One of the central problems facing designers of any voice-controlled smart hub, from Amazon Echo to Google Home, is how to convince people to put these odd devices front and center in their homes–where they’re more likely to be heard and used. GE thinks it has a decent solution: Build a voice assistant right into the one thing every room needs: The lights.
GE and lighting designer Richard Clarkson just unveiled the C by GE Lamp: An 18-inch-tall LED lamp with a loop-de-loop design that looks something like a futuristic Aerobie. It’s a literal conversation piece: Not only does it emit about the same of light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb, the base holds all the microphones and circuitry needed for it to also function as a node for Amazon’s Alexa voice-controlled services. So not only is it a lamp you can turn on or off just by talking to it, but the C Lamp will also allow you to do anything you can do on your Echo, from controlling other gadgets in your smarthome to listening to Spotify.
According to Clarkson, whose previous eye-catching lamp designs include putting a literal thunderstorm in your living room, the C by GE’s unconventional form was a response to the question: How do you design a lamp people know they can talk to?
“Smart home products tend to blend into the background, but we wanted something that would appeal to first movers, and have design cues that hint at its function, and give it a focus point” says Clarkson. “We not only thought the loop design was nicely iconic, but that it created an outline–a sort of visual microphone, if you will–telling you where to speak towards.” The design was inspired by a range of products, everything from old-timey diaphragm microphones to neon lighting tubes.
The C by GE Lamp isn’t yet available for purchase, although GE says that it will start accepting preorders early next year, at a still-unspecified price. The end goal isn’t to just have one statement lamp in the line-up either. “The benefit of integrating this sort of voice-control functionality into our products is that lighting never looks out of place: It’s wherever you want to put it,” says Tom Stimac, chief innovation manager at GE Lighting. “Considering that, it’s no surprise we’d love to be able to get this technology miniaturized so it can fit inside a lightbulb, and you could access Alexa in every single room.”
That’s impossible right now–the electronics that drive Alexa are still too big. But if C by GE heralds a smart home future at all, it’s one in which your lightbulbs do more than just let you see: They also are always listening.