The light bulb that made the cover of Wired – how many light bulbs can say that? – is on display at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Switch is showing off its Switch75, part of the California company’s family of LED bulbs that also includes 40-, 60- and 100-watt equivalents.
With its eye-catching design, Switch is something of a darling of LED bulb watchers these days. In addition to the Wired cover, it was cited as a top-50 invention of 2011 by Time, and was named a CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award Honoree. But the company says there’s more than good looks to the bulb that, as the writer Dan Koeppel aptly put it, “seems like it could have been plucked from the set of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.” The design, the company says, is integral to delivering bulbs that don’t sacrifice the warm glow we all love in incandescents, that turn on instantly, that can be used with dimmers, that last virtually forever and – here’s the piece de resistance – that are expected to be less expensive than competing products.
The key innovation behind Switch is a liquid cooling system for the LEDs within the bulb. A nontoxic fluid – there’s no mercury in the Switch bulbs – is used to move heat away from the LEDs to the outside of the bulb. This allows the bulb to use fewer LEDs running at full power than in typical LED bulbs, and avoids the need for heat sinks.
“Powered by a unique driver, and tricked out with the most technically advanced cooling system, this is not your grandfather’s light bulb,” the company says. “All this, and it’s just as easy to screw in.” And once screwed in, you might never have to screw it out: The company says its bulbs have an “average lifespan of 25,000 hours.”
Which leads inevitably to the question of how much the bulbs will set back consumers. That’s a little uncertain, since they aren’t for sale to the public yet. According to the company’s website, Switch bulbs “are currently shipping to several distinctive hospitality properties. As soon as we have been able to collect feedback from these first users that our bulbs are of brilliant quality, we will make them available online to our fans.”
Various reports suggest the bulbs could go for around $25 – in a market in which competing products that aren’t even as bright can cost up to $50. Of course, it’s also true that you can buy a 24-pack of Sylvania 100-watt incandescent bulbs for around $15. But Switch argues that by using just 16 watts of electricity with their bulbs, you’re saving money every time the bulb is used. And there’s the advantage of not having to change the bulb out. Replacing light bulbs can be a matter of minor inconvenience in some cases, but in places where a maintenance worker and equipment have to be brought in to do the job, it can be costly.