This past summer, LEDs Magazine held its first virtual Sapphire Awards recognition ceremony. Due to complications of venue and travel restrictions, the usual Awards Gala could not be co-located with an in-person Strategies in Light conference and exhibition. So the team took to the digital world and revealed the 2021 Sapphire Awards honorees across a swath of technology and applications categories, as well as naming the coveted Illumineer of the Year, in an online presentation on Aug. 24, 2021.
As in years past, the LEDs Magazine team faced a number of compelling developments and innovators to consider for the Illumineer honors. In the end, the timeliness, safety-minded software and controls, and germicidal ultraviolet (GUV) capabilities behind the Nexos Intelligent Disinfection system managed to grab both the UV LEDs and Systems category recognition and Illumineer honors for Igor CEO Dwight Stewart, who headed a product development team including Andrew Pospisal, Jaryd Sunstrom, Rod Buttermore, David Hoxeng, Chris Jenson, Collin Bakkie, and Kim Johnson. What Igor called a “turnkey rapid deployment kit” in its Sapphire Awards submission provides a connected system of sensors, detectors, software, UV-C-equipped luminaires, and visual operation-warning illumination to enable rapid deployment and secure operation of GUV in indoor spaces.
Former chief editor Maury Wright recently interviewed Stewart to get a sense of the Nexos product development cycle; how Igor plans to leverage its Power over Ethernet (PoE) expertise in support of low-voltage building networks; and just what is behind that company name.
LEDs Magazine: Hi, Dwight. It will soon be a full decade since you founded Igor. What was your original mission in starting the company? You clearly had some background in Internet of Things (IoT) concepts, but were you focused from the start on a specific application vision?
Dwight Stewart: I started Igor to solve a problem that I had in my past company, which was a building automation platform that took data from building controls, existing building controls, and would gamify that data to encourage behavioral change to reduce energy consumption within a building. We were successful, but a lot of times the data from these building control systems was bad, and even if we had data that was actionable, it was too hard to do anything besides behavioral change.
At my last company, sometimes our data showed that two different things were happening — let’s say, heating and cooling at the same time — which seems obviously wrong. But a lot of times, the cost was too high to make those changes in the building control system to ensure it provided an accurate data feed. We needed building controls that were easier to change in order to get data that was good and actionable.
I created Igor to make it simple to cut through all the way to the end device and get the end device onto the network, skipping the large systems that are difficult to maintain, correct, and manage. That allows for good data to quickly get to where it needs to go, because you have connected those end devices digitally.
The first application was lighting because it’s ubiquitous, so I saw this opportunity to create this IoT platform and infrastructure within buildings. Now that you have connected lighting, let’s say, every 10 square feet, you can add on from there. Imagine now having USB connections and other connections where, if you ever wanted to add a new sensor to monitor something else, it’s just a matter of going to the place you want it, finding a nearby light, and connecting that sensor. The device now becomes digitally connected and in the network, and you’re good to go.
LEDs: I came to know Igor as a proponent of Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology for connected lighting. Was PoE always a focus, or did it simply emerge as what you saw as a convenient path toward connected lighting and smart buildings?
DS: It was always the focus. I was approached by Cisco with this idea of using Power over Ethernet for lighting and for the Internet of Things, and I love the idea and pursued it. It is such a natural way to have multiple different kinds of devices sharing the same infrastructure and the same PoE cable, which doesn’t have to be proprietary to any protocol. You can have multiple things running on the same line, which allows for streamlining infrastructure, security, and consolidation.
LEDs: Going forward, how dedicated will Igor be to PoE technology? Have you or will you support other connectivity options?
DS: We see Power over Ethernet as the best backbone technology for cybersecurity, power, and connectivity, and for being device agnostic. But the last mile could be wireless. It could connect with all kinds of different non-IP [Internet Protocol] devices using different protocols. We do that today.
LEDs: Igor’s recognition as a Sapphire winner and your selection as Illumineer of the Year were related to GUV technology, prompted in part by the global pandemic. Tell me a little about how you became involved with UV technology. Had you contemplated a product offering in the UV space before the pandemic?
