Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis
November 29, 2022 by Kevin C. Tofel 2 Comments Learning Remote Control
On a recent Internet of Things Podcast episode, we took a question during our Voicemail hotline segment about wireless battery-powered lights. This particular question was submitted via email by Jon, who wants to add some smarts to the lights. He writes:
Around Halloween and Christmas we always have a number of battery-powered LED lights (usually two or three batteries in a small switched unit) around the house, and every evening before issuing my goodnight command to Alexa, I frustratingly have to go round turning them all off!! I’ve pretty much got them all using rechargeable batteries nowadays so can just switch them out regularly without much fuss.
Is there anything out there that you know of that could be used to replace the battery pack and allow me to add these various lights to our goodnight routine? I have the IKEA lights and switches, and usually use voice commands via our Echo dot.
We brainstormed a few different ideas for Jon, but the reality is that none of them are great. It’s probably easier to replace the existing light strings with a product that has some connectivity built in. That’s because Jon’s current lights can’t connect to a smart plug nor is there a simple way to install some type of radio transmitter in them.
For a potential replacement, we did find an 18-foot strand of indoor/outdoor battery-powered bulbs that work with an included Bluetooth remote transmitter. Costing $11.99, this isn’t an exorbitant replacement cost. For $6.99, we also found a 16-foot strand, again with a Bluetooth remote, for indoor use only. Philips Hue still sells the Go Portable Light as well, which can run for several hours on a charge and can be controlled through the Hue app over Bluetooth. That’s a pricier option at $89.99, however.
Thinking outside the box a little, we sought out a connected battery pack module to add some wireless functionality to Jon’s current lights. Unfortunately, we came up empty on that front. Device makers would rather sell you a new product in most cases rather than retrofit hardware to upgrade an older product.
Another option that might work is to buy a $29 SwitchBot Bot. This is a single-purpose, connected device that can physically flip a switch for you. You can schedule the Bot or use your phone to initiate the flip of the power switch of the bulbs. This product works really well with standard switches and buttons. However, we don’t know if it will with Jon’s lights because the power switch might be a small lever. Still, it’s a potential solution.
One of our podcast listeners reached out with their own solution but, it’s not for the faint of heart. Nor is it a wireless option. Another Jon wrote us, saying:
“Definitely not wireless but my solution uses a USB charger, an electromechanical timer, and an old USB charger and cable to eliminate batteries. Since there are usually 3 or 4 1.5v batteries, this is close enough to the 5v from the USB supply. Simply cut off the end of the cable, use a test meter to find the 5v connection – in case the cores are non-standard then solder it on where the batteries are wired into. You may need to notch or drill the battery case to accommodate the cable.”
Well, that would work! To be honest, all of these workarounds underscore the fact that the original lights simply are from a non-connected past. In the end, replacing them with a modern, wireless product is probably the most cost-effective, simple approach.
To hear Jon’s question in full, as well as our discussion on the topic, tune in to the Internet of Things Podcast below:
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Filed Under: Featured Tagged With: bluetooth, connected home, Philips Hue, smart home, smart lights, SwitchBot
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Your listener’s original idea is a good one, and works fine. Many people use that approach.
There are dummy battery packs available which people commonly use, for example, with game controllers. They fit into the battery compartment, but have a cable which attaches to a plug that plugs in. You can get them for AA or AAA size, two or four pack size, there are a lot of options.
Just plug that into a smart plug and you’re all set. Networked on/off control for whatever your platform of choice is. Because what you’re going to control is the plug. You just have to verify that restoring power will turn the lights back on. It usually will, but we need to make sure.
If the lights are outdoors you may want to put the control piece inside a plastic project box to weatherproof it. And of course there’s still the question of where you’re going to plug it in. But this is one of the easiest ways to turn a battery powered device into a network controllable one.
The SwitchBot is also a good choice for many situations, just more expensive. It’s good for when you already have a mains power device but it doesn’t have network capability. Like a coffee maker or a blender. It’s also for when you specifically need to push a button. And of course it’s a good choice for when you don’t have Mains power available at all. So I like that approach, but if you have a regular socket available, the dummy battery and WiFi smart plug might have much better range.
@Lawrence K mentioned dummy batteries last week with regard to electronic candles. He linked to a Lenink model. That’s a popular brand of dummy batteries, but there are lots of others. Just search Amazon for “dummy battery“ to see some of the choices.
I forgot to mention that if you need dummy batteries in a less common size, including C, D, or even CR123, it’s worth checking Battery Eliminators. They are a U.S. company, and I have purchased from them several times. They also offer dummy sets which can be powered by AC, making them useful for additional environments. These cost more than Linkind and other Chinese brands you can get at Amazon, but are worth knowing about if you need those other sizes.
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