What the IoT Means for the Lighting Industry & Consumers

By Beatrice Witzgall

Lighting controls are a million-dollar industry for commercial and high-end residential settings. While primarily these systems offer lighting scenes and automated scheduling to coordinate lighting, they are also being used more frequently to monitor energy usage and improve energy efficiency through sensor technology. The downside? Until now these controls have been typically hardware-intensive and expensive, plus they have required skilled professionals and technicians to commission and set up the lighting scenes.

WiFi-Controled-Lighting

“Current predictions forecast the smart lighting market will be worth $8.14 billion by 2020″

With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), lighting control systems are undergoing an exciting evolution. Current predictions forecast the smart lighting market will be worth $8.14 billion by 2020*.  Traditional legacy systems are being disrupted in favor of easy-to-use wireless systems that can be refitted without heavy control hardware. The only required step is to add a wireless component into the energy-efficient LED light source, switch, or driver.

The evolution has already started! Wireless bulbs are now offered by all major bulb manufacturers (i.e. Philips, Osram, TCP, Feit) and additional options are launching each quarter through major retailers such as Home Depot, Amazon, and Apple. Your front-end interface doesn’t need to be an extra computer or designated laptop anymore; now it can be your own personal smartphone or tablet. We’re seeing this shift where software – or even a simple app – is becoming the driving factor for incorporating additional intelligence and set-up automations.

What It Means

Through the IoT, lighting control systems are not merely limited to large commercial spaces anymore. The scalability of the business – and functionality from an end-user perspective – are dynamically changing with the emergence of new technology that make smart lighting more affordable and accessible for everyone from homeowners to hotel operators.

As such, the business model needs to evolve as smart lighting is not defined by hardware anymore – such as the price of a light bulb – but instead is defined by software that offers a range of features, intelligence, and automation capabilities.

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Software must incorporate new intelligence options; automation algorithms and user scenarios that were never before imagined. Lighting should be easily customizable to our own personal preferences, such as adjustable alarms or sleep timers. Color-changing capabilities no longer require heavy DMX hardware, but rather just a $60 bulb and an intuitive app on your phone. We can now also create automated dynamic lighting that changes according to user needs and automatically adjusts to personal habits. For example, circadian rhythm algorithms support health necessities such as sleep, aid, alert, or peak performance for improved work environments, faster healing in hospital environments leading to shorter stays, or help adjusting with jetlag in hotels or throughout air travel.

The connected lighting market is rapidly evolving and many key players – some of which include Zigbee, Bluetooth, NXP, JennetIP / 6lowpan and the native WiFi 802.11 – are in a race to see who can dominate the wireless-enabled industry. Each of them has to balance price, partnerships, and hardware requirements as they look at how we can load software on chips, which are then built into the bulbs or hardware to produce the connectivity between different platforms. The current problem is the lack of standardization and ability to communicate across these various platforms.

For example, Zigbee requires a “gateway” or “bridge” that translates the phone’s WiFi signal into a lighting-specific mesh network. Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) is a good example of an energy-efficient option that doesn’t require a bridge; the commissioning is simple and stable. Many emerging manufacturers are starting to adopt BLE into their product roll-outs. On the other hand, BLE has two disadvantages: a short range, and only one device can be paired to a bulb at a time.

Where Things Stand

The key take-away is that the lighting industry needs to understand that overall, the software must manage the various technologies in one user-friendly interface. For faster and wider adoption, these user interfaces are now via smartphone and tablets. Currently, we’re seeing much of the smart lighting innovation and development being driven by the tech community or hardware manufacturers. However, the lighting community needs to become an active part of building up the smart lighting universe to show there is additional value creation.

Smart lighting is more than a play between lighting hardware manufacturers and wireless lighting control software providers. Lighting designers or professionals know how to enhance the user experience and can embed intelligence to drive content and user scenarios. For instance, the emerging smart lighting software platform LumiFi, incorporates lighting know-how and understanding of what type of lighting someone needs for a specific application into the software. LumiFi tailors the front-end user interface to the need of a specific experience. LumiFi’s patent-pending algorithm also introduces pre-configured light scenes by assessing the fixture and the illumination needed by type of light source.

We are on the precipice of figuring out how to effectively incorporate connected lighting. IoT software or cloud infrastructure replaces that piece of hardware that was once required in old controls systems. However, we still have steps to make in order for smart lighting to meet government requirements for highly subsidized energy or tax rebate programs. In addition, WiFi-enabled bulbs are not recognized for
ENERGY STAR ratings as they include a radio that can receive a signal, therefore, it doesn’t meet “zero power consumption.” This is something that the appropriate government and coding parties need to address urgently to facilitate the new technology with its universe of possibility to add intelligence and automation.