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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Hue Labs rescues Philips’s Motion Sensor with sunlight as a switch

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

A few months back, I picked up the Philips Hue motion sensor, thinking it would be a nice addition to my smart home setup. But despite my favorable impressions of the hardware, I was ultimately disappointed that the software didn’t let me accomplish what I wanted: namely, using it as a light-based switch for my office.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. A few weeks back I came across Philips’s Hue Labs site, which offers additional functionality for Hue devices–think of it as a “not quite ready for primetime” showcase. Among the options was a “Sunlight as a switch” formula that does exactly what I was shooting for: use the motion sensor’s ability to measure ambient light as a switch for turning lights on and off.

Setting it up was pretty easy: to use any of the Hue labs formulas with your setup, you need to connect it to your Philips Hue Hub by clicking the Connect button in the top right of the webpage and then pressing the link button on the top of the Hub. Then you can install the formulas by going in, tweaking their settings, and clicking Install.

Sunlight as a switch

The sunlight switch formula offers a few configuration options, including which sensor to use (if you have more than one), which lights to activate and with what scene, and a slider that lets you choose how much daylight should trigger the action. There’s also a way to set hours during which the formula should be active (so you don’t have your lights on all night, for example).

While the formula was mostly easy to configure, finding the right setting the daylight sensitivity slider took some work (even now I’m not sure I have it set up optimally). The Hue labs provides descriptions of the light level you choose (“‘Cosy’ living room”, for example, or “Dimmed light”), and there’s a line that says “This formula should be active”, though I could never quite determine whether that was based simply on the active hours setting or the actual current amount of light detected in the room.1

Overall, once I got the configuration ironed out, it’s worked pretty well, though there are always going to be some rough edges. Today, for example, as snow is falling here in New England, the ambient light appears to be right on the cusp of the sensitivity level I set, which means my light has gone on and off a few times.

I’d love to see a more sophisticated option that would let it maintain a constant level of light, dimming as ambient light gets brighter rather than just shutting off, but perhaps that’s too complicated. Overall, though, this has encouraged me to check out some of Hue Labs’s other offerings, including a fade-in wake up, a sunset timer, and the ability to make it look like you’re home even when you’re not. There’s a bunch more there, too, so if you’re looking for ways to take more advantage of your Hue light set up, definitely check it out.

  1. If it isn’t the latter, that would definitely be a useful addition for testing. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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