This week, Lutron has surprised pretty much everyone by revealing a new smart lighting solution, called the Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer. While a lighting product is pretty much par for the course with Lutron, the shocking part of the Aurora is that it is designed for usage with another company’s product line, Philips Hue. Through its participation in the “Friends of Hue” program, Lutron has set out to solve what is one of the smart light bulb’s biggest problems, the physical switch installed on the wall, which makes a smart bulb “dumb” as soon as it is toggled.
The Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer is designed so that it works with, and not against the existing switches in your home. The dial, which installs over an existing toggle switch in your home, can be added in “2 minutes”, and more importantly, can be installed without any wiring. This is achieved by attaching a small base plate over a toggle switch in the “on” position. This base locks the toggle switch, which prevents it from being accidentally turned off, and the a dial piece is snapped on, covering the entire toggle portion of the switch. Of course, the dial is shaped as one would expect, a simple white circular design, and features a “hidden” LED, allowing for a clean look, avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued other attempts to tackle the smart bulb problem. Without any “extras”, the dial blends into the background of a home, and makes the entire installation look just like a traditional dimmer switch.
Since the dial, is well, a dial, it can be turned left or right as one would expect. These actions turn the brightness of the connected Hue light bulbs up or down, and enables a sense of finer control over the light levels in your home. Toggling the lights on and off can also be accomplished by just touching the dial as well, removing the need to explain how to go about using the lighting in a home to friends and family. The Aurora is powered by a small “coin” battery (CR2032), and the company has given it a life expectancy of “4+” years, but this will vary according to the amount of use. In most cases, we would advise those interested in battery powered devices to assume half of what is rated, but Lutron has proven that they know how to handle low power wireless devices, as evidenced by the company’s Pico Remote line, which seem to last pretty much forever.
Even though the Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer was designed for usage with the Philips Hue lineup, there may be ways to get them to work with other brands. The Aurora uses the Zigbee 3.0 protocol for its connectivity, which is a standard that attempts to ensure operability between devices. Zigbee has been around for years, and is a favorite when it comes to low cost devices that communicate with a hub, and there have been many success stories regarding getting interoperability. So with this being the case, we are pretty confident that we could see the Aurora playing nicely with other ecosystems just a few days after launch. Also it should be noted that the use of a Zigbee bridge is not required, and the Dimmer can connect directly to 12 bulbs. This of course, means that the Dimmer can be used when your home network is down, which is a great thing to see.
The Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer is available for pre-order now, and is set to ship in June of this year. The Dimmer will be available for $39.95, and after the initial roll out on the Philips Hue Store, it will be available at retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy and The Home Depot.
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