What’s happening with Osram’s Lightelligence?

May 5, 2020
It’s all gone muted with the centerpiece of the company’s IoT lighting push. The executive who was leading it quietly left a while ago.

The lighting industry’s protracted effort to transform itself into a provider of Internet infrastructure and data collection has long felt like trial-and-error. With that in mind, one must wonder what the level of commitment is these days at Osram to the faded centerpiece of its smart lighting initiative, Lightelligence.

First, a simple recap: By establishing long-lasting LEDs as mainstream illumination sources, the industry wiped its century-old business model of selling lamps, luminaires and replacements. For the last seven years or so, it has scrambled for a profitable revenue stream. It pins hope on Internet of Things (IoT) lighting in which lights and luminaires include or connect to sensors and radio chips that connect to the Internet and can send off data for cloud analysis. Huge value ensues. For example, commercial building managers can use smart lighting not only to improve lighting control, but also to gain key insights into how to better operate their properties.

That’s the thinking. Smart lighting underpins smart buildings, smart cities, smart everything. LEDs Magazine traces the history of IoT lighting initiatives to at least 2013 (when GE Lighting was building up an indoor positioning program) and probably earlier.

Whenever it started, the odyssey has been, as odysseys tend to be, a struggle. Check out our “long and winding road” summation back in 2017, when IoT lighting was already a good four years old and still spinning its wheels. In 2018, we described the would-be transformation as “what some people might consider the oddest metamorphosis since Gregor Samsa awoke one morning and found he had become a cockroach,” a reference to the Franz Kafka character who, as we also noted, didn’t fare well at all in his shapeshifting. A year ago, we noted that the industry was running into stiff competition from, what do you know, the IT industry, with which it is also trying to cooperate.

It is no surprise then that lighting companies from the biggest to the smallest have along the way chopped and changed their approach.

At industry number-two Osram, a fairly major alteration seems to have taken place with Lightelligence, the would-be overarching luminaire-to-cloud data analytics “ecosystem” that the Munich company launched with fanfare in March 2018 at the Light + Building exhibition in Frankfurt.

In a press release at the time featuring chief technology officer Stefan Kampmann and head of Innovation Thorsten Mueller, Osram heralded Lightelligence as “the IoT platform for light management and beyond.” Mueller himself noted how the lighting-based IoT set of products and services would provide powerful development tools supporting a wide range of applications and uses, and provide “an enormous increase in efficiency in IoT development.” Osram positioned it for use across different levels, including by developers who would write software for it. Lightelligence ties into Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, and Osram pointed out that it could thus deliver Azure’s “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS) capability.

Those were big words and big hopes over two years ago, but things have gone a bit quiet with Lightelligence lately.

Search the press release archive on Osram’s website for “Lightelligence,” and the last reference to come up is over a year ago on March 29, 2019, when Osram made a passing reference to it in an announcement about new entertainment lighting. In fairness, online searches can deliver incomplete results, but we can think of only one more recent Osram reference to Lightelligence and that was a year ago, when on we reported on May 15, 2019 that Austin, TX-based Facility Solutions Group and Osram jointly announced a partnership in which FSG offered Osram luminaires, controls, and sensors that collect data and could send it to the Lightelligence cloud.

Boss slips out the door

If the paucity of press releases isn’t curious enough, consider this: Lightelligence overseer Mueller left Osram last August, according to his LinkedIn page. (The same page indicates that since October he has been head of Global Product Group Building and Home Automation Solutions at Swiss engineering and automation outfit ABB, the same company that former GE Current CEO Maryrose Sylvester joined, suggesting that perhaps IoT lighting is the realm of engineering and IT types, rather than of lighting).

Osram never announced his departure as far as LEDs Magazine can tell. Nor has Osram made clear whether it has named a replacement, or whether the Innovation department still exists — the tea leaves hint that it does not.

Mueller’s Innovation group was always a research and development unit without profit and loss (P&L) responsibility. In a notable non-development, Osram did tell us back in March that Lightelligence has not yet moved into an actual P&L business unit, which after more than two years since launch suggests a lack of motion for Lightelligence. The logical P&L landing spot would be the company’s Digital segment.

We have been asking Osram on and off since November about Lightelligence’s fate, not only because we detected a sidelining, but also because new Osram owner ams has been giving mixed signals about whether it will keep IoT lighting once it completes the acquisition, which awaits regulatory approval.

Change gonna come

Each time we’ve asked, Osram has replied that changes are indeed coming with Lightelligence, and that it hopes to be able to tell us more soon. One possibility is that the company will say more about Lightelligence and other organizational and staffing matters this Thursday, May 7, when it plans to announce its fiscal second-quarter financial results.

“At the moment we are working on the integration of our former central innovations department (which Lightelligence was part of) into the business units,” a spokesperson told us on Mar. 11, the last time the company directly answered us about Lightelligence. “It will be a part of the Digital business unit and we hope we can share more details with you in the upcoming weeks.”

In the meantime, Osram has avoided any reference to Lightelligence in anything it has announced about smart lighting recently, or for more than a year, it seems.

For example, Lightelligence did not come up in Osram’s vague announcement about its HubSense installation in Denmark last week. HubSense is a Bluetooth-based controls and commissioning system that brings more Bluetooth technology into the Osram IoT fold, which has had a strong Zigbee orientation under the Lightelligence banner, and even before Lightelligence.

Bluetooth and Zigbee are rival wireless technologies. Perhaps when Osram finally does say more about changes at Lightelligence, it will also address the balance between these and other technologies.

The last time Osram mentioned Lightelligence other than in passing was in December 2018. On that occasion, it announced that it had “refined” Lightelligence since the March 2018 launch by collaborating with partners and with “pilot customers.” It said at the time that Lightelligence “is now available for all users” and lauded the system as “an opportunity to rethink the use of the IoT in light and building applications.”

The pilots included German supermarket company Edeka, which had implemented Lightelligence at a 43,000-ft2 Berlin store using powerline communications (PLC) technology, in which both data and electricity travels over standard electrical wires. The Edeka installation was notable not just for the ambitious Lightelligence intentions — it included navigation services, customer flow and conversion analysis, climate monitoring, machine learning, and other features — but also because of the unusual choice of PLC.

LEDs on several occasions asked Osram to provide us with a follow-up account of the Edeka deployment, but none was forthcoming.

Nor, as noted, has Osram been gathering hordes of big Lightelligence users. Unless they have been keeping it all under the radar.

Of course, the global economy’s slowdown amid the coronavirus pandemic has intervened the last couple of months, with Osram not escaping its consequences. (Signify is taking the opportunity of the big pause to try to spread IoT lighting awareness).

Whether Lightelligence is in or out, and in what shape or fashion, remains a big question for Osram observers for IoT lighting. Perhaps we will find out more on Thursday.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.