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Technology

The smart bulb you can programme for every mood and that ‘hears’ you

12 shades of ocean blue for a tranquil mood, a glowing pink whose intensity changes with the sounds of your lovemaking – the Heelight from Chinese firm MicroNovelty responds to an app to give your home a different look

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 10:40am

Heelight, a smart light bulb designed and produced by MicroNovelty, does more than just illuminate.

It can “hear” its environment and generate an impressive range of functions and colours, programmable via an app.

In need of a tranquil ambience? Choose “ocean” and watch the bulb gently cycle through 12 shades of blue. Proposing a champagne toast at a dinner party? Initiate “clink” mode and see the bulb flash every time it picks up the sound of chiming glassware.

Want to see what your room would look like bathed in the glow of candlelight, but don’t want the fire risk? Heelight has a “candle” setting, with a neat function that lets you extinguish the bulb by blowing directly on to it.

Heelight also has a host of more quirky modes, including “coward”, which flashes when you scream at the bulb; “warning light”, which mimics a blue and red flashing siren; and even a “sex” mode, a lusty pink glow that glows brighter when the bulb hears, ahem, sounds.

“It even has pumpkin mode,” MicroNovelty founder and chief executive Oliver Sun says proudly. With a tap of the app, the bulb switches to a festive orange for a few moments before beginning to flicker spookily. A single handclap from Sun causes it to snap back to its original steady glow.

Heelight’s quirky modes serve to show off the endless lighting possibilities enabled by the technology within the embedded sensor.

As well as being a fun toy, the bulb can also act as a comforting night light, or a way to control lighting for those with “limited movement”.

There are lots of modes designed to suit your life, and it’s great for playing with kids
Oliver Sun

It can also help you during late night bathroom trips: select “night” mode before going to bed and the bulb will dim as you drift off. It’ll gently grow bright again if it hears you get out of bed and start moving around.

The bulb, which can be screwed into fixtures with an E27 socket, has 30 modes and 16 million RGB colours. The set-up is simple: users download the app, Heelight Pro (free on Android and iOS), and scan the QR code that comes with the bulb. They then choose a colour, mode and brightness using the app’s rotating dial.

Similar existing light bulbs use remote controls, Wi-fi or Bluetooth to select functions, but the Heelight uses sound waves instead. A function is selected on the app, generating a cascade of chirps and bleeps which is picked up by the bulb’s inbuilt microphone, prompting a change. Options range from a rainbow of solid colours, to modes to fit practically every conceivable mood.

“It’s easy to use. There are lots of modes designed to suit your life, and it’s great for playing with kids,” says Sun.

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Bringing a product to market is never easy, especially in the tech world, where trends are transient and an invention can be outdated by the time it’s ready to hit the market. So to get things moving faster, MicroNovelty has connected innovative designs with customers via crowdfunding campaigns.

With the Heelight, MicroNovelty has used crowdfunding to connect the invention with customers and raise enough money to get it manufactured on a large scale.

“We’re a company focused on micro-innovations – small, smart items,” Sun says. “We help individual makers promote their products on the market. Heelight was invented by my friend, Ray Zhang, but he didn’t have a team to promote his inventions. So we developed and promote the Heelight together.”

A Kickstarter appeal to fund the Heelight recently went live. Once funded, the bulb will cost US$39, but campaign backers can pick up a pack of three if they pledge US$59. A pledge of US$69 or more will buy a Heelight desk lamp (recommended retail price US$119). The goal of the crowdfunding effort is to raise US$20,000 by early December.

Sun, who graduated with a PhD from Dalian University of Technology in 2011, worked for Intel for three years before founding MicroNovelty in 2014. His first product was Case Remote Air, a Wi-fi camera controller that linked DSLR cameras to smartphones. The company didn’t have enough time to develop it, so Sun turned to crowdfunding.

Two successive campaigns brought in US$250,000 to bring the device to market. Now, about 10,000 units are sold each year, Sun estimates.

“That project gave us a lot of experience in marketing, and taught us about quality control and how to deliver products to the best of our ability,” he says.

Though still a fairly new concept, crowdfunding has boomed in mainland China since it started in 2011, generating cash for smaller tech start-ups, while rewarding backers with incentives.

Big players such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo operate in China alongside local platforms including JD.com, Demohour, AngelCrunch and Dreamore. In 2013, Alibaba (which owns the South China Morning Post), launched crowdfunding on Taobao, through which the online giant created Yulebao, a platform for investors to support the Chinese film industry.

According to news and information website Crowdfund Insider, Chinese firms had raised more than US$101 billion using online crowdfunding by 2016. By 2025, China will generate 52 per cent of the global total raised by crowdfunding, a 2013 report by the World Bank estimated.

Unlike the US, where crowdfunding is subject to laws and heavy regulation, the industry is subject to far fewer regulations in China. On the one hand, this can see projects getting funded quickly, but it can also open the door to fraud, intellectual property theft and failure to deliver products after funding has ends.

“A problem in crowdfunding is that some projects have a good reception at the beginning but don’t deliver the product at the end. There are no guarantees,” says Sun. “But we verify the companies we work with to make sure they can deliver. If they don’t, we return the money to our backers.”

MicroNovelty now employs 10 people at the firm’s Dalian base, and Sun plans to move operations to Shanghai soon. The company specialises in neat and quirky, though not always essential, household items, such as plant soil made out of paper and an outdoor jacket with 16 functions.

Sun’s family home is a test bed for his latest smart designs, including a paper notebook with a fingerprint locking mechanism “to keep all your secrets”, as well as a microprojector to watch films in bed, and an AI robot to entertain his three-year-old son.

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Sun says he thrives not only on seeing Chinese entrepreneurs’ ideas come to life, but also bringing to market clever products that assist with daily life. He says: “Product design should be based on life, not technology. We should make technology serve life to make life better.

“Technology should make us comfortable, so we should design for better user experience.”