Over the last five years the march of LED in the lighting industry has been relentless, the LED ‘Revolution’ has become more of a Coup d’etat, with LED becoming the defecto light source of choice. Even the Squirrel Cage, the last bastion of tungsten, is starting to succumb to the LED invaders. All of this turbulence is really only the start of the upheaval, LED is a semiconductor, and so the future of the lighting industry will be far more effected by the computer industry than the industries past. The lamp, as we know it, a glowing media within a glass envelope that emits a predictable amount of light for a set amount of power with a standard connector, is already obsolete. This freefall towards obsolescence is not just about efficiency metrics, “halogen lamps are too wasteful”, or atheistic metrics “fluorescent lamps are too cold”.
It is the result of a paradigm shift that will eventually affect every aspect of the lighting industry. It’s not that the technology isn’t good enough, it’s that anything that tries to replicate (but isn’t) glowing wire in a glass envelope is not good enough. In this connected world, the days of an object being defined only by its primary function are numbered, the lighting industry will need to redefine what our tools of light can offer beyond the primary function of illumination. Lighting is becoming intelligent.
A huge trend emerging from the technology world is the idea of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), at the idea at the core of IoT is to change the way we interact with the internet and data. Rather than the internet being confined to a set of specific devices such as PC’, Tablets, or Phones, the internet is distributed through the devices that we use, including lighting. This moment has been a large driver for smart lighting establishing many of the frameworks that smart lighting is operating on.
Connecting lighting too the internet means far more than having to set up an Instagram account for your table lamp, this will have a huge impact on the future of lighting controls. The control of the luminaire leaves the murky propriety world of the wall switch and transfers to your phone, tablet, watch or any other connected device. This might sound like a gimmick but the implications for Hotels and Offices are much larger than they sound. The prevailing design trend in offices over the last 30 years has been ‘Open plan’ moving works out from their own cubicles or offices and into large open communal areas, ‘Agile Working’ and ‘Hot Desks’ are further reducing the amount of personalised space. Having direct control of an element of your environment, like your lighting has been shown to be beneficial to employee wellbeing. Using traditional lighting control technology allowing an individual control of the lighting at one desk would either be impossible or so expensive that it is beyond impractical. However with smart lighting, this level of flexibility could become common place. As the average age of the population increases and people continue to work later in to life. Better lighting control will be come a crucial part of an accessible working environment with out sacrificing energy efficiency.
With Hotels how many times have we been to a hotel to find the lighting is controlled by a baffling array of panels that would be more at home in nuclear reactor control centre? Your Apple watch can already open your hotel room door, it isn’t much more of leap to imagine that it or your phone could control the lighting too. Further personalising your experience by remembering your lighting preferences from previous visits learning form you, or perhaps using the data from your home lighting usage to help offer a more tailored experience. As we learn more about the effect of light on the body, its possible that the lighting in your hotel room could personalise to you, helping you adjust to time zone if you’ve just landed from the other side of the world.
As it is possible from your device to send information to the lighting network, it is also possible for the lighting network to send you information. As buildings get larger and taller they can easily become harder to navigate. A building installed with a smart lighting system has an in built system of coordinates not unlike GPS. It is possible for your phone to communicate with a luminaire using the front facing camera, allowing accurate indoor mapping with far better accuracy than could be achieved through standard means. There are many practical implications for this in everyday life. For example being able to be directed to a meeting room in a large office building, or perhaps a treatment room in a hospital without having to get lost. As the work place becomes increasingly fragmented, being abel to fine the desk location of a co-worker through your phone could become a important tool in an agile environment. The ability to transmit data to your mobile devices is being explored in other applications too, for example a technology know as LiFi. Rather than transmit data through a radio signal like WiFi, the signal is transmitted through the lighting. Unlike Wifi where the device only has to be in range of the signal to get access to a network with LiFi you would have to be in sight of the beams of light to. LiFi is a very young technology but it has promise in many applications including creating more secure data networks, and projects where radio signals are ineffective. The Paris Metro network have recently announced that they will be investigating LiFi as a solution for providing internet to their station network.
Location data my sound scary but it also offers some very useful opportunities. The data could be analysed to help you understand your projects in much greater detail, for example by understanding which of your clients spaces are the most used, why might this be? Could this offer clues to making other spaces more popular averaging out demand. Are there spaces that are not used that could be re-purposed to even out demand from more stretched resources or reduce the floor space that your client needs in their next project.
Of course the technological forces that are driving progression towards smart lighting, will also start to be seen if other areas of building technology. Heating and ventilation is also has enormous potential for a ‘Smart’ upgrade. NEST a US company bought for $3.2 Billion by google that makes smart thermostats for the home claim to see average reductions in heating usage of 10% and cooling usage of 15%. The huge range of sensors that are peppered through a building could be so much more if they were networked in to a single cohesive whole. The Edge building in Amsterdam is currently the leading project for smart integration, your relationship with the building is managed through and app which allows you to control your environment. As an agile building you do not have set desk, and there are a verity of different types of working areas, the app will assign you a work area based on your calendar, and when you arrive there it will remember your preferences for light levels and heating, the building even knows how you like your coffee. So smart lighting will really only be the tip of the smart building iceberg.
The Pandora’s Box of Data has been opened and the Internet has spread from offices to our homes, then pockets and is now creeping into the objects around us. This is what sets apart smart lighting from the lighting that we have been used to; a luminaire not being the sum of its component parts but a point in a connected network. Illumination not just being a layer to the spaces in which we inhabit but woven seamlessly into the fabric of our environment, responding to and learning from our behaviour with minimal user input. As experience with the explosion of social media over the last ten years has shown us, when we make personal data more available amazing things can happen. However there will always be those who seek to do harm to others that will look to abuse that. Whether that might be through cyber attacks, or employers abusing this new level of information. Whilst LED has caused a revolution in all but some very small ways, it has not really changed our relationship with lighting. Smart lighting on the other hand is poised to totally disrupt our relationship not just with our light fittings but our lit environment.