In Control

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The next frontier for our industry lies in controls, but there is powerful competition out there making it challenging for lighting to stay on top.

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]onnectivity” is the name of the game in the home and built environment these days, and it was on the minds of those who gathered at the Strategies in Light Conference in Long Beach, Calif. in February.

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Robert Karlicek, Director of LESA (Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications), a national science foundation engineering research center and who also serves as a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), brought up some of these concerns.

“The market is going through many disruptive changes,” he quipped, adding that those who control the data and the connectivity are the ones who will ultimately be setting the standards. “Internet companies have a huge interest in [controls],” he noted, pointing to the popularity of “smart” products such as Amazon’s Echo and Ring plus Google Nest and Apple HomeKit. “Lighting companies don’t have the horsepower that’s going into IoT; it’s going to be the networking companies. The lighting companies will be marginalized and commoditized if they’re just a plug-in option,” Karlicek warned.

“It will be interesting to see where Alexa and Google will go with lighting control. Although I think [the average consumer] will be happy with on/off/dim for a long time yet,” he said.

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According to Karlicek, lighting is already “connected” because IoT products need power to operate “but who owns the socket or pole and who owns the data? Maybe lighting companies could look at owning the sensors and power access, meaning you rent that access out to other companies,” he mused. Options for lighting companies could be partnerships with the big Internet companies or making lighting part of the IoT sensing platform.

The alliance between Philips and networking giant Cisco is indicative of the partnership option. The lighting industry can’t continue to work independently of the electronics world. If the platforms that lighting companies are developing aren’t compatible with the Edge Computing Consortium and the Industrial Internet Consortium®, they could be left in the dust, Karlicek stated, adding, “Right now there are no lighting companies in those two groups.”

Karlicek also pointed to the Open Connectivity Foundation®, whose top tier “Diamond Level” membership includes Canon, Cisco, Electrolux, Haier, Intel, LG, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Samsung. The second tier is comprised of communications companies such as Comcast, Cox, Honeywell, and Legrand among others. On the third tier are dozens of large electronics companies and just two lighting-related entities: Schneider Electric and USAI Lighting.

Keeping abreast of – and involved in – these large organizations will be key if the lighting industry wishes to remain a player in the future of controls. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home will drive connectivity on the residential side, according to Karlicek, although the scale of that adoption remains to be seen. Meanwhile, commercial lighting connectivity will be driven by the network services companies.

Karlicek outlined several emerging types of controls technology where light sources are key. In a “reflected light” application, the system operates on the company’s local network. “Privacy is preserved since there isn’t a camera; it’s just a color sensor that looks at reflective color,” he noted. Not only is it space-efficient, it easily integrates with the building’s HVAC and security controls.

Another type being considered is using Time of Flight (ToF) mapping for object scanning, measuring distance, gesture recognition, and indoor navigation. [ToF relies on short infrared light pulses.] ToF can be used as an occupancy sensor as well for orientation or fall detection, plus it complements color mapping.

“Make lighting more than an IoT option,” he said, suggesting the creation of a cognitive lighting system where lighting would be an essential tool. “Light-sensing technology is under development with new, low-cost sensor systems; this will provide value,” he concluded.


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