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This is the latest pitch from, a major smart lighting brand based in Australia. The company tells CNET that it is preparing to release a new Lifx Clean LED in North America later this year, calling it “the world’s first antibacterial, germicidal smart light that works as a disinfectant”.
The $ 70 lightbulb looks and works just like one of, complete with all the colors, functions and voice controls that users are already used to. New are additional diodes that can be triggered to emit high-energy violet light. This HEV light, which Lifx claims is safe for people, pets, and plants, can kill certain types of germs and bacteria, including pathogens like E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
It’s an approach previously used in medical settings and in things like specialty lighting fixtures for the kitchen. Now Lifx would like to bring the idea into the smart home.
“We had considered using germicidal light in a smart lightbulb before March, but the onset of COVID quickly bubbled it to the surface,” said David McLauchlan, CEO of Lifx. “When supermarkets around the world ran out of cleaning products, as liquor makers started making hand sanitizers, and clothing companies started making face masks, we thought about how we could help.”
How it works
The Lifx Clean LED will only activate your HEV diodes when you turn them on. The rest of the time it will give off normal light of any color or shade of white you like.
“It’s a Lifx A19 (white and color), but with that extra bit and not just a weird blue light,” said Sam Moore, Lifx Global Marketing Director.
With a built-in Wi-Fi radio, you can connect the lightbulb directly to your home network. From there you can control the lightbulb and schedule lighting changes through the Lifx app on your Android or iOS device. You can also connect the lightbulb to a third-party smart home system like SmartThings and Apple HomeKit, or to a voice assistant like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant.
Lifx sees the light bulb as a good addition to a smart lighting plan. For example, screw the lightbulb into a vanity and you can program it to bathe the room in HEV light every night and kill bacteria around your shower, toilet, and sink. You can also turn a desk lamp into a sanitizing station for your cell phone, keys, and anything else you touch regularly throughout the day.
“In certain areas, our lights can outperform non-intelligent commercial competitors, with overnight disinfectant kill rates for certain bacteria being up to 99.99%,” says McLauchlan.
What types of bacteria?
That’s a good question and is currently the subject of laboratory-based efficacy tests being carried out by the Department of Chemistry and Biotechnology at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. Lifx tells CNET that it wants to be careful not to exaggerate germicidal claims and that various experiments are still being conducted to determine the specific effectiveness of bacteria killing at certain distances and for certain periods of time.
“We had to get some effectiveness in testing to be a viable product,” Moore told CNET. “We have that. We’re excited.”
Lifx is currently informing CNET that the tests have shown effectiveness against E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. The company adds that it will publish detailed bacterial kill rates that are close to launching next quarter and that additional tests are underway and in the works.
Is it safe?
The Lifx Clean LED arrives in the middleand interest in germicidal light is growing. Has much of this interest which acts as a natural and long-established antiviral disinfectant, but with as even a few moments of direct exposure can be dangerous to the eyes and skin.
The HEV light used by the Lifx Clean LED is different and less intense. With a wavelength of 405 nanometers, it is conveniently above the range of 100 to 280 nanometers of invisible UV light, with visible light looking bluish.
That doesn’t mean HEV light is harmless. Concerns about the effects of HEV or blue light on our eyes and sleep patterns have existed for years, especially regarding. Other scientific studies point to the antibacterial properties of HEV light and its common dermatological uses to treat conditions such as acne. However, they also suggest that blue-violet light in high doses could be dangerous to human skin.
To that end, Lifx said the lightbulb was tested at an accredited facility of Underwriters Laboratories in China to meet the IEC 62471 photobiological safety standard. According to Lifx, this ensures there is no risk of exposure to skin and eyes.
“IEC 62471 is now recognized in many countries as the key standard for photobiological safety problems in connection with lamps, lamp systems and other optical radiation sources without a lamp,” says the UL guidelines on LED safety published in 2015.
“IEC 62471 identifies the UV range from 100 to 400 nm,” added Bahram Barzideh, UL’s chief engineer for LED lighting components. “The 405 nm wavelength is considered part of the visible light spectrum (400 to 700 nm) and is not subject to the limit values for exposure to actinic UV hazard according to IEC 62471.”
In other words, UL draws a line between UV light and HEV light when it comes to skin. The former is a clear danger in the eyes of the organization, but the latter is not. Lifx agrees.
“Products that use UV light (below 400 nm) are very effective at killing cells (or removing reproducibility), but those wavelengths of light are not safe for unprotected human eyes or skin,” says McLauchlan. “However, light above 400 nm is safe for humans, and 405 nm light in particular has shown consistent germicidal properties.”
Another risk that IEC 62471 is testing for is photoretinitis in the eyes or retinal injury with blue light. Photoretinitis is a photochemical reaction to visible light that is typically between 400 and 500 nanometers. It can cause blind spots in the retina and has been linked to macular degeneration.
Devices certified as risk-free according to IEC 62471 “pose no photobiological hazard,” says UL. That is the certification that the Lifx Clean LED has received, the company says.
What about COVID-19?
Tests for antiviral efficacy – including testing against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 – are next on the line for the Lifx Clean LED, but the company doesn’t expect these results until after the lightbulb hits store shelves sometime in the fourth quarter of 2020.
“Currently, no claims are made that the product is effective in any antiviral property, including SARS-CoV-2,” the company’s press release announces the lightbulb. “Lifx will publish detailed bacterial kill rates prior to launch next quarter and will continue to conduct extensive testing on a variety of microbes, including SARS-CoV-2 testing.”
I will surely love to see this data as soon as it becomes available, but I wouldn’t hope too much that this thing is a potential COVID killer. While UV light is well documented to fight viruses like influenza and coronaviruses like the COVID-19 virus, the little science I was able to unearth regarding possible antiviral uses for HEV light seems inconclusive at best. Time will tell, but the Lifx Clean COVID trial can be little more than a moon shot.
We’ll keep an eye on these tests as the lightbulb release approaches. Expect to hear more by the end of the year.