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A Bright Idea: Turn the Lightbulb Off
Posted on Monday, September 27, 2010

The lightbulb is the very symbol of innovation and progress, and yet the lightbulb today is too often representative of our failure to curb our excessive use of electricity. With an eye towards improving energy-efficiency, the US Department of Energy has been co-sponsoring a competition called Lighting for Tomorrow, recognizing the best-designed energy efficient lighting products. On Friday, it announced this year's winners--but the most intriguing submissions, it turns out, weren't light bulb designs, but light control designs.

The problem isn't the light bulb: the problem is that we don't turn them off. One possible solution to this problem is a lighting system that shuts itself off automatically. But anyone who has experimented with such systems while sitting still winds up, frustratingly, left in the dark.

Lutron Electronics Company realized that a hurdle to widespread adoption of such systems is to fix this false negative problem with better room occupancy sensors. Its "Radio Powr Savr" sensor was one of DOE's winners this year because it developed a system sensitive enough to detect someone who is merely typing or turning pages. That way, your lights don't shut off while you're in the middle of the business section, forcing you to stand, jump, and wave just to finish that article. The Radio Powr Savr sensor can be placed anywhere in the room, and it can be installed in just a few minutes since it requires no new wiring.

The symbol for innovation since Edison has been the lightbulb suddenly glowing bright. But from now on, maybe the symbol ought to be a well-timed lightbulb extinguishing itself.