makes perfect sense. The only downside is if bulbs are too far apart to make the mesh connection.

Posted by GlennFleishman | Report as abusive

Glenn, I don’t agree that they should build a master unit. That means they have to design two versions of the bulb, one with the wi-fi gateway, and one without. The master version will be produced in smaller volumes, and will cost more. All of their bulbs should be just 802.15.4 (zigbee), and then they could sell (possibly OEM) a small wi-fi/zigbee gateway, one that could just plug into an outlet and probably cost $29 or less.There is no value in the gateway, that will be a commodity item (as might the zigbee bulb, as Sam above has pointed out). Their value is in the design of the bulb and the easy-to-use software (a recipe perfected by Apple).

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

LIFX describes the WiFi configuration process in their tech blog: http://tech.lifx.co – The master light bulb creates an ad-hoc network to which you can connect with your phone. The configuration itself then happens in the provided app, on success the light bulb then reconnects to your home network.

Posted by another.reader | Report as abusive

I will take the charge in defending Felix here. Clearly the wifi doesn’t create much heat. However, keep in mind that wifi chips have operating tempurature ranges that are much lower than LED lights can operate at. The issue isn’t the heat from the wifi, but that a heat level which would be fine for a bulb with a LED and power rectifier alone would be too much heat if sensitive electrics need to go in there. Another point about heat is that the sample bulb did have a heatsink, but the electronics were outside the bulb. Good luck stuffing that all in there and keeping the svelt form factor (or perhaps they will make these produce less lumens than a 60W bulb, like the Chinese models above).

Also, KenG_CA’s cost analysis doesn’t account for the cost of delivering over 10,000 bulbs to over 5,000 backers. While some guys in a garage may be able to figure out the engineering on the cheap, lets see how they get the logistics of manufacturing and shipping this quantity out of China to get worldwide.

Posted by TurtleBay | Report as abusive

Also meant to mention that the controllable Chinese bulbs are not comparable as they use cheaper blue LED plus phosphor for single color control while this needs triple channel voltage regulation and RGB LEDs.

Posted by TurtleBay | Report as abusive

LIFX describes the WiFi configuration process in their tech blog: http://tech.lifx.co – The master light bulb creates an ad-hoc network to which you can connect with your phone. The configuration itself then happens in the provided app, on success the light bulb then reconnects to your home network.

Posted by another.reader | Report as abusive

TurtleBay, there are wi-fi chips that can operate at the temperature of the air inside the bulb. Putting a heat sink on them would be of no value, anyway. The LEDs are semiconductors and have the same operating requirements as other components in the device, so if they can operate in that environment, most likely they can find a micro-controller and wi-fi radio that can also (although as I mention above, they should leave the wi-fi bridge outside the unit).

As for the svelte form factor, both GlennFleishman and I have mentioned the EyeFi SD card, which fits a wi-fi radio in an SD card package. There is enough room in there for it.

The founders have already raised $600K, which is enough to cover the manufacturing and shipping costs for 10K bulbs. Easily. Even if they spend $100K on development, that leaves them $50 per bulb (not all will even have the wi-fi in them). Now whether or not these guys can execute is a question I cannot answer, but what they are trying to do is absolutely feasible.

If a big company was going to do this, they would most likely have a team of engineers just like these guys developing and supervising the build of the devices. There is no reason why the overhead of a big company is necessary to successfully complete the project. They don’t need to have a marketing, sales, HR, finance, and executives to increase their costs in order to deliver 10K pre-sold bulbs.

Felix’s position is not defensible.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

LIFX describes the WiFi configuration process in their tech blog: http://tech.lifx.co – The master light bulb creates an ad-hoc network to which you can connect with your phone. The configuration itself then happens in the provided app, on success the light bulb then reconnects to your home network.

Posted by another.reader | Report as abusive

An insightful piece. Getting something like this to market is non-trivial. The cost of approbation alone is staggering even for large companies. While small teams working for nothing can move very quickly, there’s reasons that there are high barriers to entry and you really need the volume to drive down the cost.

I’m no expert, but another interesting issue is that a lot of what I see here would appear to be covered by one or more patents held and demonstrated by Philips. I guess they could be getting the LED technology from an official licensee, but they don’t say. Perhaps they are positioning themselves here – it would be cheaper for Philips (or others) to acquire them than sue them.

As many of the comments on their KickStarter page indicate, they need to at least address some of these questions in an FAQ. I wish them luck, but I won’t be backing them.

Posted by Boh_1 | Report as abusive

It is not just the pure failure to launch a product but it is also important to understand that many of these products do not publish specs. Using videos is a good mechanism to bypass what the product would deliver. Apple, famous, for not getting into things like the amount of memory, still provides the specs for its products. For example – it states the expected time the battery charge will last. I agree with the statement that the blogosphere in the spirit of being fair state clearly what the product should do and does. Most comments I see here are trying to deal with the specific project taken as an example – my take is that the last sentences of this blog post are important:

“So my feeling is that both Kickstarter and the tech blogosphere should start being a lot more skeptical about the claims made in Kickstarter videos, where anybody can say pretty much anything.”

Posted by Ashu_Joshi | Report as abusive

Boh_1, they will need UL and FCC certification, and that process might cost them $30-40K. The high barriers to entry for a product like this are usually driven by marketing – it costs a lot to get the word out if they want to sell millions, or even hundreds of thousands, of these bulbs. But they don’t have to do that, they don’t have to spend a dollar on marketing to start, they already have orders for 10K units. That’s impressive for no marketing budget.

They are not making the LEDs themselves, so any patents that cover the basic technology would be covered by the LED manufacturers. As for bulb-level patents, it’s unlikely any big patent holder will come after them when they’ve only sold 10K units. Maybe if those 10K units lead to VC funding they will attract the patent trolls, but at that point they will have enough money to waste on defending themselves or licensing the patents.

It would be nice if they addressed the questions, but it sounds like 5,000 people are happy enough with what they have read. It’s possible these people are not as smart as Felix or you, and are wasting their money, but it’s also possible they are willing to take a chance on helping a company build a product they would like to buy, and don’t want to wait for some large company to make that decision.

Another_reader, thanks for the link that explains their configuration process, but I still think it’s not the best way. Not that it matters, all that matters is that it works, and they are able to modify it if necessary.

I don’t get why so many people are upset with kickstarter – nobody is forced to pledge money to any of the projects. I don’t think it is any more risky than the equity or real estate markets, and people stand to lose a lot less than they will in either of those. If there’s not enough information, if the specs are not detailed enough, then don’t pledge.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Felix is wrong on this one. A lot of entrepreneurs are building things like this that work today. There is a company here in LA called Oval Integration that has been doing stuff exactly like this, just hacking and integrating off-the-shelf electronics, see a demo here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X6sHabSX wg .

If garage hackers can bootstrap it like this then why wouldn’t a team with significant kickstarter funding be able to do the same?

Posted by danboarder | Report as abusive

Felix, have you been in a hardware store lately? LED bulbs have gotten *really* cheap. Plenty of room between the price of LED bulbs and the $50 they’re charging in quantity for an LIFX.

Posted by RussNelson | Report as abusive

Look at at my presentation from 2011 that was shown at the industrial designer society of America conference in Detroit. I initially had intentions on moving forward with this project, but found patents that protect this technology. In addition the idea was being developed by one of the largest lamp makers in the world. With that in mind I decided not to move forward with the concept. Something tells me that LIFX will be spending plenty of those pledges on legal fees.

http://cargocollective.com/larryparkerde sign/Soluna

Posted by 3literpwr | Report as abusive

I do have the same concerns, but also how an aussie (actually living in australia) bypass the US only policy on kickstarter? how can they get a AA battery for wifi standby in such small bulb?
The mayor upset is not about specs, is about answering with half truths if not at all.

Here’s a lot of patents similar to this revolutionary “reinvented” bulb

http://tiny.cc/bmgwkw

Posted by karlz | Report as abusive

@KenG_CA Just about all the money they’ve spent so far has been on marketing.

I think Felix makes very valid points. It is going to be extremely difficult and unlikely to meet all their claims with such a small unit. And Lifx has dodged answering any questions about the feasibility of the hardware.

Regarding compliance to standards, they can still deliver non-compliant products, but when your house burns down or someone is electrocuted, Lifx will disappear and so will your insurance policy.

I would hold off pledging until the product is proved a bit more, as it stands now its still very unrealistic hardware wise.

