This startup wants to bring sunlight indoors & make you healthier

If your home won’t fit more windows or a skylight, perhaps this is the next best thing. A startup called Sunn has developed a programmable LED light fixture that modulates light to mimic the sun’s rays throughout the day and time of year, potentially making its users feel healthier.

Sunn began as a project at Cornell University two years ago and the team has developed algorithms that control the quality and brightness of its LED light to match the season and hour. The mini sun-looking fixture brightens up in the morning when you set the wakeup time and mellows out to a yellow glow at night as you wind down to the time you’ve set for bed. It stays brighter for longer when the days of summer stretch out, and shorter during the winter months.

Sunn at noon

You can change the settings to suit your needs or desires, and you can even request to have the light change as if you were in another corner of the world. For example, you could program the light as if you were in the Bahamas even though you are in Norway on a wintry day. The technology also learns your habits and adjusts the light settings accordingly.

“Our goal is to create lighting that you wouldn’t have to think about. You install it, and it automatically figures out what it needs to give you the healthiest light possible,” said Andrew Vaslas, Sunn’s chief technology officer.

So what’s the connection between lighting and health? Research shows that the amount of light a person is exposed to affects a person’s circadian rhythms, which can change hormone releases and can dictate how well a person stays awake, falls asleep and performs other functions. Disruption of these rhythms has been connected to obesity, diabetes, depression and other illnesses, according to the National Institutes of Health. Here’s something for the insomniacs to think about: too much light can reduce the production of a hormone called melatonin that helps us fall asleep.

The ability to digitally control the intensity and color of LED lighting makes the technology a good match for recreating the effect of sunlight, and doing that at a high level is a subject of research by major LED lighting makers, including Philips and Cree, both of which run websites that tout the health benefits of their LED lights. Both companies also are experimenting with lights that they believe could help hospital patients recover more quickly and comfortably.

Sunn's CEO, John Ciecholewski

Sunn’s CEO, John Ciecholewski

Sunn has been running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for its product launch, and it’s already exceeded the initial goal of $50,000. If it hits $90,000, then it plans to incorporate weather data into the software. That addition will create more nuanced lighting changes to resemble more closely what you would experience outdoors in real time, Vaslas said. A Sunn’s LED light will turn down slightly to reflect the passing cloud, for instance.

Hitting even higher fundraising goals will allow the startup to add features that will measure light exposure that each user experiences, based on how close he or she is to the light at different times. The system could also explain how that exposure amount might or might not help the person stay awake or fall asleep.

While LED lighting technology in general has improved tremendously in the past decade, it’s still not good enough to truly mimic the full spectrum of the sunlight. Sunn’s team has tried different LED combinations before settling on one that is pretty close, based on simulation tests, Vaslas said. He declined to disclose the makers of the LED chips or the manufacturer that will be assembling the chips and other components into the lighting fixture.

Honda Smart Home with dynamic LED lighting

Honda Smart Home with dynamic LED lighting

Sunn has designed the fixture to be round because, well, that’s the shape of the sun. There are two models, one with a diameter of 19 inches and another one with 24 inches. To give you a comparison, the 19-inch version is about as bright as four 60-watt incandescent bulbs. Turning on the 24-inch model is like using seven 60-watt bulbs.

The downside is that the Sunn LED lights are pretty pricy. Regular retail prices for the two models are $349 and $449, Vaslas said. Those who support the startup’s Kickstarter campaign can get those lights at a discount. If all goes well, the company will start shipping the lights in April of next year.

Because the light fixtures aren’t cheap, consumers aren’t likely to install one in every room of their homes. The bedroom and home office might be two popular spots since people spend a good amount of time in those rooms.

Long-term, Sunn would like develop its technology to target hospitals, office and other commercial buildings and add more data, such as energy consumption, as part of its service. “We’d love to build more natural experiences indoors,” Vaslas said.

These places were Instagram’s most photographed locations in 2014

In its annual end-of-year tradition, Instagram has released the places in the world users capture the most with the filter-friendly app. Last year, the big question was “Why is a shopping mall in Thailand Instagram’s most photographed place in 2013?” The answer had more to do with a Thai cultural proclivity towards obsessive photo sharing then it did with the mall itself.

