The Security System in a Bulb: BeON

By Brian Rhodes, Published May 08, 2015, 12:00am EDT

One of the hottest ideas in home security is a lightbulb.

Well, BeON is not just any bulb. It claims the intelligence to trick burglars into thinking you are home even if you are not.

But at $75 a pop [link no longer available], does it offer enough to justify replacing an alarm system? Does it have what it takes to be a commercial success? We take a deeper look in this note.

Product Details

The basic premise of BeON's lightbulb is twofold: Both as a softwhite (60 W equivalent) LED bulb, and as a burglar deterrent by reacting to noises like doorbells and smoke alarms. The video below describes the product:

Key Features

BeON is available in two bulb sizes: standard A19 incandescent and recessed BR30 canned types. Both bulbs are rated to output ~800 lumens and draw about 13 watts.

Aside from the LED light core, BeON includes a swappable 'smart' module that controls advanced features, including:

  • Noise Activated: The key security feature is that lights can be programmed to respond to noises like doorbells. The company claims that when potential burglars ring to confirm no one is home, the sudden appearance of a light turning on will run them off.
  • Simulated Occupancy: The bulb 'learns' your typical use patterns, and will automatically turn lights on and off even when your are not home, offering the appearance of activity in an empty house. 
  • Battery Backup: The manufacturer claims at least 4 hours of full intensity light on a charged battery contained in the 'smart' module.

Bulbs are connected to each other and to controlling smartphone apps by way of BLE. Power is drawn from standard screw-in style lamp sockets, and are drop-in replacements to standard bulbs.  Programming the bulbs are done by way of the app, and up to 15 bulbs are able to be registered at one time.

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Security Differences

When contrasted with a typical intrusion alarm system, even those equipped with home automation for light controls, BeON offers some advantages other systems do not or cannot without additional fees:

  • Remote Control: The smartphone app is connected the bulbs via BLE, so within moderate ranges (ie: ~150 feet) users can control and be notified of activity even if they are in remote rooms.
  • Emergency Exit: The bulbs pick up the sound of smoke detectors and will turn on to illuminate egress paths, even if the fixture is turned off.
  • No Monthly Fee: Unlike other 'smart alarm panels', BeON requires no ongoing service fees or contracts to be used.

Showstopper? Steep Cost

But BeON faces a big potential barrier for commercial success: they are expensive. Prices for a single bulb run $75, and even compared to other LED bulbs they run 3X - 5X more costly

Increasing this concern, BeON suggests multiple bulbs are needed for the best coverage and illusion of occupancy. The company suggest 3 bulbs (a $239 kit) are adequate for apartments, and recommends 6 or more units to adequately cover a 2500 sq. ft home (a $478 kit). Even with a claimed life expectancy of 20 years, most users are going to be extremely reluctant to drop hundreds of dollars on LED bulbs that increasingly are cheap to buy, with $2.50 per bulb sales becoming commonplace.

Major Premise: Inexpensive Security 

The prime claim of BeON's value is that for a one-time expense of less than $500, the average homeowner can self-install a security system that offers some peace of mind when the occupants are gone.

However, this is a truly bad assumption for several reasons:

1) Nightime 'Protection' Only: Even if everything else is ideal, a light suddenly coming on only has value in darkness. Daytime burglaries are fairly common as occupants are working offsite, and BeON simply has no bearing on periods where ambient light is plentiful. Indeed, BeON may work flawlessly, but be completely overlooked and bypassed by a robber during the day.

2) Light is no Talisman: The entire premise is based on the idea that light repels danger. While it can indeed have a crime deterrent effect, there is simply no guarantee a thief will be run off by light.  If a potential burglar rings a doorbell, sees light come on, but then waits and sees no other movement in the house, the illusion of occupancy is quite shallow.

Other Weaknesses

 Cost alone is not the biggest problem BeON faces. Other potential problems include:

  • Noise Triggers Only: Unlike comprehensive alarm systems that include motion sensors and door contacts, BeON only alarms on atypical noises. This might not be sufficient in all circumstances where other sensor types would trigger alarms.
  • No Police Response: Most intrusion systems include some notification or dialer to call a central station or police dispatch on alarm. BeON offers no ability like this, instead relies entirely on the sudden appearance of a turned on light to chase intruders away.
  • New Product: Unfortunately, crowdfunded products have a terrible record of making shipping deadlines and meeting minimum performance claims. While BeOn apparently has a savvy and experienced leadership team - including a MIT PhD [link no longer available] with intelligent lighting experience - and a raise of over $1.5M in startup funds, by no stretch does that guarantee commercial viablilty.

Platform Concept

While not part of the initial release, BeON suggests that other swappable 'smart modules' will be made available in the future, including a proposed 'Sounder' module that is a high-intensity alarm, and potential temperature/humidity or motion detecting sensors:

If these other modules indeed become available, then some of the one-dimensional detection and alarming weaknesses of BeON could be addressed, meaning the platform could grow into a legitimate alternative to traditional alarm systems.

Our Recommendation: Look Elsewhere

However, the mix of high cost, limited functionality, and uncertain product performance leaves us very skeptical that BeON will endanger incumbent alarm providers.  Instead, BeON will likely appeal most to the early-adopter gadget loving crowd, but until prices come down and additional modules become available it will not be a widespread success.

Alternative Offerings

In terms of finding 'cheaper' alternatives to traditional monitored security systems, the market is packed with offerings.  Consider:

  • Fake TV: A device that gives the impression of a turned-on TV relies on several of the same assumptions as BeON, but cost less than $40.
  • SimpliSafe: If expensive alarm system install and monitoring is the issue, then the DIY self-monitored intrusion system might be a good fit, with several basic systems for small houses falling under the $500 pricepoint offered by BeON.
  • A Dog: Indeed, if having a 'smart' security detector that responds to loud noises is the goal, consider spending a few dollars on a pet. While the upkeep and maintenance may be greater than a lightbulb, the dog is likely to be responsive during daytime hours as well.

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