Google, Lighting Science Working on Open Source Home Wireless Protocol

Google (s GOOG) unveiled this bit of energy news out of its developer conference in San Francisco on Tuesday: before the end of the year, LED company Lighting Science Group will start selling the first Android-connected LED bulb. It’s essentially an energy efficient bulb connected to a radio, which can be controlled and monitored via Google’s mobile operating system. But one of the more unusual things about the project is that Google and Lighting Science Group say they are working on a wireless protocol that will be used to connect the bulb to the Android operating platform, as well as other devices in the home like appliances and thermostats.

The group aren’t using ZigBee, Wi-Fi, or the other standard wireless home networking protocols, but say they are developing a wireless mesh networking protocol for the Android connected home that will be open source. It’s not that unusual for Google to embrace new wireless technologies (WiMAX, white spaces, etc…) but it still unveils a much more ambitious project that’s floating below the surface of the first Android-connected LED. Lighting Science Group’s Vice President of Electrical Engineering, Eric Holland, gave me a few insights via a phone interview, but was mum on a lot of the details.

Holland said the wireless mesh networking protocol will run between the 800 – 915 MHz frequency bands, but wouldn’t give the name of the protocol or other companies working on it besides Google and Lighting Science Group (though, he said there are others). Holland said the wireless protocol would have a smaller footprint in terms of requiring less RAM and less Flash storage to implement, and would have a better latency than current home wireless protocols (so there’s no lag time between pressing a button to turn a light on and the bulb responding).

“ZigBee is good for a lot of things, but there a few things that are holding it back,” said Holland. At the same time Wi-Fi has some problems with interference. “Using Wi-Fi and ZigBee make it somewhat difficult to deploy a dense wireless network,” said Holland, who added that the latency of some of the current wireless protocols are not acceptable for this platform. There are a lot of factors to consider when you are trying to integrate a radio into a light bulb, but also keep the costs down, explained Holland.

Holland said that Lighting Science Group wanted to work with Google because it is the champion of open source, and that Google will be making the wireless protocol open source. The wireless protocol could help proliferate LED and smart lighting technology across the market, said Holland, and Lighting Science Group plans to launch a whole suite of lighting products around the wireless tech at the lighting expo Lightfair next week. We know that our competitors will ultimately be working on this technology, but from a technology perspective this will open up the market.

The LED bulb itself will be available before Christmas of this year, and will be targeted at consumers. Holland said that in terms of cost the bulb will be on par with the cost of other LED bulbs.