Awesome Stuff: The Light Non-Switch

from the flip-on-flip-off dept

This week, we’re taking a look at a gloriously simple piece of technology: the Lightbox, a wireless light switch with no switch at all.

The Good

One of the definitions of “elegance” in interactive design is the ratio of depth to complexity. This is easily understood in the world of video game design, where there’s a constant goal of providing a huge amount of gameplay depth to be explored without bogging the player down in endless complicated controls and options — but the same notion can be applied to something as simple as a light switch. You’ve normally got a ratio of one simple function to one moving part, but the Lightbox has uncovered a new level of elegance by having no moving parts at all. It appears as nothing more than a decorative piece of wood that would fit nicely in most homes, but it’s quietly paired with receivers attached to your outlets, so you can control your lights by merely turning the block on its end. Even just watching it in the video feels satisfying. In a world full of robust but complicated devices for controlling your home, often revolving around touch-screens and LED indicators and smartphone apps, there’s something appealing about the simple, elegant solution that the Lightbox provides.

The Bad

The Lightbox isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but that would be asking a little much. Ultimately, it’s a decor item more than anything else, which justifies (but doesn’t entirely take the edge off of) the somewhat high price of $60 and up. But, were the Lightbox a block of cheap plastic or even a less-pretty hunk of wood, then it wouldn’t be very appealing at all, so it’s not like there needs to be a cheap alternative — and indeed, retaining the quality of material and design as they move into the manufacturing phase is one of the key challenges these creators face and discuss on the Kickstarter page.

The Elegant

The Lightbox isn’t a “smart home” fixture, but it fits into an overlapping category and provides some real inspiration for the ongoing evolution of home automation and interactivity. As we start adding wireless communication to more and more items in the home, and as that becomes a more competitive space, it’s good to look out for ways of flipping the emerging design standards on their head, and the Lightbox is an example of just that. In the fully-networked smart-home that many people envision but few completely achieve, do we really want a touchscreen on the toaster and every flower pot glowing with blue indicator LEDs? That’s not elegant design — it adds depth, but only at the cost of increased complexity. Instead, let’s take some inspiration from the Lightbox, and think about ways to hide a home’s interactivity and automation within simple objects and actions that are pleasing on aesthetic and tactile levels — like the basic, satisfying action of turning a wooden block on its end.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: The Light Non-Switch”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps the block can control different lights based on how it’s flipped. You have six different ways of flipping it. Perhaps if there was a way you can program the block to determine which orientation corresponds to which set of lights are on and off. Maybe each way can have a slightly different look (or feel) or perhaps a small number on it so that you can know which side it’s on. Or maybe some indication of which lights are being lit can be attached to the side that’s facing up. A little list that says

‘hallway light’
kitchen light

on one side and on another side

dining room light
kitchen light

On another. How many different ways do you plan to control the lights in any single room? Six should be plenty.

Or maybe little pictures of which light is being lit next to the letters (for kitchen light there could be a spoon and fork and knife next to each other … though how would you separate that from dining room light … the designers could think of something).

Perhaps a block switch, like the above, with a few buttons on it. Each button can be an on/off radio button that, when you press it it can move inwards and outwards. Inwards = on, outwards = off. So you can have, say, four radio buttons that control four lights. If three are on and the block is flipped one way it can turn those three lights on. If it’s flipped another way it will turn them off.

I was thinking this might be good for my grandma … assuming she doesn’t lose it ;). The lights should have a manual override in case the block is lost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

(to continue) If you are controlling three lights you have eight different possible configuration. So a six sided block can fully control, at most, two lights with two remaining unused configurations. Uhm … a six sided block with one radio button can have up two twelve different configurations. Four lights has up to sixteen different configurations. The whole thing doesn’t work out too efficiently.

Rekrul says:

What happens when you accidentally knock it off the table and it predictably lands on its side, turning off the lights? What if it’s night and the block bounces under the couch? What if the batteries go dead while you’re out and you come home to a dark house with no way to turn on the lights?

While I agree that it’s a kind of neat idea, this seems like just needlessly complicating something that has worked fine for about a century now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Rekrul on Oct 17th, 2015 @ 3:13pm

The designers clearly don’t currently have a toddler…

Mine would hide it under the couch, when he wasn’t flipping all the lights on and off while running away with the block of wood with big sister in full pursuit.

Finally it would get put “away” by an exasperated adult and we’d forget where “away” was.

Switches are still required by the building code, so this is basically clutter.

Not a fan, sorry!

Gracey (user link) says:

Re: Re:

uh, somehow as an artist, I don’t see a block of wood similar to the type I regularly burn as “elegant”.

The idea might be elegant, but the implementation isn’t. It’s a block of wood. How much thought does it take? Aha! It’s not the block of wood, not really.

I think the whole point isn’t a block of wood to turn on the lights. The point (to me, anyway) is simply that somewhere out there, are people who still think, who still invent, who still realize their dreams.

It’s a lot more than just a block of wood.

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