Leading lights


Smart lighting is on the rise, but its real value is not just in efficient illumination

Written by: Alf Helge Omre, Business Development Manager for Lighting and Indoor Positioning, Nordic Semiconductor

The ability to dim a light or change its color from your smartphone might be clever, but it isn’t what makes smart lighting smart. Admittedly it is this sort of lighting control functionality — along with the energy efficiency credentials of LED technology — that has formed the centerpiece of the industry’s consumer marketing spend over the past decade, and in turn contributed significantly to the sector’s unprecedented growth spurt. A market worth $4.6 billion back in 2017, is forecast to reach $13 billion next year, and $21 billion by 2023 according to analyst Markets and Markets, but wireless lighting control doesn’t make lighting truly smart. 

This is not to downplay its value. According to the Bluetooth SIG’s Lighting as a Platform report, smart lighting controls can deliver as much as a 50 percent saving in lighting energy costs, but the additional services enabled by smart lighting could be ten times more valuable than even the energy savings. In other words, lighting control barely scratches the surface of smart lighting’s ambition, which already extends well beyond the lights themselves to a place as a fundamental pillar of the IoT – “Lighting as a Platform” (LaaP).

Sensory network
Lighting in smart buildings and smart cities of the future has the capability to do what the central nervous system does for the human body, using “nerves” and a “spine” to integrate sensory information across a network, managing the data and directing when action is necessary for optimal operation. Lighting is uniquely positioned to do so, because every room in every building requires the infrastructure, as indeed does every street and intersection in our cities. Lighting is everywhere, and as such can act as a platform for functionality extending far beyond illumination. 

It’s not there yet. Mesh networking is key, but mesh networks that can scale and support the nodes and throughput necessary for all the sensor data required for a smart-building or -city aren’t quite mature, but they are on their way, and significant progress is already being made - underpinning LaaP.

As the previous generation of “dumb” LED fixtures are replaced with Bluetooth LE, Thread or Zigbee wirelessly connected luminaires, so too are developers increasingly embedding a wide array of additional sensors in the fixtures that establishes a foundation for a host of other data-driven applications. Asset tracking and protection, direction finding, security, space optimization, marketing, as well as occupant productivity and wellbeing, will all be powered by the lights above our head.

For example, as the Bluetooth SIG report details, commercial real estate services firm CBRE Group Inc has upgraded its Amsterdam offices with 400 Bluetooth-controlled ceiling luminaires that help the firm cut energy costs and optimize the work environment for staff. The integration of occupancy sensors not only provide the opportunity to save on heating/cooling costs by feeding the occupancy data into a building management system to adjust the HVAC system based on ‘real time’ space usage, it also helps maximize the use of available office space. Office space is expensive, very expensive, and if lighting-based sensors can confirm you have too many meeting rooms, offices, or need less space as a whole then it’s a shrewd investment, particularly given up to 50 percent of real estate goes underutilized across the average firm, according to the Bluetooth SIG report. Smart lighting could also help determine how that space is serviced. For example, cleaning can be scheduled based on occupancy and usage data. Why clean an office that hasn’t been occupied?

Meanwhile, forward-thinking retailers are not only switching out their traditional overhead lighting for LEDs to save on their power bill, but through the installation of Bluetooth LE beacons in the fixtures are at the same time improving the shopper experience, or to put it in raw commercial terms, boosting sales. According to the Bluetooth SIG report, more than 90 percent of customers will open a promotional message broadcast to their smartphone while shopping, and with the advent of technology such as Bluetooth 5.1 Direction Finding, lighting fixtures can theoretically steer a willing buyer to a new pair of shoes with a similar degree of precision a Landing Signal Officer can guide a supersonic fighter jet on to the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Alternatively, want to know what area of your shop generates the most foot traffic? No problem, from sensor data you can generate heatmaps that tell you exactly that, so you can in turn place high value or high turnover items where they will be best seen.

Priceless data
Conserving energy, real estate, and increasing retail sales might be valuable, but smart lighting can also be priceless. Museums all over the world are already using advanced lighting controls to deliver point of interest information and wayfinding services that enhance the visitor experience, but what about the artworks themselves? The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, home to the world’s largest collection of works by Dutch post-impressionist master Vincent van Gogh, recently replaced its lighting with Bluetooth LE- and sensor-enabled LED modules that can now also monitor illuminance, temperature and humidity. For us humans, monitoring temperature, humidity and air quality, and adjusting conditions accordingly allows facility management to ensure a building is a comfortable place for us to be. For a 140-year-old priceless artwork, it’s no different. The Van Gogh Museum upgrade is helping preserve some of the finest artworks in the world, not only for the 2.3 million people who visit the museum every year, but for future generations as well. Now that is really smart lighting.

Smart lighting’s ubiquity will see it as a fundamental cornerstone of the IoT in smart buildings and smart cities of the future