Posted by musil | Report as abusive

musli, they haven’t spent any of the kickstarter money on marketing, as they haven’t received it yet (I don’t think they get it until it closes).

You say it is going to be extremely difficult and unlikely to meet all there claims with such a small unit, but you provide no reasons to back it up. Companies introduce new products all the time without explaining how they are designing it, and the product that lifx is offering is not that groundbreaking in terms of technology. All they are doing is adding a radio and a microcontroller to the bulb – it can fit.

While they can sell a product that isn’t UL rated, they can’t sell it in the U.S. if it doesn’t have FCC approval. They can get fined for that. I wasn’t aware that people outside the U.S. could contribute to kickstarter projects, if that’s true, then they would have ot meet emissions standard in those countries, also.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

As an example of a successful Kickstart-funded hardware project, read http://techcrunch.com/2012/09/20/simple- tvs-149-dvr-for-iphone-ipad-roku-and-web -ships-september-27/. The software for this product is more complex than the Lifx bulb, and the manufacturing challenges are similar (the packaging issues for the Simple product might be simpler). Both products build off existing, off-the-shelf technology, and add value. They say they will ship in a week, and giving them the benefit of the doubt at this point, that’s pretty good for a project that received less than $250K in funding.

I don’t know that Lifx will be successful, but I think it is very unfair to dismiss their chances without knowing the team’s capabilities. It is also meaningless for people without sufficient understanding of the technical challenges a project faces, and the resources and capabilities that are necessary to bring a product to life, to judge the team’s prospect’s for success. If we relied only on those who are able to convince VC’s to fund their projects, there would be a lot less innovation. It’s certainly acceptable to be wary of anything pitched by unknown quantities, but it’s not grounds for rejecting a mechanism for bringing life to new ideas that lie outside of the realm of big companies and their accounting-driven product strategy.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

It looks like Kickstarter is trying to address some of Felix’s critisisms. http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/kickstar ter-is-not-a-store . Hardware Kickstarters are no longer allowed to show simulations or renderings (only real prototypes as currently exist). Also, each hardware kickstarter is required to list challenges they may face. Finally, projects cannot accept bulk orders any more for high tiers.

I feel that these are great steps. I never meant to give the impression in my previous comments that LIFX will never work. My main issue with Phil Bosua’s video and many of the media articles is that they potray this project as “in the bag” when there still are a lot of places this can fail. I’m sure Kickstarter thought of these policies when people were asking if there was any recourse against kickstarter when the Ouya creator was hesistant to say what would happen if nothing ever shipped.

Posted by TurtleBay | Report as abusive

Tell me Felix, you believe the LIFX creators aren’t qualified to make what they’re promising… what makes YOU so qualified to judge it as impossible? Are you an electrical engineer, or just a reporter with an opinion who’s trying to generate ad revenue?

If you’d done ANY research for your article, and I say ANY because I found this information in less than three minutes, you’d know that there are already RGB LED bulbs on the market for $10 which are remote controlled, and that the only thing that separates this bulb from those is sleeker industrial design, more sophisticated programming, higher quality LEDs, and a microcontroller with a tiny wifi chip antenna. It’s no marvel of engineering; it’s just a really clever idea implemented well.

But hey, congratulations on using your influence to destroy people’s dreams. Kickstarter has just begun requiring the impossibly high standard of a a virtually finished product in their hardware category because they will no longer allowing concept renders to show what the creator hopes to accomplish with said product, and without those 90% of projects will never be able to get the support they need.

Oh, and you wanna know why GE doesn’t make this kinda thing? The same reason they don’t make an incandescent bulb which lasts more than a year. It’s not that they CAN’T do it, it’s simply that it’s not profitable enough for them to do so. Which is not to say you can’t make a profit doing it; but GE’s shareholders wouldn’t be very happy if GE’s profits suddenly dropped by half because they started making lightbulbs which only need to be replaced half as often.

Posted by sswift | Report as abusive

Reading this “article,” and then the comments, KenG has excellent points that effectively trump all Felix’s “points.” His snarky final statement is also equally funny, let me just rebuttal that myself:

“But if you were looking for a more detailed response from Lifx,”

Which no one is…

“sorry — it looks like you’re not going to get one.”

… because we don’t need one.

I expected better from Reuters, but I suppose there can always be a bad apple in the bunch.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Sorry Ken and Sswift…but Felix isn’t just being a bully or a naysayer. My friends and I have made it something of a project to keep tabs on LED lighting. Between us, we’ve purchased, quite literally, nearly every available LED bulb available on Amazon to try and find which ones really make good replacements in common household fixtures. Our results so far?

Well Sswift, you can buy an LED for under $10 but the light quality is rubbish. It’s cold white, or it flickers, or it’s unidirectional or it simply dies after a month. That “rated for 25 years” claim? Most LED bulbs we’ve sampled simply don’t live up to it. I don’t know if it’s their heat sinks which aren’t up to the task, or if their circuits are poor quality…but what I do know is that for $10 you just don’t get a 60W equivalent bulb that’s worth a dime. I’d like you to reread your post “there are already RGB LED bulbs [...] for $10 and the only thing that seperates this bulb from those is sleeker industrial design, more sophisticated programming, higher quality LEDs and a microcontroller with a tiny wifi chip antenna”

Um…really, that’s ALL?! That kind of broad sweeping statement could be applied to most anything. Heck a Porsche is basically a Kia. You know, just with a sleeker design, more powerful engine, nicer interior, better tires and components, high end audio, etc. They should be pretty comparably priced right?

Ken is a bit more on the mark with $20. There’s ONE bulb that we’ve found that is a suitable replacement for an average 60W incandescent. The Phillips A19 LED bulb and it usually retails in the $20-22 range. It’s the result of their development to win the L-Prize (the L-Prize bulb uses less power, but sells for a ridiculous $40). It has good light temperature, so far has shown no signs of burn out and provides relatively omnidirectional glow. But even some folks don’t like that bulb because it has the appearance of several small bulbs (3 to be specific) within the globe and looks funny (yellow) when turned off. Myself I think it’s fine…but even it has its detractors. FYI though, even that bulb is 12.5 Watt which is closer to 20% of the power draw of a 60W incandescent. Not 10%. So I welcome LIFX to try and use this openly available “tried and tested LED light bulb technology” they seem to have access to to come in at the 10% mark.

But Ken, you also have this idea that Switch is having problems because they just wanted to “create new technology”. If you’d bought a bunch of current technology LED bulbs you’d know why they were trying that. If current technology was perfect, cheap and readily available then venture capitalists wouldn’t be dumping $100s of millions into Switch to try and make a new LED bulb. You don’t reinvent the wheel. Switch is trying to address the large failings that I mentioned above. Longevity, light color, and directionality. Implying that these have already been completely solved by whatever 3rd party manufacturer LIFX is hoping to find is insulting to an awful lot of smart engineers and investors (sure some stupid ones too…but I promise you that everyone throwing money at Switch isn’t doing so because they just didn’t notice that Amazon already sells an LED for $10)

If there was already a fabulous LED bulb that everyone could buy for $10 companies would be buying them to save money on their power bills. Even at $20 the Phillips bulb is very pricey and it’s not a multicolored bulb!

So yes, I did look at LIFX when it first came out. Well before I saw this piece on Reuters. I came though to the same conclusion. Promising a “perfect” LED bulb experience PLUS wifi…without having yet even decided on the LED bulb manufacturer? I’m glad that with this support they’re going to “hire the best darned LED experts [they] can find!” Because there isn’t a generic manufacturer that can produce an LED that meets their vision. But it sounds like Ken and Sswift are just hoping that the only reason for that is because no one has wanted to make one badly enough yet…Good luck.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

Sorry Ken and Sswift…but Felix isn’t just being a bully or a naysayer. My friends and I have made it something of a project to keep tabs on LED lighting. Between us, we’ve purchased, quite literally, nearly every available LED bulb available on Amazon to try and find which ones really make good replacements in common household fixtures. Our results so far?

Well Sswift, you can buy an LED for under $10 but the light quality is rubbish. It’s cold white, or it flickers, or it’s unidirectional or it simply dies after a month. That “rated for 25 years” claim? Most LED bulbs we’ve sampled simply don’t live up to it. I don’t know if it’s their heat sinks which aren’t up to the task, or if their circuits are poor quality…but what I do know is that for $10 you just don’t get a 60W equivalent bulb that’s worth a dime. I’d like you to reread your post “there are already RGB LED bulbs [...] for $10 and the only thing that seperates this bulb from those is sleeker industrial design, more sophisticated programming, higher quality LEDs and a microcontroller with a tiny wifi chip antenna”

Um…really, that’s ALL?! That kind of broad sweeping statement could be applied to most anything. Heck a Porsche is basically a Kia. You know, just with a sleeker design, more powerful engine, nicer interior, better tires and components, high end audio, etc. They should be pretty comparably priced right?

