My Ideal Lamp

lampGenerally speaking, I like to get a good 8 hours sleep. Occasionally, however, something really earth-shatteringly important preys on my mind and won’t let me get past the first 5 hours – this was one of those nights. I’ve been pondering my ideal lamp.

If you’re still here, you might be wondering if I’ve gone off the boil and you could well be right, but I recently reviewed one of those Bluetooth lights – the Sonoff and I have to say I was less than excited by the result. I’ve had other lights – one came complete with infra-red remote and could make just about any colour, the only thing being, if it lost power, it started up in disco mode. What idiot designs something to do that  (answer, the people who make Christmas light controls). Having 3 individual LEDs it also cast a horrible colour fringe on everything making it pretty useless for anything but a disco.

And so it was that at 5am this morning I started to ponder – and before very long I had to get up and put my thoughts to paper, as it were.

So what would my ideal light be?  For starters I really don’t think it would be remote controlled. There is something about paying for a WIFI interface which may hardly ever get used and which, used in dozens of lights around the house could diminish the efficiency of my WIFI network, which really doesn’t appeal.  In any case, I don’t CHANGE settings on lights that often.

So here it is, manufacturers – my version of an ideal lamp – and no doubt those of readers who will have their own variation or might even completely dismiss my version in favour of something better.

My ideal light would be LED  – as this is currently the best option – there will be other technologies but as they are not yet commercially successful, there’s no point in considering them.  Of the LED options, the little 12v SMT RGB LEDs sound good as they can produce most colours quite uniformly and on a surface mount, aluminium-backed board you could get quite a lot in a small space with innovative heat sinking – enough to make a decently bright lamp (my biggest gripe regarding the Sonoff was inadequate colour brilliance). I don’t see any benefit here in individual control of each LED and so we can discount the 5v serial LEDs (which are more expensive anyway).

So we start with a normal looking frosted light which somehow magically packs it’s own powerful 12v power inside. It consists of maybe 20w or more of RGB surface-mount LEDs.

On opening the box and turning the lamp on for the first time, it would operate as a medium brilliance white light – just to prove it works. It would soft-fade up over half a second. Clearly soft-fading DOWN is out unless we could engineer a super-capacitor in there without raising the cost. That would be nice.

I’ve used RGB lights for years and they seem like second nature to me – but that’s not ideal for your average user so here is how I would like the lamp to be programmed.

With the light ON, turn it off and on 4 times in quick succession. Now the light undulates in green.  Turning it off within 5 seconds would result in the lamp retaining the status quo.

After 5 seconds the lamp would (at reasonable brilliance) sequence through cold white, through to warm white, through to red, yellow, green, blue and back to white – with all the variations in-between.

Switching the lamp off at this point would cancel the operation but a quick off then on sets the colour. The lamp would then start to undulate in blue. Switching it off within 5 seconds simply retains the new colour.

If left on, the lamp would, in the chosen colour, cycle from low brilliance through to bull brilliance and back continuously.  Same as above for setting this brilliance.

Now we are onto undulating in red, the final control which again can be aborted. This time, at the desired colour and brightness, the lamp would sequence through saturation levels, from the deepest chosen colour, say, red, through pink, to white and back down to fully saturated colour again. A quick off/on sets this and the lamp is good to go.

So without any controls, we have a lamp that can be as bright as needed and capable of being any colour including the pinks and other colours that can only be achieved by varying colour saturation.

If I were designing that lamp, a simple Arduino-type-chip (328) could do this easily together with 3 tiny SMT MOSFETs so there is nothing new here. One could even imagine other options to allow slowly fading the light out if left on for too long but I’ll leave that for now.

All without un-necessary remote controls or WIFI or Bluetooth..  It would of course be possible to switch individual lamps or dozens at once using the above.

Oh and I’d like it to cost no more than a fiver please.

On the subject of white, my own ESP8266 software, as well as controlling RGB lights to produce all the colours, also has a mode to go from 10,000 Kelvin (blue-ish) through white to very warm candle – so I know this can easily be done with these lights and I have an entire pergola lighting setup controlled this way. This is really down to mechanics, innovating heat removal and price.

Well, I can dream. And now, some more sleep. Go on then – how does this sound? Got a better version?


13 thoughts on “My Ideal Lamp

  1. White LED life – even the big guys like Osram?

    I have no personal experience of lifetimes, except for the aforementioned walk lights in the stair well they last a year, but at about £10 direct from an anonymous Chinese supplier, I expect no more.

    Other LED lamps throughout the house have yet to fail or noticeably fade, but I always but big manufacturer ones.

