A modular light bulb designed for graceful obsolescence.

Light bulbs have been the first significant step many people and companies have taken into the connected home. Moving forward, connected light bulbs might not only provide light; they are also perfectly positioned to host microphones, cameras, speakers, or other technologies without adding new wiring or other infrastructure.

However, turning LED light bulbs with an expected lifespan of up to 20 years into a gadget also creates risks. Gadgets have much shorter life expectancies, not because the devices break, but because digital technologies are updated yearly and existing products become outmoded quickly. Even before LEDs, the light bulb’s lifespan has been artificially limited multiple times, but now we are “gadgetizing” them, potentially converting them into products with relevant lives of five years or less.

We prototyped a concept for a connected light bulb that can serve as a platform for connected functionalities while maintaining a graceful obsolescence. We call it Filo.

Filo is a modular light bulb platform for the connected home.

Filo is not just a light bulb — it’s also a platform that can host a variety of modules with different functions. The light bulb houses the expensive and durable parts like transformers, LEDs, and drivers, while the modules contain the more obsolescent elements for “smart functions” like sensors, actuators, and connectivity. Through its standardized connector, the light bulb not only provides power to the module, but also allows the control of its features by the module and a larger home ecosystem connected to the module. Instead of throwing away and replacing the whole product when it’s incompatible, outmoded, or its specific function is simply not needed anymore, you can just replace the module.

Filo’s modular system makes connected services easy to install and change over time.

Adding Filo to your home is as simple as screwing in a new light bulb. It works with existing sockets and switches. The modules are plugged into the bulb, which provides the module with power and an interface to control the light. Depending on its function, the module can affect the light’s behavior or operate independently. If the connected module needs to stay on even with the light turned off, it has its own battery to keep it running.

Modules are equipped with a battery to work independently of the light if needed.

Regardless of the module inside, Filo is a powerful, dynamic light bulb with interesting features. Filo can transition between a spot light and room filling light to illuminate whatever you are doing in the most appropriate and energy efficient way possible. The bulb can also synthesize the full spectrum of natural light, aligning your circadian rhythm with cooler colors in the morning and warmer colors in the evening. All these features can be accessed and controlled by the module plugged into the bulb.

Filo adds new dynamic properties to light bulbs. Here a motion sensor module reacts to activity on the desk by focussing the light to where it’s needed.

For Filo to not be another layer in the patchwork of the connected home architecture, it needs to support — but not require — new technology. That means supporting “analog” light switches instead of requiring the installation of new ones. While a mobile application to control Filo’s core features is entirely optional, more advanced modules might have a dedicated app.

While most interactions with Filo are physical, a phone app can help to manage devices and more sophisticated module functionalities.

While we chose to focus on the connected home in this instance, we imagine the concept has application well beyond the home: factory floors, schools, retail environments, and so on. Filo’s modular approach retains the value of the initial investment in LED lighting while allowing these organizations to evolve with technology.

The pervasive use of a connector standard for more obsolescent technology and extensions could transcend corporate borders, allowing an Amazon Alexa module in a Filo bulb, for example. Similar to the USB standard, it could even open up the space for smaller third-party developers that better serve niche markets. With modules, connected devices are more than just a normalized experience designed by one company for the average user; they become truly customizable for individual needs. All without adding to the landfill of obsolete light gadgets.

** In the time since we finished this project, two relevant projects that support the trends we showcase here have been released at CES 2017. Soraa released a product called “Helia”, a light bulb that can also host modules. While the projects are similar, Filo’s approach is focused on creating graceful obsolescence by encapsulating volatile technologies in replaceable modules. Along this line, Intel introduced the “Compute Card” built on this modular principle. While the current version features a Kaby Lake processor, the most important news is that Intel has announced their commitment to the card’s standard form factor and port design independent of future changes to the internal architecture of the module.

This project was developed by Teague Labs.