Ken is a bit more on the mark with $20. There’s ONE bulb that we’ve found that is a suitable replacement for an average 60W incandescent. The Phillips A19 LED bulb and it usually retails in the $20-22 range. It’s the result of their development to win the L-Prize (the L-Prize bulb uses less power, but sells for a ridiculous $40). It has good light temperature, so far has shown no signs of burn out and provides relatively omnidirectional glow. But even some folks don’t like that bulb because it has the appearance of several small bulbs (3 to be specific) within the globe and looks funny (yellow) when turned off. Myself I think it’s fine…but even it has its detractors. FYI though, even that bulb is 12.5 Watt which is closer to 20% of the power draw of a 60W incandescent. Not 10%. So I welcome LIFX to try and use this openly available “tried and tested LED light bulb technology” they seem to have access to to come in at the 10% mark.

But Ken, you also have this idea that Switch is having problems because they just wanted to “create new technology”. If you’d bought a bunch of current technology LED bulbs you’d know why they were trying that. If current technology was perfect, cheap and readily available then venture capitalists wouldn’t be dumping $100s of millions into Switch to try and make a new LED bulb. You don’t reinvent the wheel. Switch is trying to address the large failings that I mentioned above. Longevity, light color, and directionality. Implying that these have already been completely solved by whatever 3rd party manufacturer LIFX is hoping to find is insulting to an awful lot of smart engineers and investors (sure some stupid ones too…but I promise you that everyone throwing money at Switch isn’t doing so because they just didn’t notice that Amazon already sells an LED for $10)

If there was already a fabulous LED bulb that everyone could buy for $10 companies would be buying them to save money on their power bills. Even at $20 the Phillips bulb is very pricey and it’s not a multicolored bulb!

So yes, I did look at LIFX when it first came out. Well before I saw this piece on Reuters. I came though to the same conclusion. Promising a “perfect” LED bulb experience PLUS wifi…without having yet even decided on the LED bulb manufacturer? I’m glad that with this support they’re going to “hire the best darned LED experts [they] can find!” Because there isn’t a generic manufacturer that can produce an LED that meets their vision. But it sounds like Ken and Sswift are just hoping that the only reason for that is because no one has wanted to make one badly enough yet…Good luck.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

tempo36, my point was essentially that Felix is not qualified to assess the skills of the Lifx team, nor the technology required to deliver what they are offering. To the best of my knowledge, he has never designed electronic products nor written embedded software. I don’t have a problem with him reviewing a product he bought, but his predictions of failure have no merit.

My comment about Switch is that it is not fair to compare Lifx with them, as they are attempting to create lighting technology, where Lifx is only attempting to implement and integrate existing technology. There are already millions of people using LED light bulbs, even if they don’t meet your standards, and Lifx should be able to meet the same performance, if not better due to the advantage a later entry into the market has (they get to utilize the latest LED technology). In no way was I being critical of Switch or their efforts, but those efforts are irrelevant to what Lifx is attempting.

Even at $20, the Philips bulb is not multicolored, but it will save more than $20 in electricity over its lifetime, and that’s the point of LED bulbs.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

I think that Switch and Phillips’ efforts are relevant to LIFX though…unless folks are OK with paying for a $50 bulb that doesn’t produce quality light. Sure, LIFX can use current LED tech and promise great light quality, longevity and cost savings, but the fact is that most LED on the market CANNOT deliver all of those things. That’s why the big makers are still working on the technology.

Again, by implying that some 3rd party bulb can meet all these expectations inherently implies that Switch, Phillips, Lighting Science Group, etc are just spending money on development for kicks. It implies that their investors simply didn’t look at all these “ideal” 3rd party bulbs available on Amazon, EarthLED, LED wholesalers, etc before spending money elsewhere.

To go back to a car analogy, if I bought a Leaf and expected it to drive innall ways like a Tesla simply because both use the same core Lithium tech, I’d be sorely disappointed wouldn’t I? The Leaf is what it is, and most 3rd party LED bulbs are what they are. But the former isn’t a Tesla, and I’d be really surprised if any of the latter can deliver the big 3 (light quality/quantity, longevity, efficiency) that LIFX founders and their backers are hoping for. Will they delivery partially? Maybe. I dont know enough networking to doubt or endorse their ability to make these things network controlled…but I’m even willing to give them a pass there. I’m almost certain they can deliver a bulb that is efficient because that’s inherent to the LED tech. It’s the other aspects/promises of the light that I doubt.

Felix doesn’t need to be an engineer to make this kind of observation. He is looking at the market, seeing what is available currently without novel patents, and pointing out that the likelihood of delivering on all fronts is low.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

Ken,
I am a professional lighting designer who has been working with high power LED’s, RGB LED’s, micro controllers, programmable lighting systems and thermal issues with electronics for those past 10 years. What the prior poster says is absolutely true. You cannot compare cheap Chinese LED light to what this one claims to be able to do. To get 60 watt bulb performance, you really need either incredibly efficient led’s or very high power led’s. Those are not cheap. Cheap Led’s produce ugly colors and do not mix well. I am not aware of any RGB setup that can mix light such that the consumer would be happy. The solution is to use an RGBW led with a high CRI white chip. Those are very expensive. For example, the LZC led from LED Engin is around $30 in large quantities. Then you need a light mixing lens…usually a TIR lens, to be able to mix the other colors. And I have never seen one that can do it without some color fringing.

The cost of the optic design would easily exceed the die cast costs for the housing and heat sink design and tooling. On top of that, a wifi module will be $10 or so, a microcontroller, an ac to dc inverter, three or four high current switching constant current regulators, associated circuitry,etc. for a retail price of $50 to $70. Not possible. I think the project is really cool, but I am personally 100% sure that the performance they imply is flat out impossible, and when you add in the proposed timeframe and costs? Totally impossible, IMO. Lots of billion dollar companies have been working on this exact problem for years and the solution does not exist until we move quite a bit further with led technology. It’s like a company saying they have an electric car that goes 150 mph, charges in 30 minutes, goes 300 miles on a charge, and costs $25k. Then someone says ‘well I bought an electric scooter for $200 so I don’t see how this is impossible’.

I know I will be proven right. My guess is that to make this product at the quality level implied on the video would be a parts costal one of $100 or so, and an investment of a few million of R&D. For $50 you will get a cheap Chinese RGB bulb. And there will be formidable packaging/size issues and heat issues to overcome.

Whoever said above that a small company can do this cheaper than a big one knows nothing about electronics or manufacturing. I think lifx is really cool and I can’t wait to see the final result, but I know how this is going to go…..

Sorry for typos… I pecked this put on an ipad.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

tempo, Lifx isn’t promising the Tesla of LED bulbs. They’re promising a network controlled LED lamp, just like the ones that are on the market, but with a network interface. I just went on their kickstarter page and didn’t see anything about having the best lamp in the world. They are not implying that Philips and Switch are spending their money for kicks, as those companies are trying to improve the state of the art in LED lighting technology. Lifx is adding a feature to existing LED bulbs (which Philips and Switch can add down the road if Lifx demonstrates it is a feature that people want).

Lightwiz, Lifx says they are going to use RGB LEDs. They do not claim they will deliver the best lighting in the world. They are not addressing the issues you mention, only the method lighting is controlled. What Lifx can do cheaper than a big company is develop a network interface for an LED bulb, and they can. And if those RGB bulbs can be sold for $20, then adding a wi-fi interface with a microcontroller can easily be done without driving the price beyond $50.

Both of you, tempo36 and Lightwiz, create straw men that you blast to pieces. There are millions of people buying LED lamps, in spite of the issues you mention, and now they may get the chance (well, maybe a few thousand of them will actually try) to control those bulbs with their phones. That’s it. They’re not going to get superior lighting, and I doubt if any of the contributors to Kickstarter expect it.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Well, maybe you’re right Ken. Maybe the backers realize that those mock ups of 9 perfect colors of even omnidirectional lighting and household ambiance are just that, mock ups. Maybe they realize that the results are likely to not be as good as those pictured. Maybe they know that the 1/10th power consumption (6W for a 60W equivalent) is pretty unlikely and that the 25 year lifespan is pretty rare amongst current tech. Ultimately you’re right that LIFX doesn’t SAY that their product is perfect…but they imply through their images that its very very good. A big implication when they don’t have the lighting tech selected yet.