This year the number one location is no surprise to anyone: The Happiest Place on Earth. Disneyland topped the list after coming in third the last two years. Other returning champions include Dodger Stadium (#8 in 2013 and #7 in 2012), Times Square (#2 in 2013), and Thailand’s Siam Paragon shopping mall (#1 in 2013 and #2 in 2012),

New entrants include Gorky Park and Red Square (Moscow, Russia), the Louvre (Paris, France), Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium (NYC), and Dubai Mall (Dubai, UAE).

Although international places have appeared in Instagram’s most popular list since its first version in 2011, their dominance in this year’s list suggest that Instagram is scaling beyond America, becoming popular enough in other parts of the world that foreign locations are photographed more than American landmarks like the Bellagio, Disney World, and Central Park (which were #4, #5, and #7 respectively on the 2013 most popular places list, but didn’t make the 2014 cut).

Without further ado, here’s the top ten list of 2014 with some pretty photos to boot.

Top Geotagged Locations of 2014 on Instagram

1. Disneyland, Anaheim, California

2. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California

3. Times Square, New York, New York

4. Siam Paragon shopping mall, Bangkok, Thailand

5. Gorky Park, Moscow, Russia

View this post on Instagram

Friday night at Gorky Park Feel the heart of Moscow

A post shared by moskau1983 (@moskau1983) on

6. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

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Nu dar viena

A post shared by *Irma Straukaite* (@orobalionas) on

7. Red Square, Moscow, Russia

8. Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

9. Yankee Stadium, New York, New York:

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Blue Sky's for Brown and Maroon

A post shared by Chris Post (@chrismpost) on

10. The Dubai Mall, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Comcast binges on Wi-Fi hotspots in California

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iPhone owners can’t sue Apple over broken glass, court rules

The glass screens of the iPhone 4 reportedly shatter at a rate 82% higher than earlier versions of the phone. This led consumers to bring a lawsuit claiming that Apple ads boasting about the glass were deceptive. The consumers are for now out of luck.

Today in Cleantech

There were a couple of bits of interesting solar news this week. First was the fact that the U.S. solar market is looking like it’s in surprisingly good shape, partially because a lot of projects have been pushed forward to meet requirements for subsidies. But part of the reason is the declining cost of solar panels along with the coming introduction of peak power pricing in places like California, which could prompt businesses to go for distributed rooftop solar installations. The other bit of news I liked was that battery maker Saft now has a battery to hook into a rooftop solar system to provide energy for the times when the sun isn’t shining. Pairing energy storage with solar is a key part of being energy independent from the grid, and this is another small step toward that ideal.

Apple: No dividend & we’re not buying Greece

At its annual shareholder meeting today in Cupertino, Calif., Apple did not reveal much of anything new. While it was CEO Tim Cook’s first such meeting since taking over as CEO, the biggest news was what didn’t happen: there was no dividend for shareholders announced.

Today in Connected Consumer

Things are suddenly moving quite fast on the digital privacy front. With privacy legislation stalled in Congress, the Obama Administration on Wednesday moved to take matters into its own hands by issuing a consumer “privacy bill of rights” and ordering the the Commerce Department to convene discussions with various stakeholders to develop specific practices or codes of conduct to carry out the principles outlined by the White House. Hoping cooperation with the White House could forestall more far-reaching action by Congress, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and other web advertising companies quickly signed on to the effort, agreeing to embed and honor a Do Not Track button in web browsers. Google, Apple, Research in Motion and other mobile web giants also reached an agreement Wednesday with California attorney general Kamala Harris to implement new rules requiring all mobile apps and app stores to have privacy policies. That’s not the end of the scrutiny, however. Also on Wednesday, a group of 36 state attorneys general sent a letter to Google CEO Larry Page demanding an meeting to explain recent changes in Google’s privacy policies. It’s getting awfully warm in here.

Mobile app companies agree to CA rules on privacy policies

Mobile privacy will still be a murky issue despite a new agreement between the state of California and six leading mobile companies over how best to help app developers comply with a California law requiring them to post a privacy policy.