In the future, you may not screw in light bulbs. You might snap them in instead.
LED manufacturer Bridgelux along with Molex has created the Helieon Light Module, an LED light mounted onto a fixture that clicks into a lamp. It won't fit into normal lamps or sockets, but Bridgelux is working with designers and lighting contractors to create equipment and a sales channel for the product. The first units ship in May and lamps engineered for the fixture will come out around the same time.
The Helieon sort of resembles a small smoke alarm and clicks into its socket in much the same way. The difference is that there is a bright light in the middle of the puck. It puts out as much light as a 40 to 100 watt bulb, depending on the model, but uses only 20 to 30 percent of the power.
It's also somewhat cheap. The first Helieons will sell to light manufacturers for around $20 to $25, said Bridgelux CEO Bill Watkins. A single bulb can save around $12 a year in power costs, according to general industry estimates. Two years ago, LED bulbs cost $100 or more in retail settings.
"LEDs are now bright enough. The color is good. There is no mercury, no lead. The only thing that is needed now is to get the installed price to where the payback period is less than two years," Watkins said. "Once you hit the $20 barrier, the next one is $10. Once you hit the $10 barrier, it's all over. The $100 billion lighting market becomes all LED."
The long-awaited shift toward solid state lighting has begun to occur, say Watkins and others. Regulations in Australia, the U.S. and the EU have created conditions to encourage adoption. At the same time, the technology has improved and the costs have declined. The traditional bluish "alien autopsy" light of LEDs has given way to the more familiar warm light of incandescent bulbs. (See video of the Helieon in action.)
Networking LEDs to save energy is also fairly straightforward: whereas traditional bulbs are vacuum tubes, LEDs are chips. Redwood Systems, among others, wants to power and link lights with computer cable for remote control. Smoke alarms and sensors will likely become linked or integrated into light fixtures as time goes on and builders want to exploit these new-found communication links. A Roadmap to New Lighting has more details.
"Someday we will put smoke detectors in there," Watkins said.
Down lighting, i.e., streetlights, lamps and that thing above your head, account for 20 percent of the electrical consumption in the U.S. Swapping them all with LEDs could drop it to four percent, Watkins asserted.
Bridgelux will initially target commercial customers with the bulb. Besides cutting power consumption, LEDs only have to be replaced every decade or longer, which reduces maintenance. Some cities with LED streetlights have estimated that half of their savings come in lower maintenance and replacement rates.
The Helieon is based around the light arrays Bridgelux came out with initially in 2009. The light arrays combine several LEDs under a single lens. By combining components, Bridgelux managed to drop the cost of the overall package. Putting more LEDs into the package increases the intensity of the light.
Bridgelux has raised millions from investors. Recently, it closed a $62 million round (it sought $50 million) to buy and equip a fabrication facility in Silicon Valley. It is the first fab built in the area in about 25 years. The company picked it up from Lam Research. The first chips from the fab come out in June.
Still, the company -- along with lighting start-ups like Luminus Devices, Redwood, Luxim, Topanga Technologies Eden Park, Lunera, Renaissance, Soraa and Kaai -- will have to contend against lighting heavyweights like Philips, General Electric, Toshiba and Osram, which are all cranking up their LED efforts.