You say that millions of folks have bought LED lights and, though you don’t mention it, presumably they’re happy with them. Yet I know precious few people (and I’m in Seattle no less) who have bought LED bulbs…and those who have are sorely disappointed in the product. Amazon has pretty solid reviews on the tech these days, which I find surprising, but also a lot of the reviews say things like “great light, 5 stars, but not truly omnidirectional” or similar…so I’m not sure how these folks a interpreting the concept of a 60w replacement.

But hey, again, maybe you’re right…maybe everyone realizes that those mock ups are unlikely to be achievable and they just want the wifi functionality. We’ll see!

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

Ken,

I have not created a strawman at all. You are not in this business, do not understand the technology and are refusing to listen to those who do know the business and technology, and claiming you are correct. It’s like me arguing with an architect and saying a skyscraper can be built out of glass because I have seen glass buildings before, and therefore I am right and ignoring all the engineering reasons for why I am wrong.

You claim that Lifx is essentially the same as an existing $20 Chinese bulb, but has a Wifi module + some software. That is wrong. Lifx is claiming they will make a 60-watt equivalent RGB LED bulb that will be networkable and controllably. That is *not* the same as the Chinese LED bulbs out there new. Those bulbs are nowhere near 60W bulb performance.

60W bulb performance is important because that is about the minimum that is reasonable for consumer use. That means about 600-1000 lumens of light. The most efficient white LED’s are just over 100 lumens per watt, and 5 to 10 watts of LED power in a very efficient LED are “doable” for a well designed heatsink that can fit inside a standard bulb form factor.

RGB bulbs are much less efficient. The LED that Lifx is using in their demo unit is a cheap Chinese RGB LED with 9 emitter dies that is supposedly rated at 10W/500 lumens. They are sold on DealExtreme for $13. That is *way* less efficient than the 60W equivalent white LED bulbs. There is no RGB LED bulb that exists that can really produce 60W bulb equivalent light levels in a package which can sufficiently dissipate the heat.

If they are really making a 20W incandescent bulb equivalent version (like the $20 chinese junk), the fine – but they are claiming to be able to do what even the largest manufacturers can only do with the most efficient white LED’s. And RGB’s are less than half as efficient, at best.

That is the equivalent of me saying I have a car that goes 105mpg on gas alone, when the current best from Honda does 50mpg. Is it believable? No.

In addition to claiming to be able to make a bulb that is far ahead of everyone else in packaging, thermal design and performance, they are also going to add a more powerful microcontroller than the cheap Chinese bulbs, and they are adding a wifi module, which will have a sufficient range despite being inside a metal shell in the device.

The biggest issue with all this is that they have not chosen an LED yet, nor have they chosen (or apparently done) any optical design, nor have they addressed the packaging issues, because their shown product is a rendering and the actual demo was running on a detached board connected to the bulb itself.

Those just happen to be the three biggest roadblocks that have prevented all the major companies from doing what Lifx claims to be able to do. In addition to that, they claim to be able to do it at a price not much higher than vastly inferior products with way less functionality.

That is what is not believable. Again, it is like me saying I have developed an electric car that goes 150mph, goes 300 miles on a charge, and charges in 30 minutes. If my demo unit is a scooter with a trailer full of Li-Ion batteries behind it requiring a 500hp diesel generator to charge them, and I tell you I will figure out what battery I am using, and what motor I am using when I get funded – then of course people in the know are going to call BS.

That there exists an inferior product that does not do what I claim to be able to do does not mean my claims are feasible.

I am not a hater or a competitor or anything of the sort. But I am an expert in high power LED lighting and an electrical engineer, business owner (of a manufacturing company which makes LED lighting products using high power LED’s) and developer of several high power RGB lighting systems. I know the issues involved very, very well. And Lifx is vaporware, in my considered opinion.

I think they could deliver an “accent light” level brightness bulb for $70 that does what they say – and they won’t make any money on it, and the light quality will be unusable for home use. But they will not be able to follow through on their claim of 60W light equivalency nor their claim in the video of usable white light.

To do that they would need a high quality RGBW LED and that product probably can’t fit inside the package they have to deal with because of inefficiency of any RGBW led with sufficient lumen output, and if they can make it work (maybe with an internal fan or something), the cost would be more like $200 per unit, not $70.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

To put this in a nutshell….

1) There is no technology out there that correctly mixes R G and B colors and produces nice white light without crappy CRI or bad problems with fringing. The only way to get that level of mixing is either through huge focal length reflectors or such extreme diffusion that the total efficiency drops so much that you need way more LED power to get the job done. Which brings us to #2

2) Speaking of LED power, no RGB LED exists which can produce the 600-1000 lumens of light required to be equivalent to 60W incandescents and can be packaged into a traditional bulb form factor and have the necessary heat dissipation

3) LED bulbs are already highly constrained in terms of size, cost and lumen output. These are the three factors in the LED bulb industry. We’ve all heard “you can have it fast, good, and cheap. Pick two”. With LED bulbs, you can have it small, powerful, and cheap. Pick two.

Lifx claims to have made a quantum leap over all exiting LED bulb technologies, including those with millions of money invested in their technology, and including players like Philips who are on the cutting edge of LED manufacturing technology (Luxeon). They make that claim through claiming to be able to make a 60W equivalent LED bulb and showing pictures of a device that appears as bright as a 60W bulb, has nice color mixing, etc, etc. And they can develop this technology for $100k and bring it to market in 4 months… oh, aside from the packaging constraints and thermal issues that existing manufacturers haven’t been able to solve, they will not only solve them, but will also add a Wifi module, and sell them cheaper than Philips can sell it’s LivingColors RGB room lamp. Philips, the multi-billion dollar company that won the LED bulb prize, mind you. And their LivingColors Gen 2 lamp puts out less than half a 60W bulb output, costs more than double what Lifx says theirs will cost, is much larger (to handle heat), has less features, and hasn’t been profitable for the company.

Yep, totally legit :)

Hey, good luck to Lifx. I don’t think it’s an intentional misleading pitch. They are just way, way, way naive on this. Just because they can build something on a proto board using cheap RGB LED’s from Deal Extreme, is about as far as you can get from a salable product with UL listing and regulatory approval, made in quantity, etc.

Will be an interesting and amusing few months.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Lightwiz, thanks for better articulating (with a more extensive tech explanation) what I was shooting for. They might not say that the bulb is better than all current tech, but I think you and I (and Felix) feel it’s implicit in the “60W equivalent” claim they make when looking at current tech.

Fact is, if all the current “60W equivalent” LED available really were as-promised, everyone would be tripping over themselves to change out their entire house to LED for the amazing light quality and cost savings. Even the Phillips bulb, that I love, has a big disclaimer that it shouldn’t be use in an enclosed fixture because of heat and that leaves a lot of fixtures in my house unconverted to LED.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

Lightwiz, tempo36, I just don’t read their pitch as “we’re going to deliver the best LED bulb yet”. If that’s what people are hearing, then yeah, maybe there’s a problem, but that’s not what Felix was criticizing them for, and it’s not what I was defending – which is that adding a wi-fi and/or zigbee radio to an LED light bulb consistent with today’s standards is absolutely feasible. Also, regardless of whether they are promising a state of the art 60W bulb or an ordinary 40W one, it’s no reason to bash Kickstarter. This thread has actually made me view it in a different light, a very bright one (pun intended).

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Ken,

I have to wonder if you are somehow involved with Lifx, because you seem to continually ignore all criticism and sidestep any valid issues raised, and continue to defend the product and company.

You have not once addressed *any* of the factual issues I have raised.

As for the blog, if you re-read it, he’s not bashing Kickstarter. He is saying they should take a sharper look at the projects they allow – and is using Lifx as an example. Apparently, Kickstarter agrees, since they have subsequently severely tightened up their requirements, to the extent that Lifx, as presented, would not be allowed as a project on their site.

As for Lifx, you say you don’t read their pitch as them claiming to deliver the best LED bulb yet”. What they *DO* claim is they will deliver a 60-watt equivalent bulb in an RGB LED package with controllable colors and intensity through WiFi.