  2. A slightly different spin on the basic requirements –

    I have motion sensing bulbs in the hall downstairs, and upstairs on the landing. This means when we get up at 04:00 for a pee, the lights come on and off automatically.

    However, they are too bright for that function and eyeballs tend to implode.

    What I think we [definitely me] need is something like one of these ..

    .. with two modifications –

    1. A [radio/atomic/GPS] clock, so it knows what the time is
    2. A noise sensor so it can detect a clap

    This would allow it to act normally up till say midnight [but variable], when we are tucked up in bed, then turn the light on to a much dimmer [but variable] level (enough to get to the bathroom and back) but can be switched to full brightness with a hand-clap if desired. It would, of course, switch off after the appropriate time of no detection.

    With sensor/switches like this in every room, you could throw away the manual switches. And you could add your Home Automation interface to control everything remotely as well, of course.

    Also, I tend to agree that the ON-OFF … routine is not as nice as a more easily controlled/understood interface, sorry.

    1. The difference being that the on-off control does not require WIFI/BLUETOOTH etc all of which adds cost which make the actual selling price of the bulb WAY too high.

      Where I do control lighting (i.e. all over the place) I treat lights as disposable and keep controls separate… but then I do have a decent WIFI setup. Of you WERE to have WIFI control – then of course a clap sensor would be very simple to implement and you certainly don’t need a radio or GPS clock because the WIFI knows the time – so dimming in the early hours really should be a standard requirement. Here in Spain my external lighting is under MOSFET control and is dimmed as it gets darker – which not only is pleasing but saves power if you’re using solar to do this. Sensors in every room in my case are standard and have been for many years – but then all of this assumes you want a system and not just a solitary light.

      1. I agree that the control and lamp need to be separate to keep the cost down (although we will eventually end up with LED lamps that last for 100k hrs when engineers start designing things again instead of ‘make them as cheap as possible cowboys’).

        Sorry, slipped there …

        That’s why I gave the link to the separate motion sensor – just have one of those next to each ceiling rose or wall socket, then it controls whatever is connected to it. And they can have whatever Home Automation technology connection that you like, to link them all together, or leave them stand-alone.

        1. We will indeed, however and you may argue this as it is just my experience – coloured LEDs fine – white LEDs – I have yet to come across any that last a long time. In both cases they are generally over-driven with lousy power supplies.

    2. I wonder if domestic houses will eventually change to a central 12V supply for all lights? (12V down the wire that is.)

      Over night they would just run off a central battery, during the day the battery would get charged.

      1. Your problem is current – even if you just wanted say 2 or 3A for a few devices to share you would either have to have extraordinarily thick cables or be restricted to cable runs of just a few feet and remember that cable run has to be measured for both the outward and return legs. For example using 20AWG cable to carry 2A your voltage would have dropped by more than 10% before you reached 5M from the source (i.e. 10m in total)

  3. I like the switch concept. The switch is one of the most difficult bits of the circuit to get right. At present we have a world that is 99% mechanical switches and it will be a long time (or require an innovation) before they go away. I really fancy a clever switch that has a remote interface. Then you can set all the fancy stuff up and just switch it on/off.

  4. Have a run with this idea – a Lamp and switch combo.

    My ideal system would be a varilight remote dimmer – that can also communicate a message in one of the cycles (to set the colour of the bulb like how a neo pixel works).

    The last thing you want, is to change the programming of a lamp if it has to be replaced – It’s far easier for the “pattern”~ to be recorded somehow in the light switch – (RFID programming via phone for security?) – also, the lamp is cheaper – just a dumb lamp.
    Other things could be that the switches have PIR, temp sensors and communicate somehow to a central controller (mains signalling / blutooth / Wifi / Lora).
    You could even incorporate Lidar !!
    I guess if all one wants in a lamp is pretty colours then its all overkill. but for me, my ideal lamp would try to incorporate all those things.

  5. Brilliant concept.
    I will use your approach with a neopixel clock I’m developing for my grandkids, to change the hour, minute, second colours via Internet.

  6. Nice idea! But do you think, the average “Mom” could configure this light with this complicated Switch-On-Off sequence?

    1. Well, two issues there – one is the assumption that moms are slower than dads – I’ve known some very slow dads in my time – indeed there is currently an advert on TV trying to sell a DIY book – in which it is the guy who does not know how to use his tablet. The second is that I really don’t think about the “average person” that much – many can’t even handle their own TV remote controls and they certainly would not be reading this blog 🙂 however in 21st century there are sufficient “geeks” or people with basic technical common sense – or families with geeks in them that I think most of those could handle my first attempt at an ideal bulb. My main concern was not to add a button or other external control (or any other excuse to put the price up).

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