Picture the future of SSL within the mirror world (MAGAZINE)

Feb. 25, 2020
The convergence of digital lighting technologies and cutting-edge computing, steeped in machine learning, will advance the design and control of LED-based systems, predicts Signify’s ROBERT LEE.

A new decade is upon us again. Besides setting high aspirations and preparing to tackle new challenges, you may be wondering what the future of lighting might look like in 10 years. With such dazzling transformation and digitalization that we are witnessing in the lighting industry now, how could anyone predict what the industry might look like in the next 5 years, let alone 10? If you pay attention to some of the key technology advances that are already taking place outside of the lighting industry, the answer is pretty evident. These advances will further transform the solid-state lighting (SSL) industry within the next decade.

Primarily, there are three disruptive technologies that will shape our future: machine learning, augmented reality (AR), and all-digital lighting infrastructure.

Machine learning, or artificial intelligence (AI), uses advanced algorithms and computation power to crunch massive amounts of data. Through this iterative computation process, the “machine” can derive useful insights or actionable intelligence from the data. Real-world applications of machine learning include the mobile game Pokémon Go and autonomous vehicles, to name a few.

For AR, many of us also probably got our first taste in 2016 when Pokémon Go took the gaming industry by storm. While the concept of AR has been made accessible through gaming, there are more practical applications to come for the SSL industry.

Finally, an all-digital lighting infrastructure is arguably the most important building block for the future. It will be the foundation that will fully realize the potential of machine learning and AR for lighting. By all-digital, I do mean every component of the lighting system, including the light source (e.g. LED), sensors, LED drivers, and of course controls.

So looking toward 2030 with these concepts in mind, what do I think the SSL industry will look like? The answer lies in a future state called the “mirror world.” A mirror world is a digital replica of the physical world that we occupy today. The term was first coined by the Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter in 1991.

In the mirror world, digital information is seamlessly integrated into the physical world, and with the use of devices, we could easily access that information
where and when we want it, through an immersive experience. This digital construct of the physical world will become the new platform that drives innovation.

For the lighting industry, potential use cases in the mirror world will transform the current mode of operation. For example, in initial lighting system design, a lighting designer, together with the client, could visualize how various lighting options would look at the job site using AR. A smartphone, a tablet, a pair of smart glasses — or even a pair of smart contact lenses — could allow us to enter the mirror world. Imagine the richness of user experience, and the unprecedented level of engagement, not to mention the design flexibility, that you could achieve by walking around the mirror world to preview how the new lighting system would look and behave.

Field maintenance could also be transformed by the convergence of data, AR, and machine learning. The data collected by an all-digital lighting infrastructure is essential for diagnostics and root-cause analysis. Advanced LED drivers with open-standard interfaces can be a part of the solution. Advanced analytics and machine learning could speed up the detection of an early “infant mortality” failure as well as provide recommendations to minimize premature wear-out failure. When technicians or facility managers step onto the job site, through the mirror world they could walk up to fixtures that need attention, access the unique identification and diagnostic information associated with the fixture, and correctly address the issue the first time and every time.

With the rapid technological advancement in machine learning, AR, and LED lighting systems, digitalization of our physical world is inevitable. Within this decade, the mirror world will start to take shape and its impact will be felt by everyone in the SSL industry. Every LED lighting retrofit, and every new installation, presents a golden opportunity to lay down the foundation for a future-proof, all-digital lighting system. If the average lifespan of an LED system is 10 years, and the incremental cost of an all-digital system is very modest, doesn’t it behoove us to go for an all-digital lighting system for every opportunity that we have today?

Editor’s note: This column was edited from an original Signify blog posting and reused with permission.

Get to know our expert

ROBERT E. LEE leads the product marketing and strategic planning of Signify’s (formerly Philips Lighting) connected LED electronics portfolio for the North America Commercial & Industrial market segment. He brings over twenty years of experience in telecommunication technologies, IoT, and data analytics. He received his M.B.A. degree from Northwestern University, a master’s degree from Cornell University, and a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.