I have already pointed out why that is a BIG technical leap over everything else that exists today… and you keep going back to “adding WiFi to an LED bulb is absolutely feasible”. How do you figure? What they claim to be doing (and will be able to deliver in a few months time) is not just sticking a Wifi module on an existing RGB LED bulb – but – by their own words “re-inventing the light bulb”.

Wifi control isn’t the relevant part of this. There have been DMX and Insteon/X10 controllable colored lighting for years and years. You can get wireless DMX lighting for a lower price than Lifx and have been able to for years.

The relevant part of this is they claim to be able to make a 60W-equivalent RGB bulb that also contains Wifi and a microcontroller and be able to fit it all into a standard bulb package and do it for $70, with an R&D cost of $100k.

Once again, that is the equivalent of a home mechanic claiming to have developed an electric car that goes 150mph, runs for 300 miles per charge, and charges in 30 minutes, and costs $25k. And if he can just get $100k, he’ll be able to commercialize his invention – and oh year, he hasn’t picked what batteries or which electric motor he’s going to use yet – and all he has to show you is a rendering of a swoopy looking car.

And guys on the Internet are defending the aforementioned guy by saying it’s feasible because their moped gets 100mpg so this is do-able, and continually saying that to automotive engineers who tell them it’s hogwash.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Lightwiz, I have addressed your comments – I said they are not relevant to what I was saying. I talked about the feasibility to add a radio to an LED light bulb, and you talk about the quality of the light – I said nothing about that, as it wasn’t relevant to the discussion (you introduced that as an issue, when it wasn’t brought up by Felix or me). I never commented on the quality of the light, and I was explicit about them not inventing LED technology.

Your comments read as if you paid no attention to the entire thread, especially my initial comments. Felix said it was unlikely they could deliver an LED bulb with wi-fi, because of the heat and the difficulty of fitting a wi-fi radio in the bulb, and that’s what I reacted to. I made no comments about the light output, or how good it would be, and neither did Felix.

I have no involvement in Lifx, my interest is based in how people with absolutely no knowledge of electronics design and development, nor of the abilities of the lifx team, have dismissed them as frauds.

Felix has bashed Kickstarter, in this and other posts, and while I don’t have a problem with him criticizing Kickstarter, it has to be for valid reasons. And him thinking Lifx is not capable of delivering a wi-fi controlled LED bulb is not a vlid reason. I like the concept of Kickstarter (I may use it myself), and I think the kind of criticism Felix has leveled at them has caused them to change their rules for the worse. It will no longer be a viable way for people with hardware product ideas to raise money, as they will need to build a prototype first. That is often too expensive for many people to do.

You say that wi-fi control isn’t the relevant part of this – yes it is, because that’s one of the features that Felix said isn’t viable. Which is why I keep repeating that point. Read his post, and the early comments.

To you, the relevant part is their claim about making a 60W equivalent RGB bulb, but that was not part of the early thread, nor post. Please read the paragraphs Felix wrote below the pictures of the bulbs. That was what I responded to.

I have not defended the claims about the LED output or quality. Your analogy is not valid. I don’t know anyone at Lifx,for all I know, they don’t know the difference between NOR and NAND flash. They may very well not deliver, but that’s not what I have been talking about.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Ken, at the risk of descending into name calling… if you read that Felix is only skeptical of the wi-if component then you need a lesson in reading comprehension.

Paragraphs #4 & #5? Felix talks about their “revolutionary” light bulb, their (rendered) svelt design and their complete absence of having picked an LED manufacturer. He isn’t asking if they’ve picked a wi-fi chip. Or even mentioned if the wi-fi is doable at this point. He has though mentioned that other companies are trying, and failing, to revolutionize LED lighting. The quote from Koeppel’s article? It’s about LIGHTING. Not wi-fi control.

Let us move on. Paragraph #6 is ONLY about LED light challenges. Spacing, heat management, compromise, DESIGN. #7 we get into the heat sink (“The heat sink is crucial”). Here we finally bring in wi-fi. But we bring it in in the concept space of pointing out that LED already have heat issues in their own right. We discuss Switch and their gel patent. Felix does say, perhaps erroneously that the wi-fi components particularly demand good heat control. But he’s already made the point that Switch recognizes that heat control is one of the PRIMARY problems of the LED market. He’s pointing out in this paragraph that not only is LIFX ignoring heat management as a huge issue in normal bulbs, they’re adding more components and expecting current tech to be enough. If current tech is inadequate, as Switch/Phillips/et al recognize, then adding anything, no matter how trivial only makes the problems worse. They could be adding wi-fi or a Clapper, it wouldn’t matter. It’s MORE. When current tech is inadequate, MORE heat, even a trivial amount can’t possibly be easier. It’s like throwing a match on a burning house and wondering why the firefighters are pissed off. Maybe you didn’t really make it worse. But you sure didn’t help them out any.

Paragraph #8 the LIFX quote is about casings, LEDs, computer boards and software. 2 of the 4 items…50% are LED problems, not wi-fi problems. And since software isn’t part of the hardware, this quote is 66% about LED problems and only 33% wi-fi.

Paragraph #9 , #10 & #11 are again, you guessed it, all about LED challenges. #9 mentions that if all we want is wi-fi, Belgian is already part way there and discusses “revolutionary” LED lighting. #10…all about LED tech and it’s difficult hurdles. #11 talks about the light quality that’s likely, it’s dispersion, heat…

Is this about wi-fi? Are you reading the same article that Lightwiz and I are?

Eleven paragraphs in and this article is about the challenges of delivering an LED that makes the grade. Wi-fi is not under attack here! Nor is Kickstarter. Felix suggests they, and the tech blogging sphere need to ratchet up their skepticism, something kickstarter clearly agreed with. But he doesn’t attack them.

And if you think the 60W part is just distraction, let me point again to paragraphs 10 & 11. In 10 Felix talks about the disappointment of many bulbs, he’s not explicit, but if you understand lighting you know why they are disappointing. They’re not 60W equivalent. People buy them hoping to place their lights and they don’t make good replacements. So when LIFX says to just change out your lights…what am I supposed to imply? That I’m replacing all my lights that supply LIGHT with what…? Whether stated or implied, by suggesting that we replace our lights with LIFX we are led to believe that they’re a proper replacement. Would any rational person replace four 69W bulbs in their living room with 20-40W bulbs? No. Those mock ups show whole rooms lit with LIFX bulbs. Warm white light, omnidirectional, etc. So when I replace my bulbs and my living room is now dim…do you think I’m going to care at all about the wi-fi module?

This is an article about design and tech development. Wi-fi is part of the package but it’s not the hurdle Felix is worried about. How can you read this article and miss his concerns about the core LED tech that LIFX seems to be lacking?

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

p.s.

Ken, your very first comment:

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”
You can buy LED light bulbs for under $20 – adding a wi-fi interface can be done for $10 or less in volume. It is very likely.”

This is what you seemingly don’t get. You just ignore that a huge hurdle is the ability to produce LIGHT. Right off the bat you say that we can get LED bulbs for $20 without seemingly recognizing that no one is going to want the light those bulbs produce. Felix recognizes the problem! As I pointed out above he is fully aware that current tech isn’t up to the task of LIGHTING our homes in a satisfactory manner. So whether I can buy an LED for $10, $20 or $100 it doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t emit good light.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

p.s.

Ken, your very first comment:

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”
You can buy LED light bulbs for under $20 – adding a wi-fi interface can be done for $10 or less in volume. It is very likely.”

This is what you seemingly don’t get. You just ignore that a huge hurdle is the ability to produce LIGHT. Right off the bat you say that we can get LED bulbs for $20 without seemingly recognizing that no one is going to want the light those bulbs produce. Felix recognizes the problem! As I pointed out above he is fully aware that current tech isn’t up to the task of LIGHTING our homes in a satisfactory manner. So whether I can buy an LED for $10, $20 or $100 it doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t emit good light.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

tempo, you keep bringing up irrelevant points – the main issue is that millions of those LED bulbs that you say people don’t want are sold each year. Bulbs that have simple designs and have solved the heat sink issue enough to get people to buy them. I get your point that it’s not trivial to design a state-of-the art LED bulb, but thats not what they are selling.

If you think Felix issn’t criticizing Quickstarter, then you’ve missed the whole point of the post – that Quickstarter allows companies like this to raise funding.

I said to read the paragraphs after the photos, this is from the second one:

“The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb.”

That’s nonsense.

“It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

And yet the rendering clearly shows a heatsink.

“Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?”

To which I answered in my first comment, yes. And that Felix is not qualified to answer that question.

