We were excited to recently sit down with Gimmy Chu, the CEO and a cofounder of Nanoleaf, a Smart Lighting company. With worldwide offices in Canada, Hong Kong, and China, Nanoleaf has been delivering never-before-seen lighting designs since 2012 with a passion for cutting-edge design and sustainability.
Tell us a little about Nanoleaf; how do you describe your work to people?
At our core, we are a smart lighting company on a mission for sustainability. We believe in creating smarter, more efficient lighting that offers a more exciting experience for consumers while also forging a more sustainable future for the planet. We often say that we want to break the barriers between doing good, looking good, and feeling good. We’ve focused a lot on thinking outside of the box when it comes down to product design as well; that is truly one of our passions.
Your award-winning design work certainly speaks for itself. How did you even begin to approach smart lighting in the way that you do? You’re very unique.
The other two cofounders and I were actually friends at university. We had a really strong bond. And a lot of that forged over the three of us building solar-powered cars together in a class. After graduation, the world pulled us in different ways. One of us went into pharmaceuticals, one into manufacturing in China, and I was on a more traditional corporate path of my own.
Despite the distance, we kept in touch. And more important, we kept trying to brainstorm ways we could work together again, what we could try and make together that was completely different. Because that’s another one of our drivers: we want to make things that just don’t exist in the market. After many late-night Skype sessions, we landed on lighting as a great way to contribute to sustainability.
Our first product we made together was actually a standard light bulb, but it was actually the most energy-efficient light bulb in the world; and we actually still offer a Classic Series of light bulb technology. But then the market demands of the IoT called us, and the necessity to play in a system where people could control their light bulbs, and where the light bulbs could talk to other devices as needed—that’s what we dove into.
Our forays into the IoT spaces included the Smarter Kit we crowd-funded on Indiegogo—an Apple HomeKit-compatible offering. It was outfitted with a Nanoleaf Hub that allowed integration with Apple and a Nanoleaf Smart Ivy bulb. The Smart Ivy bulb still has more power than any other smart bulb on the market today. It’s a 60W equivalent bulb that uses only 7.5W of energy to produce 800 Lumens, and we managed to give it an Art Deco design no one had ever seen before in a light bulb.
And our newest product offering is the Nanoleaf Aurora. It’s a set of modular LED panels that truly lets people customize and illuminate their space in ways that simply weren't possible before. You can control it and customize it completely to your taste and space—even with your voice. The Aurora was largely inspired by the idea of recreating natural light, so that people could experience the same warm soothing qualities indoors as well—especially during winter when there’s less sunlight hours.
And what’s next for Nanoleaf? Where do you see Smart Lighting itself heading?
We’re working on a new line that will launch this fall called the Aurora Rhythm. Like with everything we’ve done, we’re trying to push people to think outside the notion that lighting is just approximating a candle—the original home lighting product. Lighting has profound effects on your mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. It’s a very important aspect of living well every day, and we want to help improve that with each new product we release.
Can you elaborate on your approximating a candle comment? That’s intriguing.
Well, the thing about lighting in my opinion is that for a long time a light bulb was really just taking the idea of a candle flame and turning it upside down to hang from the ceiling, then connecting it to wires to light up a whole home. This idea of using light in a room is the box that people have placed lighting in. With today’s technology, we’ve eliminated these restrictions. The freedom of the Aurora panels lets people control and customize where they want their lighting, the shape and design, as well as the specific colors they want to set. It offers a full spectrum of lighting customizations to play with. Smart lighting is going to continue to push this boundary, as it should.
What Silicon Labs product are you using at Nanoleaf, and why did you go with it?
We’ve been using Silicon Labs since the beginning, and they’ve been integrated into several products now. The Smarter Kit I mentioned used your ZigBee SoCs and communications stack. These had a very low power implementation and were very easy to use. The Aurora used an 8-bit MCU. And the upcoming Aurora Rhythm slated for release this August is using the Bluetooth Blue Gecko SoC.
I will also genuinely say that we’ve truly valued our partnership with Silicon Labs. Our R&D team has spent time with your R&D teams. The environment is collaborative with an openness to help each other and share knowledge. This kind of collaboration has helped us push boundaries and reach our goals. It’s been a trusted, pivotal partnership in my mind.
Where do you see the collective IoT heading in the next 5–8 years in your opinion given your overall exposure to the space?
Well, I think it’s safe to say that the standardization issue hopefully will get more resolution. A lot of entities out there still seem to be vested in a more proprietary approach to the IoT. Real standardization of the protocols everyone is following will really push the IoT to its next level of innovation in my opinion. The other thing to watch for is the progress of both voice recognition and AI within the space.