Last month, I featured a WiFi-enabled LED bulb dubbed by its Aussie inventor as the “smartest light bulb you’ve ever experienced.” There’s no doubt that said LED, the LIFX, is a mighty impressive light bulb. (Perhaps just as impressive is the insane amount of moola that the crowd-funded bulb raised in just a few days). However, another Internet-connected bulb, this one Brooklyn-born and open source, made its debut in Kickstarter-land just a week after the LIFX. And if its crowdfunding goals are met, it may end up giving the LIFX a little healthy competition.
I actually made brief mention of this prototype bulb back in June 2011 in a post about DontFlushMe, technologist/designer Leif Percifeld’s sewage overflow alert system that notifies New Yorkers during “code brown” situations. In other words, when there’s a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) event and raw sewage being pumped into the system has nowhere else to go but into the New York Harbor, wastewater-conscious citizens are alerted via text message so that they refrain from flushing their toilets — and in turn, contributing to wastewater pollution with their own poo — until the event has passed. In addition to DontFlushMe’s data-transmitting wastewater sensors and accompanying software, Percifeld also developed an Internet-connected light bulb component that changes colors based on localized, real-time sewage levels.
Just last night after a torrential rainstorm, I headed over to the DontFlushMe website where I typed in my zip code to see if I was currently in a "no-flush zone." Sure enough, I was instructed not to flush.
Along with further developing DontFlushMe over the past year or so, Percifield has also spent a fair amount of time tinkering with the prototype wastewater alert light bulb, now dubbed Visualight. As mentioned, he's currently seeking $27,5000 worth of funding on Kickstarter with only 10 days left to go. Percifeld also demoed the prototype bulb at World Maker Faire 2012 in New York late last month. (Like last year, I was in attendance but sadly missed the Parsons booth as I was probably distracted by the unicorn named Katy Perry that sneezed glitter and shot fire out of her horn. Either that or I was watching a flea circus).
That said, Visualight is no longer just an LED that turns different colors when raw sewage levels reach a critical point. When customized to a user’s liking, the bulb visualizes a wide range data coming in through a connected smart phone, tablet, or computer through different colored light.
Say what?
Waiting for an important email from a friend? Setup Visualight to turn green when an email from a specific address arrives in your inbox. Hate it when you get to the subway station only to find out your train has scheduled construction delays? Select your train line on the Visualight website so that your bulb will turn red if there are delays. Addicted to Facebook? Never miss a friend request! Have Visualight turn purple to ensure you get your fix. Always forget to grab your umbrella? Put a Visualight in the hall and have it turn blue when the forecast calls for rain. By adjusting the Red, Green, and Blue values from 0 - 255, you can create any color you imagine.
So yes indeed, when your mother-in-law or accountant emails, you can program the lights in your home office to go into flashing “code red” mode. Brilliant! Out of the box, Visualight is capable of connecting to data feeds from Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Weather Underground, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (NYC subway and buses) website. Plus, Percifeld recently added Cosm and the NOAA tide predictions webpage as additional data sources. And, of course, a Visualight bulb can be turned on and off remotely via a handheld device or computer. Same goes for dimming the bulb or changing the colors. And given the bulb's open source nature, other data feeds aside from the ones mentioned can be added by developers.


When there are no alerts, Visualight glow white. It’s designed to work in any standard fixture and consumes 10w (the prototype and DIY versions of the bulb consume 5w). In terms of set-up, Percifeld, an Atlanta native who worked as a media developer at Los Alamos National Laboratory before moving to New York to attend the Parsons Schools of Design, explains that it’s all rather easy-peasy:
First, create an account on the Visualight website. Second, turn on your bulb. By default each bulb creates its own Wi-Fi network, called an “ad-hoc” network. Third, connect any device to this network and load a webpage hosted on the bulb. Enter your home Wi-Fi network information and click the “configure” button. The bulb will then connect to your network and our servers. A reset button can be used to reconfigure the bulb at any time.
Lots more over at the Visualight Kickstarter campaign page and at the DontFlushMe homepage. Of course, perks are available for different levels of support. For example, a donation of $30 will get you a Visualight T-shirt while $70 will get you an actual limited edition Visualight bulb and access to the website. Big spenders — contributions of $1,000 or more – will get the bulb and a custom data feed. If all goes as well and the fundraising goal is met — Percifild has already spent a good amount of time in China sourcing parts and talking to potential manufacturers — Visualight will ship in March of next year.  
Photo: Leif Percifeld

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Visualight: A LED for every mood (and email)
Meet Visualight, a WiFi-enabled LED bulb that visualizes data as colored light. In other words, when a recent crush messages you on Facebook, the lights in your