“Put it this way: either Lifx is a genuinely revolutionary new LED bulb, or it isn’t.”

It is only revolutionary from the standpoint that it can be easily controlled by a smartphone (for what that’s worth, obviously something to some people).

“I can’t believe that Lifx has managed to solve the enormous problems that many huge companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying — and generally failing — to fix.”

Lifx isn’t claiming to have solved those problems, and I never suggested they did. I only said their goals are feasible, and they shouldn’t be dismissed for the reasons Felix and you mention.

“And there’s a very real risk — I’d say it’s a probability — that the Lifx bulb will simply never ship at all.”

There is always that risk, and that’s the nature of Quickstarter funded hardware projects. Quickstarter tells all of the contributors this up front. The lifx founders seem well-intentioned, it’s not like they are going to take the money and run to the Caribbean.

“The Lifx is priced at $49 per bulb, which means that you’re basically buying a basic WeMo switch and getting the LED bulb — and all the technology merging the two into one bulb-sized piece of hardware — for free. It just doesn’t seem likely.”

That is wrong.The networking technology doesn’t cost anywhere near that.

“Despite the fact that there’s really no reason to believe that the Lifx team can produce what it’s promising,”

How does he know that? They’re not promising the best LED bulb in the world.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Oooook. I think we’ll just need to agree to disagree. You don’t seem to feel that LIFX is implying that their bulbs are good replacements for existing bulbs and I do. They talk about replacing your bulbs and reducing your power consumption. But that’s a useless offer if the bulb you’re replacing your old one with cant light your house in a useful manner.

I offer to replace your SUV with a scooter and tell you that I’ve fixed the issue of how much you spend on gas. Technically true but I think you’d notice the loss of utility.

You’re maybe right that millions of LED bulbs are sold every year, but I bet that you’d find precious few, if any, folks who have been happy enough with the overall performance to truly change out every bulb in their house with them. But since neither of us have data to back up our assumptions, it’s a moot point. I think that in about 6 months we’ll know one thing, if LIFX can delivery on schedule, and about 1 month after they deliver we’ll see how many people are actually happy with the BULB once the wi-fi novelty is worn off. Personally I see little utility in being able to turn on a crappy light bulb remotely…And I just can’t believe that folks realize this when backing the project…”Awesome! I can replace my functional bulbs with less functional ones but they’ll be remote controlled!”

We can revisit in 6-9 months….

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

So Ken…if those current LED bulbs are so satisfactory…have you replaced every bulb in your house with them? If not…why?

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

tempo36, tens of millions of people have replaced their landlines with mobile phones, even though the voice quality, and often signal quality, is horrible with the mobile device at home, and no match for the landline. People listen to MP3 songs, which lack the sonic quality of analog or high bit rate digital recordings. They watch fuzzy and shaky bootleg videos that are recorded with cameras in theaters. Hundreds of millions of people in this country alone buy fast “food”, even though it is often horrible and anti-nutritious. It’s what they can afford, and it illustrates how the declining standard of living in the US manifests itself – reducing quality, and not quantity of what they buy. So if you’re still wondering why people, who like the idea of light bulbs that consume less energy that incandescents, buy those crappy LED bulbs, I don’t know what else to say.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy the Lifx bulb and don’t think it’s a great idea (and I love to network everything that runs on electricity). But other people do like the idea, and they should not be prevented from investing in the possibility that they can get one. Even the best VCs strike out more than 60% of the time, and that’s when they invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in teams that they personally vet. So the amount they are raising, and the founders’ lack of credentials don’t really matter. As for the risk the VCs are taking when they invest in those unproven startups, it is often money from pension and retirement funds, but the individuals have no say in what risks are undertaken. At least with Kickstarter, people get to choose how much and on what they want to risk $50 or $100 or whatever they feel they can afford. And that’s important, and should not be stopped.

There is often no reason to replace every bulb in the house, only the ones that are used often enough to justify their replacement. There are some bulbs in my home that have been there since we moved in 8 years ago, as they aren’t used enough.

I would love to replace all of the lighting in my home with LEDs, even if the bulb is not used often, but almost all of the lighting is in the ceiling, and I haven’t found LED bulbs that will fit and meet the output and dimming requirements.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Ken,

It seems like you have a deeper beef with Felix, and are using this topic to hash it out. I have no dog in that fight, my focus is strictly Lifx and this blog post. I do not see Felix bashing Kickstarter at all. Perhaps he has before, but not in this post.

As for your criticism that people with no electronics knowledge are wrong in commenting on the viability of adding Wifi to an RGB bulb… what is your electronics design background? I am not feeling that you have one from your posts, and if so, I don’t see how your criticism of the other critics is valid.

Raising questions about adding Wifi to an existing RGB LED setup *is* a valid criticism. It is not only the Wifi module, but the microcontroller and associated circuit board required to interface with it, as well as an AC->DC converter of sufficient power and low noise to run a Wifi module, all of which must fit inside the “extra room” inside an RGB bulb. Then you have the problems of putting a radio device inside a metal housing, and yes, there are some very real challenges there. To dismiss it as “just adding wifi to an existing bulb” is drastically over-simplifying the technical challenge.

All of that is in addition to the much greater challenge, which is making a 60W RGB bulb in the first place. Which is a lot MORE power than any other RGB bulb on the market today (meaning larger heat sinks, more thermal issues, less space to work with).

Which brings me to my final point. I am not sure why you feel that my responses must be constrained only to topics you feel relate to what Felix wrote. You commented on the viability of making what Lifx claims to be making. I responded to that. It appears that the most compelling argument for why Lifx is vaporware is one you want to ignore as “not what you were talking about”.

I thought what we are talking about is the viability of the Lifx product, and whether Felix was correct in raising his concerns. That you and others did not appreciate the technical challenge of the 60W RGB portion of their pitch only reinforces the very real doubts that Felix raised.

Again, it seems like you and Felix have some sort of historical beef going – and I have no idea what that’s about, and IMO it’s not relevant to Lifx, which is a vaporware project that either will never see the light of day, or if it does, it will be very, very late and will not come close to meeting the commitments made in their video and accompanying write-up – IMO.

That’s from someone who works with high power lighting on a daily basis. It’s all I’ve done for the past 12 years.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Ken,

To reply to your other post… you said some things that, as an engineer, I simply cannot let go.

FELIX:The heat sink is crucial, especially if you want to put lots of wifi electronics into the bulb.

YOU: That’s nonsense.

He is *absolutely* correct on that point. By *far* the biggest challenge in home LED lighting is heat – by far. Every single LED bulb in existence is a tradeoff between efficiency of the LED die and light output. Every. Single. One. Heat sink efficiency is almost exclusively a function of size and airflow. Size and airflow are pretty much the two first things to be compromised when you are designing a product that must match the form factor of a ubiquitous product like a standard incandescent bulb. Lifx not only claims to have solved the light output/heat problem to the extent that they can get 60W equivalency, they claim to have done it using an RGB bulb (which is MUCH less efficient and generates much more heat per lumen output compared to a white LED), *and* with enough room in the heatsink to put a wifi module. Considering that size is one of the two things that matter in a heatsink, that is an unbelievable accomplishment. And I mean unbelievable in the literal sense.

FELIX:It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

YOU:And yet the rendering clearly shows a heatsink.

He is talking about the prototype, not the rendering. The prototype is what the guy in the video is holding in his hand, and briefly show on a test bench. And he’s right. The “heat sink” appears to be a smooth piece of metal – that’s not a heat sink – at least, nothing resembling an effective heat sink. Felix is absolutely right on this.

FELIX: Does he really think he can do all that for $100,000, or even $1 million?”

YOU: To which I answered in my first comment, yes. And that Felix is not qualified to answer that question.

And others have come along to say why Felix was right on this, yet you still say he is wrong. You call him out for not being knowledgeable enough to comment, yet when others come along who are knowledgeable enough to comment say you are incorrect, you stubbornly refuse to admit that and claim you are still correct. No offense, but you are unqualified to say Felix is wrong on this point. He isn’t.

FELIX:Put it this way: either Lifx is a genuinely revolutionary new LED bulb, or it isn’t.”

YOU: It is only revolutionary from the standpoint that it can be easily controlled by a smartphone (for what that’s worth, obviously something to some people).

