Every so often you come across a cool tech device that blows your mind, and makes you rethink what you thought about a gadget. In this case, it’s an everyday object that’s been re-imagined: the light bulb.
Since Edison’s day, light bulbs have been largely the same shape and structure: glass chambers with tiny wire filament inside, heated to glowing by an electrical current. While in modern days we’ve seen the introduction of compact fluorescents, and LED lights, the lowly light bulb has been largely the same, until now.
Enter Nanoleaf. The small startup, with a University of Toronto grad at its helm, began life on Kickstarter. Hoping to raise $30,000 the Nanoleaf team shot past their fundraising goal in 24 hours (2 hours, to be exact!), going on to get over $192,000 pledged to their goal of reinventing the light bulb. These can-do inventors are coming to Beakerhead, the art science and engineering festival in Calgary (September 16-20, 2015).
A whole new look: no rounded edges, no glass
So what did Nanoleaf do? For starters, they changed the shape of their light bulb from rounded, to dodecahedron — a sphere-like shape made from 12 flat plains.
“Our patented Laser-scoring process allows us to fold PCB just like a piece of origami, giving us the freedom to ‘think outside the bulb’ when designing Nanoleaf One,” explains Nanoleaf’s website.
Then they imbedded the Nanoleaf One with dozens of tiny LEDs, so much the better for being able to throw out of a ton of strong, clear and long lasting light.
“Heat robs LEDs of efficiency and longevity,” the website foes on to explain, “that’s why we use individual, tiny, pure copper heat sinks for each LED instead of the less efficient aluminum of competing bulbs. It costs more, but it’s just one of the many ways we achieve such high efficiency and long life.”
Then they decided to eschew glass altogether, and cut those flat plains from computer circuit board, aka Printed Circuit Board, or PCB. PCBs are made from something called “FR-4”. It’s a woven glass fabric with epoxy resin and other materials like plastic and copper sheets.
So why reinvent the light bulb? Nanoleaf’s Sunny Han says, “In the beginning, the three co-founders Gimmy, Christian and Tom got together to create a solar product as a solution to relieving the global energy crisis. They wanted to add an energy efficient light bulb to go with the device. However, after searching the market, they couldn’t find any LED bulbs that were as energy efficient as they had hoped for. The more they looked into it, the more they realized just how big of an impact greener lighting could have on global energy consumption, so they decided to challenge the industry and create something better.”
“The world’s most energy efficient” bulbs, and they can back that up
Nanoleaf calls its bulbs “the world’s most energy efficient” and declares their bulbs will save you about $300 over its lifetime in energy cost alone.
So how do they back that up? Nanoleaf’s Han says “Lighting Facts – a program run by the U.S. Department of Energy to regulate industry standards – has certified our light bulbs as the most energy efficient in the world. With the Bloom’s efficacy levels reaching 120 lumens per watt, our bulbs are the most energy efficient out of over 33,000 other LED lights listed in their database.”
Nanoleaf says its bulbs are 87% more energy efficient than a regular incandescent, and will last 27 years, meaning you may never need to change the bulbs in your home, for as long as you live there! At about $30 a pop, they’re right in line with the price point of other high-efficiency bulbs.
Dimmable bulbs without the dimmer switch
With the invention of the Nanoleaf Bloom, the company set another benchmark: creating a dimmable light bulb that doesn’t need a dimmer switch. Instead by clicking the switch on whatever fixture you have it in on and off, you gain the control to dim the bulb to whatever level you choose. That’s a lot of versatility in your home.
Nanoleaf is brighter than bright: but why?
The bulbs themselves are super bright, almost too bright, but thankfully they can be easily dimmed from any switch. They’d be great in a workplace, workshop, garage or basement, because they’ll give you what feels like twice as much light as any other bulb. Why is that? Han tells me, “the Nanoleaf Bloom is indeed a 75W equivalent. It appears to be brighter because there is no diffuser being used. Most bulbs are made with frosted white glass, which ends up causing the light to appear less bright. Since we place the LED chips right on the exterior of the bulb, the result is a very bright light. The shape of the bulb also gives it true omni-directional lighting, something that the LED industry has struggled to achieve.”
The Nanoleaf bulbs are simple to use; if you can screw in a light bulb, you can up the efficiency in your home. Getting the hang of the dimming function might take a bit; you need to start with the bulb on, then do a quick on/off cycle and wait until the bulb has lowered to the level you like, then you turn it off and on again to set that level.
The Nanoleaf folks shared with me that they have a new connected product coming out – a starter pack that will come with a smart bulb and hub, similar to bulbs you’ve read about here, like Philips Hue, LIFX, and WeMo/Osram. Want more general info on what a smart bulb can do for you? Check out my blog post.
“The smart home space is growing every day, but most of the new products out there only focus on the ability to control your lights wirelessly. Nanoleaf’s introduction into the connected space will keep in line with our focus on energy efficiency and offer convenient connectivity, but is one-of-a-kind with its unique dodecahedron design. We want to make products that will create meaningful experiences for people – something that they will remember and take with them wherever they go.”
Advice for inventors?
It’s no small feat, inventing something truly new, but plenty of people with amazing ideas never get past having a doodle and a dream. What advice does the Nanoleaf team have for other inventors out there who may have an idea for something great?
“The best advice would be to just go out there and do it!” says Han. “The longer you wait, the more you stall and the less likely it will happen. Our CEO, Gimmy Chu, says that he’s glad he didn’t know everything he knows now. Otherwise he would’ve been more hesitant to take that initial plunge. Having a great idea is a good starting point but you need to be ready for a lot of hard work, late nights and bumps in the road.”
See NanoLeaf at Beakerhead
You can see Nanoleaf in action.. for free, as part of Beakerhead’s Temporary Gallery of Lasting Impressions. Check Beakerhead’s website for info.
Its doors were locked for years, but thanks to Strategic Group, Calgary’s historic Barron Building is coming back to life as an engineering backdrop for contemporary art. During Beakerhead, it will be a sublime stage for SoleNoid, a western Canadian premiere by German artist, Peter William Holden, and Nanoleaf, an illuminated installation by internationally renowned Calgary-based artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, made of Nanoleaf light bulbs that can last up to 40 years. Nanoleaf is a Beakerhead for a Better World project, presented in partnership with Trico Charitable Foundation.