In the Details
In a world where almost everything can be controlled with the click of a button (or a clap of your hands), even the kerosene lantern is getting an upgrade with Vela, a portable, Bluetooth-enabled lamp that can be controlled using your smartphone.
Following a family camping trip, Joe VanFaasen, a designer at the Holland, Michigan-based firm Twisthink, found himself unsatisfied with the lantern options currently on the market. "What I found were the classic Coleman kerosene lanterns, which I admire, but they present a fire and gas hazard, especially with two little boys and a little girl running around," VanFaasen says. Although LED versions proved more convenient and safer, VanFaasen felt that they lacked the appropriate aesthetic and often gave off a cold, bluish light. "They all felt like either overly commoditized knock-offs or hyper-tactical backcountry-type lights," he says.
Recognizing a need and looking to fill a gap in the market, VanFaasen set about designing the perfect portable light for any scenario not only camping but everyday household use as well. And he wondered how he could incorporate "smart" technology to set it apart from other portable LEDs currently available.
VanFaasen and his colleagues at Twisthink developed a proprietary custom antenna to utilize Bluetooth technology. While there are wifi-app-enabled LED light bulbs on the market (think Philips's Hue), they run on main power not ideal for a camping adventure or a trip to the beach. Vela is equipped with a Bluetooth Low Energy transceiver as well as a microprocessor and high-power LED drivers. A unique message is sent from the app to the transceiver, allowing the user to control intensity, flickering, color, schedule and so on using a Bluetooth-connected smartphone. The custom antenna provides a uniform radiation pattern while living in a small package, which ensures a robust Bluetooth link.
Bluetooth technology also provides an unparalleled advantage in portability. "You can take your Bluetooth enabled phone and your Bluetooth enabled device and go anywhere," VanFaasen says. Granted, there are range limitations every Bluetooth speaker owner has experienced pangs of dismay from walking out of range while carrying her phone, only to have a song cut out mid-play. Vela, however, doesn't need a constant connection to function. The phone is not streaming data to the light; instead, it sends commands to Vela when in range. This means that the user can set Vela's schedule, send it to the light, and then leave. Vela will remember its settings.
Above and below: Sketches from the making of Vela
Although an app will be released in conjunction with Vela, Twisthink also intends to publish the Bluetooth commands that dictate how Vela behaves, giving anyone skilled enough the ability to write and develop their own smartphone app for controlling the device. From setting timers to controlling the intensity, flicker, color and more, the user has full control over deciding when, where and how Vela is engaged.
With the commands open to the public, practically anything is possible. "It's not hard to imagine some of the different categories here," VanFaasen says. "Linking to music, or some kind of game. There are lots of entertainment possibilities, as well as safety and security applications." Users could set the lights to glow brighter as ambient light decreases, or to flicker at incoming phone calls or texts, or to perform any number of other clever tricks that should make your old kerosene lantern seem even more obsolete.
UPDATE: The Vela Blutooth Lantern just launched their project on Kickstarter and are looking to raise $750,000 by April 3, 2014.