That is what *you* read into the product, but you are wrong. The biggest revolution in Lifx is a 60W equivalence bulb using an RGB emitter. This is the most damning claim in the Lifx presentation. You first said that it is feasible “because there are lots of RGB bulbs on the market”, then claimed that you were not talking about the quality of the light. Again, Felix is right. Lifx is claiming a revolution. I believe you are just being stubborn again on this point – you didn’t realize there were so many technical challenges that major OEM’s have been unable to solve, and when confronted with them, you just keep saying Felix was wrong and/or that you weren’t talking about light quality. Felix was right on this point.

FELIX: I can’t believe that Lifx has managed to solve the enormous problems that many huge companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying — and generally failing — to fix.”

YOU: Lifx isn’t claiming to have solved those problems, and I never suggested they did. I only said their goals are feasible, and they shouldn’t be dismissed for the reasons Felix and you mention.

YES THEY ARE CLAIMING TO HAVE SOLVED THOSE PROBLEMS! Ken, what do you think the problems are that these huge companies have spent hundreds of millions to solve? Do you even know? I’ve told you – fitting enough LED power into a package that produces enough light to rival 60W incandescents while dissipating enough heat while packaged in a traditional bulb form factor that sells for a price the consumer will pay. That is 100% of what all these companies are working towards. And that happens to be exactly what Lifx has claimed to solve. They flat out say 60W performance. Felix hit a bullseye on this comment.

FELIX: And there’s a very real risk — I’d say it’s a probability — that the Lifx bulb will simply never ship at all.”

YOU: There is always that risk, and that’s the nature of Quickstarter funded hardware projects. Quickstarter tells all of the contributors this up front. The lifx founders seem well-intentioned, it’s not like they are going to take the money and run to the Caribbean.

If someone promises the world but are totally unqualified to deliver, is it OK that they make pretty renderings and collect millions for it? Felix doesn’t think so. Kickstarter agrees, since they have just changed their policy to specifically disallow projects like Lifx. On this topic, not only does Felix have a valid point, but after he wrote his article, Kickstarter changed their rules dramatically to align with his comments. That says it all.

FELIX: Despite the fact that there’s really no reason to believe that the Lifx team can produce what it’s promising,”

YOU: How does he know that? They’re not promising the best LED bulb in the world.

Yes they are – from a performance standpoint. They are claiming to be able to produce something far, far in advance of what companies like Philips and others have done, despite the millions those others have spent on it. Felix seems to realize this, you don’t. That’s why he is saying it’s likely vaporware, and why I agree with him.

Pretty much all your criticisms of his article are without merit, I’m afraid. You seem like a passionate guy about these topics, but it is clear you do not have even a rudimentary knowledge of electronics or lighting design, most especially as it relates to LED lighting. And it’s also clear that you either did not watch the Kickstarter video or read their text, or if you did, you didn’t pay attention to what they are saying.

They flat out say “60W equivalence”, which is not possible with today’s RGB LED’s. I wish it was, I’d buy them for my whole house, but it’s not. When someone promises something so far ahead of everything else, and they claim to be able to make it for a pittance ($100k vs. tens of millions Philips spent), and deliver it in just a few months, from a group with no previous experience in the same field or developing a similar product – what would you call it?

Vaporware.

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

Lightwiz,

I don’t have a big beef with Felix, this is easily my favorite blog. But that doesn’t mean sometimes I don’t agree with him, and the Lifx/Kickstarter post is one of them. I will address all of your comment:

My electronics design background includes the design and release into production of over 70 electronic products, running on processors from 8-bit uCs to 32-bit SoCs. They have included network interface, LEDs, and power supplies.

Wi-fi modules come with uCs these days, I pointed out the MyFi SD card for cameras as an example, which includes a wi-fi radio and a microcontroller in it. An LED light bulb already has an AC/DC converter in it, and if it needed a regulator to supply the voltages for the wi-fi module, could be easily fit into a 5 or 6 mm square area (look at the TI PMICs for example), with over 85% efficiency, so it wouldn’t generate a lot of heat. Most of the light bulb is glass or plastic, especially the sides facing away from the bulb, so I’m sure they can place it where it will work.

I’m not getting into the LED argument again, as I mentioned, people accept lower quality products all the time in exchange for extra features and lower cost.

We are not constrained to topics that I bring up, but you can’t criticize me for a point that I don’t make. I didn’t question the challenge of making a 60W bulb, but that was what my comments were being minimized for.

You and other are calling the Lifx product vaporware, but that is the nature of most Kickstarter products – people are looking for funding so they can develop them. I think it was clear that Lifx hadn’t built these yet.

What I said was nonsense was that the wi-fi radio does not need a heat sink. Obviously the LEDs do, but wi-fi modules do not dissipate enough power to require a heat sink.

Felix may have mentioned that the video showed no heat sink, but given the rendering, it’s not like Lifx was pretending there was none. Why would they have a drawing with a heat sink, if they are going to represent it as not having one?

Felix says they can’t deliver a bulb for $100,000 or even $1 million. I’m not saying they will, only that it was possible. I say this from experience, as I have worked on many projects that were developed for far less than what big companies spent. Felix has, to the best of my knowledge, never design any electronic products, so I don’t know how he can know what it will cost to do this, unless he asked somebody whose knowledge of product development is solely from a big company perspective.. Low cost development happens all the time, there’s even a book about it that has gained attention recently (The Lean Startup).

As for all of your comments about the 60W issue, once again, I never addressed them. Companies over-promise on specs all the time, and then back off. Also, the state of the art is rapidly advancing, and by the time these guys finish, who knows what they can deliver. None of my criticism of Felix’s post mentioned anything about his dismissal of the light output claim; had he criticized Lifx solely because they were promising 60W light, and made no mention of the other issues, I probably wouldn’t have commented at all. But he made several incorrect assumptions to build his case that Kickstarter should be reined in, and I don’t agree they are valid, nor that Kickstarter should have made all of those changes (like they must have a real photo, which means people must develop products now before seeking funding).

I didn’t watch the Lifx video, as I was not responding to their claims, only to Felix’s unfounded criticisms (note once again I did not challenge his comments on 60W of light). Yes, today, Lif’x product is vaporware, as are most of the Kickstart projects, and even products from companies that pitch VCs. In addition to designing all those electronic products, I have invested in many start-ups, none of which actually had a prototype when they sought funding. Which is what Kickstarter is enabling. If Lifx was taking orders on its website for these bulbs, they should be called out for that, but that isn’t what Kickstarter is about, even if that is the net result. Companies can’t sell shares on Kickstarter, so they can only offer something of value in return, and their intended product is the best thing.

I think you need to learn what “rudimentary” means.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Don’t ding me on grammar, my computer is responding slow to key presses, and I left out several “s”‘s and other endings to words.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Philips just released the Hue. I’m sure that LIFX will still fund, though clearly folks are jumping ship as spots are opening up at all pledge levels. Folks are dismayed that the founder’s cardboard box is still a no-show and that there seems to be little advantage to back a startup that won’t post a video of its prototype.

Also note, Philips is only releasing a 50W multicolor bulb…so I remain skeptical that LIFX is going to manage their promised 60W equivalent….hmmmmm…

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

I think LiFx has essentially proven the “vaporware” claims to be true.

-No video demo
-Now the structure of how the unit works has radically changed, from master/slave to all masters
-Now they have a ring of white LED’s for the white part of the light (which is exactly what I said – you can’t get acceptable quality and light output from just an RGB emitter – just not possible)
-They talk about a “production partner”. That’s great – except production partners need something to produce, which they can’t do if you don’t have a final design for them yet
-They didn’t even know what microcontroller platform they were going to use?
-They’re working on tube style bulbs now too? Honestly, they have so much work to do with their normal bulb that it’s somewhat insulting for backers that they’re working on such pie in the sky, especially while video demos remain undelivered

-the HUE is the final nail in their coffin. Some posted that Philips copied Lifx. Considering the Hue must have been in development for many months, it is the other way around. Lifx has an idea that they have no idea how they are actually going to accomplish. Philips has a product you can go to any Apple store and buy today.

Lifx is never going to happen, IMO. If they do ever ship anything, it will change from “vaporware” to “crapware”. Their goals are simply too lofty to be achieved by such a small company on such a short timeline with such a small budget. And to be pre-empted to market by someone like Philips?

Game over. Someone switch off the lifx’s on the way out :D

Posted by Lightwiz | Report as abusive

http://blog.lifx.co/2013/01/26/firstafte rnoon/

Looks like they have a factory which is going to start working towards a prototype. They still think they will ship by March.

