Innovation

by Leigh Beadon


Filed Under:
awesome stuff, design



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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  • identicon
    Jake, 17 Oct 2015 @ 10:33am

    So... What if you want to only turn on some of the lights it controls? I can't help thinking a proper remote would be more useful, minimalism or no minimalism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2015 @ 11:46am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2015 @ 11:53am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), 17 Oct 2015 @ 11:58am

          Re: Re: Re:

          And so you begin to see what I mean about elegance in design being the ratio of depth to complexity :)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bergman (profile), 17 Oct 2015 @ 5:22pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          So make it a giant six-sided die, with each dot a radio button. Then you can control a LOT of things with so much complexity that people will pay you a hefty ransom to get their light switches back...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 17 Oct 2015 @ 3:13pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2015 @ 1:12am

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        MrTroy (profile), 18 Oct 2015 @ 7:01pm

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

        I'd actually go the other way. This connected to a lamp would make for a fun exploratory toy for our toddler.

        Then again, a bowl full of nice stones, an empty milo tin, and a plastic bottle with some dried pasta in it also make for fun toys for our toddler...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CoulourMeSkeptical, 18 Oct 2015 @ 5:50am

    new or just inflared packaging as art?

    So how is this dufferent from the x10 system?
    The remote is in a wood block.
    Does it have a timer function? No.
    Can I overide it? No.
    so it does less for 3x the cost? Yes.

    So why would I buy this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 18 Oct 2015 @ 8:30am

    Folks, I never claimed this should replace lightswitches for good or that it's an ideal solution for every situation. It's an interesting, elegant piece of design that I thought was worth highlighting. Please don't act like you're some kind of genius for noticing that it has limitations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Gracey, 18 Oct 2015 @ 7:26pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lights out, 18 Oct 2015 @ 10:27am

    Rubbish

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2015 @ 6:30am

    Brilliant idea for senior citizens and physically challenged individuals whom may have a hard time with switches and buttons due to arthritis or physical limitations of the fingers and hands.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2015 @ 8:21am

    Re:

    I know someone that knows someone that knows someone whose mother's sister's niece's best friend's fiance may have won the lottery. Proof you should play the lottery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 19 Oct 2015 @ 8:30am

    This is brilliant

    Simple and elegant. I wish I'd thought of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anomynuos Crowad, 19 Oct 2015 @ 10:13am

    or even a less-pretty hunk of wood, then it wouldn't be very appealing at all

    The boingboingification continues. What a gorgeous hunk of wood. Too bad it isn't also 3D-printed. How can you be truly innovative without extruded polymers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Giy bng chnh hng, 13 Nov 2015 @ 7:46pm

    Shut up and take my money

    Is there any box like this to shut my brother mouth on or off?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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