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NXP ventures into IP-based light bulbs

Posted: 19 May 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:lighting tech  energy efficient  wireless communication 

NXP Semiconductors N.V.'s CEO Richard Clemmer says IP-based light bulbs will be the start of NXP's venture into the "Internet of things" where the company will combine its own wireless IP connectivity with newly developed energy-efficient lighting technology.

During an interview with EE Times , NXP's CEO demonstrated that lights—both compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and LED bulbs—are dimmed or brightened, turned on or off—remotely via smartphone, tablet, PC, and TV.

Underlying technology for NXP's vision of the Internet of things includes low power RF and mesh network solutions originally developed by Jennic, a start-up NXP bought last July. In wirelessly controlling CFL and LED light bulbs, NXP is using 802.15.4 short-range wireless for communication, the same 2.4GHz frequency in which ZigBee operates. However, NXP is ditching ZigBees protocols altogether. Instead, it is embracing IP-based protocol stacks—6lowpan (Ipv6 over Low power Wireless Personal Area Networks).

Breakthroughs behind such a "smart" lighting demo have "two parts," as Clemmer explains. "They are drivers [for CFL] and communications [for wireless network]."

First, CFL drivers.

At a time when the world's attention on "green" technology replacing incandescent bulbs is mostly focused on LED bulbs, NXP made a conscience effort to include CFL bulbs in the fold, by developing energy efficient CFL technology together with TCP, a leading CFL manufacturer. NXP developed CFL drivers that allow effectively noticeable dimmable capability, better quality and colour in TCP's energy efficient CFL bulbs.

TCP's "TruDim" CFL light bulbs can dim from 100 per cent all the way down to 2 per cent, a dimmable feature that's the closest to incandescent lamps, according to TCP. It's a feat never before accomplished in CFL bulbs.

Second, communication technology.

While using 802.15.4 short-range wireless, NXP emphasized that it is using IP-based protocol stacks. "ZigBee's protocol is not IP-based," says Clemmer.

More significantly, NXP is turning the API—originally developed by Jennic—loose in an open source community. Clemmer said NXP hopes to see many developers build new apps on this open-source API, unleashing the Internet of things, including machine-to-machine communications in forms that go far beyond lighting.

Indeed, potential applications for such low-power RF and mesh-network solutions are broad and many. They include apps like smart metering, tele-healthcare, security cameras, home appliances and the sorts of smart home automation systems many have dreamed of since the Jetsons set up futuristic housekeeping on TV.

Clearly, different from previously much talked about home automation, though, is that NXP's solutions enabled by Jennic's underlying technology do not require a whole house to be new rewired or retrofitted. Smart devices, co-existing with dumb devices, can be still controlled.

Lights in the house

Lights—both compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and LED bulbs—are dimmed or brightened, turned on or off remotely via smartphone

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