I suspect they will push far too hard to hit the unrealistic ship date which they will miss. Then end up shipping much later with a compromised product that doesn’t meet anybodies expectations (buggy software, low light output etc.).

Posted by stinch | Report as abusive

I will say that so far I’m somewhat impressed. LIFX appears to have at least produced an interesting prototype (though not one that I think they can remotely deliver in March since they just finalized this prototype).

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lime mouse/lifx-the-light-bulb-reinvented/pos ts/406296

They’re claiming 900+ lumens which is very impressive if it’s accurate. I’m curious if that is 900+ lumens when “pure white” or if it’s capable of producing 900+ lumens of green, red, rose, blue, etc.

What is most interesting is the compromise they made in design to manage heat. It’s one of the possible compromises that most of us skeptics assumed would be necessary. The final design and the heat simulations they’ve showed, show a bulb with likely all unidirectional LED placement. Their enclosure may help diffuse that light to some extent but I suspect it will be a limitation of their design. So for settings where directional light is OK, they may have a great bulb here. So far no one in their backer pool seems to be concerned about the directionality of that bulb and indeed in many situations it may be a non-issue.

Just a quick search yields that unidirectional bulbs are a lot easier to produce strong output…1050 lumens in this quick google find:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/GE-Energy-Smar t-LED-Flood-Bulb/17300460

But it looks like they’ll ship something that’s at least interesting, even if it’s not game changing.

Posted by tempo36 | Report as abusive

Oh how easy it is to be a critic, slinging arrows from the comfort of your office chairs. So readily some of you criticise the inspirational efforts of others, from what would appear to be a background of well … just writing. Don’t get me wrong I love writers but some of you really don’t have very good ground to be forming such strong opinions. have you ever started a company, made a sale, created a new service, a new product, talked to a real customer?

Felix you make a big point about the design presented in the LIFX video, comparing the LIFX illustration to some failed prior company’s product. “It’s pretty clear from the video that the prototype barely has a heat sink at all.”

Well if you had gone shopping you would have bought LED bulbs that design wise are pretty similar to the LIFX illustration. To a backer like myself I would expect that at the time of the first video the prototype, would in fact be many prototypes and have many iterations. Not every prototype perhaps needed the heat sink. Its a proto-type. If you pause at 2:00 in the video (night light for your kids) you can clearly see a heat sink on THAT prototype. Also pause at 3:20, looks like a heat sink to me. Your statement quoted is just embarassingly factually wrong and even if we had seen only smooth bulbs, so what? Its a prototype.

IMHO Kickstarter should take care not to lose the very essence of why its become successful. We Kickstarter’s love the idea we can feel part of the development of something new and cool. We are the absolute definition of Geoffrey Moore’s early adopters.

For example Ive backed the Taktik case on KickStarter. I missed the Pebble but pre-ordered one. Im waiting for my shipment. I also missed the close of the LIFX but have pre-ordered a single lamp. Price of admission, a few hundred bucks at risk.

For my day job Im in the consumer electronics and mobile phone business. I represent brands looking to expand into Asia, Australia & New Zealand. I love it.

I fully appreciate the enormous challenges that can be faced bringing new products to market. For large companies and small. However Ive also experienced the incredible speed, experience and skill of Aussie entrepreneurs and Chinese manufacturers. I also know that despite their huge resources, large companies sometimes can’t overcome their cultures to be truly innovative. There are so many case studies.

Ive seen various KickStarter projects eg for i-product stands and the like. These are often neat in their design, but essentially simple to mass produce. IMHO Taktik people made a fairly complex case and did a great job, it took longer than they thought. But they essentially were using well known tools, materials and standards.

I think projects like LIFX are pretty exciting.

Perhaps some people here should do what I did today and wander down to the local mass merchant retailers ALREADY SELLING LED lamps that screw into existing fixtures. There are a few choices of brands available. For those of you unable to get out of your house/blog just Google or Amazon for LED bulbs.

So much for the technology isn’t here yet.

Also of course Wi-Fi is widely deployed and Zigbee (used by Philips) is not well known to consumers but widely used in industrial situations and places like vineyards (low power, comms networks).

The MAGIC that LIFX has brought to the table is to imagine a new way to bring several existing technologies together in what looks like will be a very elegant solution.

The Philips Hue looks like a great leap forward (and according to online reports has sold out everywhere). However its also a bit clunky looking and needs an additional ‘base station’ hard wired into your LAN. Kinda old thinking IMHO.

The entrepreneurial spirit evidenced by Kickstarter founders is the life blood of the world economy. Having done several start ups myself I can truly appreciate their challenges but know also the thrill of achieving something significant that everyone said could not be done.

Some projects will remain small and some may well fail. Some will deliver less than we hoped. Some may have stunning success and redefine a category. There will be (may have been already?) crooked players. Some will cause the established players to finally get it right.

Whether or not Kickstarter keeps supporting product developments in tech that cat is out of the proverbial bag. Someone or some other websites will for sure. I hope the Kickstarter founders and funders come to their senses. Funding early stage design products is precisely their sweet spot.

There are plenty of us out there that see the future as bright and are happy to share a little risk in exchange for a share of the ride.

Consider yourself Pebbled!

Have an awesome LIFX. :-)

cheers Batch

PS while I support the idea of better disclosure of risks and perhaps experience too would be nice, if you think written or video disclaimers about the risks is going to protect Joe Public you really weren’t paying attention through the sub-prime crises. :-) IMHO

Posted by Batch8888 | Report as abusive

Took a little longer than I hoped but here’s my detailed response. http://goo.gl/zSUtjT

Thanks for supporting innovation, you hack.

Posted by PhilBosua | Report as abusive

It took 9 months longer than you said while still not providing a finished product. Not only that but you f*cked over the people that allowed you to start your company. You actually sent out the products that WE paid for to retailers when you explicitly promised you wouldn’t!

So before you go around calling people a “Hack” maybe you should have a look at yourself!

Posted by IHateLIFX | Report as abusive

So was that shipment bound for Best Buy, as opposed to one of your actual backers? Any comments on your abandonment of the backer community and your terrible management skills? What about your almost complete apparent lack of ethics?

Also, will you be back to apologize when your bulbs start burning out in short shrift?

Posted by jcmcca | Report as abusive

So was that pallet bound for Best Buy, or actual backers?

Posted by jcmcca | Report as abusive

Nice pic and mature response, Phil. Pity that’s probably the batch you sent off to Best Buy, since most of your backers still don’t have their bulbs. Those that do don’t have your promised features, such as:
*Open, documented communication protocol (seemingly-scrapped in favour of a closed protocol and a promise of ‘libraries’ while developers have been left to reverse-engineer the system in lieu of documentation of information)
*Functional on iOS and Android devices (not functional on Android)
*Fits into any light fitting you can fit a light bulb (the oversized LIFX bulb won’t fit many of your common lighting features)
*Features such as notification alerts from mobile devices (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*Automatic On/Off based on user location (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*Sunrise/sunset wake-up/sleep methods (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*Music visualisation (seemingly-scrapped/not mentioned since launch)
*40,000 hour / up to 25 year standards (it is not possible when the bulbs run up to 100°C – there’s also only a 2 year warranty on a ’25 year’ bulb, if that doesn’t tell you something)
*Create a night light for your kids (With a 100°C bulb? What kids are you trying to maim here? Children’s night lights use low-wattage bulbs that generate minimal heat)
*Security mode when you’re on holidays (still only basic on/off/colour functionality, even on iOS – no mention of remote access at present)
*Downlight [GU10] bulbs available (These were stripped off the early-run manufacturing list with no prior notification to backers. These are now to be delivered at an indeterminable date)
*Scripting engine on the bulb for near-infinite customisation (No scripting engine – as mentioned above, no documentation on device communication at all)
*Guaranteed first delivery to your backers (They’ve now gone to retailers while backers are still waiting)

I ask you, Phil, who’s the real hack here? Seems Felix was far more prophetic than you’d like to admit.

Posted by DefraudedByLIFX | Report as abusive

.

Posted by DefraudedByLIFX | Report as abusive

I’ve received my lifx bulb in the last week.

As a backer, I was worried about the light bulb being vaporware.

But it was a risk I was willing to take for two reasons. One, I would have liked to have the lightbulb, and two, I wanted to back someone who was willing to make it.

Do I expect the majority of what was promised? Yes. Do I expect it all? no. I’m not as stupid to believe every kickstarter project is going to be _exactly_ how its portrayed. This is close enough.

Posted by TealThanatos | Report as abusive
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