GE’s new Alexa lamp shines light on internet of things

By

GE's prototype adds Amazon's voice-activated assistant Alexa to a tabletop LED lamp.
GE's prototype adds Amazon's voice-activated assistant Alexa to a tabletop LED lamp.
Photo: GE

We’ve heard for years that the internet of things™ would imbue everything in our lives with the power of the web, all accessible by voice. If you’ve been waiting for something that isn’t a computer or smartphone or smart home hub to ask for driving directions or movie times, here’s your dream device at last: It’s a lamp that gets its smarts from Alexa.

Not just any lamp of course. It’s a new prototype from General Electric that, in addition to resembling a Stargate portal for your cat, serves as a point of contact with Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant.

GE LED Lamp, powered by Alexa

The GE LED Lamp — a name that just rolls off the tongue — stands between 14 inches and 18 inches tall, and measures 13 inches wide. Ringed with blue and white LEDs, it sits on its side, looking like Luke Skywalker’s table saw. Despite its small size, it’s sure to draw attention, especially when it starts speaking up. Like Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, you just address it by name and talk to it.

As part of the push toward ever smarter homes, this makes sense. Eventually, everything will be able to tell you the weather. If that sounds a little far-fetched, consider the report cited by GE that suggests smart-home technology is already in use by 21 percent of all U.S. households, with another 36 percent registered as viable future customers.

Toward the AI future

Even as a proof of concept, this is a small (and sort of awkward) step in the direction toward the AI-powered future we’ve been promised for a long time.

Pushed by Amazon as well as Microsoft (Cortana), Google (Assistant) and Apple (Siri), the vision is one of a world in which our day-to-day lives never take us out of earshot of our virtual personal assistants. The technology is coming to our fridges, our mirrors, our cars, and now our lamps. A more refined version of the GE LED Lamp is set to come out next year, part a larger line of home products.

This prototype was dreamt up by designer Richard Clarkson, who is perhaps best known for his indoor clouds. His work beautifully links light and sound, an influence that’s clear in the way light traverses the inner surface of the GE LED Lamp’s ring, which indicates that Alexa is pondering a request.

The smart lamp reflects the difficulty in designing a device that remains practical for its core use while adding major new functionality. Is this a lamp that tells you football scores, or an Echo with fancier lights?

The slightly uncanny feeling you might get watching it do its thing suggests this is a tough balance to strike.