Making a better LED light

Ever since the introduction of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) I’ve been hearing, and observing myself, how the lighting experience is not what some had hoped for. The major complaints have been about light quality, that it can look dingy or harsh, depending on your perspective. Others have just complained about the fail rates.

LEDs have faced similar complaints about light quality. On a technical level, the reason for some issues with light quality have to do with color rendering, how well a light displays colors that taken together either create a bright light or soft white look. LED bulbs are typically average here.

But Martin LaMonica at profiles Xicato, a startup which has developed LEDs that have improved color rendering capabilities on par with halogen lights, the industry standard. Perhaps more important than the improved LED bulbs themselves is the broader smart lighting strategy that Xicato is working on.

Next year Xicato has plans to unveil LED modules that include lighting and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Broader out on the horizon, the company is looking at aggregating lighting, sensors, and a microcontroller with an open API.

There are many advantages to wireless lighting, namely that there’s already a power source to feed a radio and a sensor. Additionally, retailers are eager to figure out localized ways to communicate with customers as they move about a showroom or a supermarket, perhaps beaming coupons and ads to their smartphone as well as tracking their behavior. Lighting could also adjust to enhance certain displays in a store or even to track a shopper.

The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for LEDs is estimated to be a healthy 12 percent through 2017 and is estimated to do $127 billion in revenue in 2020. (For a full report from Gigaom Research, see “The Growth and Promise of the LED Market.”) But the lighting itself represents just one potential opportunity. And producing a better bulb combined with a connected lighting strategy could help accelerate the market and provide increasing value for businesses.