DS: Not really — this was in direct response to the pandemic. There had been some conversations about disinfectant solutions that we never really took time to consider, in the context of flu outbreaks in nursing homes or for special healthcare use cases. But with the pandemic, there were many immediate issues and we saw this one as something on which we could act quickly to help provide a potential solution to the industry.
LEDs: We at the magazine saw a lot of what I might call “half-baked” concepts for UV-C disinfection products over the course of the pandemic. Many appeared downright dangerous. What impressed our staff, and I think the Sapphire judges, was the attention to safety detail behind the Igor offering. How did the safety aspects of your technology evolve?
DS: We saw that, too, and we were not okay with that. We have always put safety front and center in our solutions. We won two separate Sapphire Awards in past years for our UL 924 emergency lighting drivers for PoE (see 2019 and 2020). For us, to put safety at the forefront of our technology is built into our DNA as a company.
UV-C can be dangerous if not deployed properly, and that is exactly the problem we want to solve. Our specialty is software controls and development, so we asked ourselves this: Could we create a solution that would make high-quality UV-C fixtures safer, easier to deploy, manageable, and useful? We spent a great deal of time researching and understanding the technology and how the application needs to be created so that it is safe. We consulted scientists, safety organizations, pushed our fixture partner for testing, and started with pilot situations to test real-life scenarios. For us, safety is just part of our DNA as a company. What came from this development process was a multi-layer evolution in safety elements. UV-C light can’t be deployed until all safety checks are done. [The system] must confirm that the door is shut, no motion is detected, no person is sensed, that the room isn’t booked, and only after completing its checks can it run. There is a purple light that goes on as well which is a visible indicator of UV-C action — this cannot be separated from the UV-C light. The moment the door opens, a person is sensed, or other trigger occurs, the light stops and cannot be started again without going through its safety checks.
LEDs: Clearly Igor had been working in the area of building and lighting controls prior to COVID-19. Still, your Nexos system appeared like a clean-sheet UV-C-centric design and not some simple add-on technology to your existing portfolio. What forces drove and directed your development?
DS: This is what I think is so cool about the development of Nexos. We have designed Nexos to act like the foundation for a set of Lego pieces. When there is a new use case, we can take some pieces we have, create some new pieces, and build a unique solution to address that use case. In this case, we were able to take many of the pieces required for the intelligent disinfectant solution and brought them together to create this new solution. We had motion sensors, door sensors, wall controls, and lighting already built — so now we had to rewrite the logic to ensure it had the safety factors. There were some new items to develop, but by having that base, we were able to deploy it and commercialize it so rapidly.
LEDs: Getting back to the connected lighting and smart buildings space in general, we continuously hear industry players lamenting that the uptake in connectivity lags expectations. Yet I would argue that the added energy efficiency alone delivers return on investment (ROI). What is your view on connectivity adoption in buildings, and how is Igor doing given that connectivity underlies your existence?
DS: Lighting controls alone can deliver efficiency and ROI. The advantage of connected lighting is leveraging that infrastructure from many applications beyond lighting. We deploy things like indoor air quality, indoor positioning, space utilization, access control, and more. By doing these different applications on the same infrastructure, you see significant diminishing costs.
We are seeing accelerating connectivity adoption because we are now delivering business outcomes, not just building efficiency outcomes. And that is giving companies the ability to deliver their own business in a more automated way and a more effective way. It differentiates them as a business and that has become significant drivers to our acceleration.
LEDs: Are enhanced energy savings enough to drive adoption of connectivity in buildings or will it require additional IoT applications?
DS: I think so. Connected technology today, even just by combining LEDs with traditional lighting controls, can create such a strong ROI story that it’s a no-brainer. Not only by going to PoE can you connect your building systems and remove the inefficiencies around AC/DC conversions, but you can also make everything work together so your building feels and operates like one connected being.
But to go from a connected lighting system to a truly connected building takes a broader understanding of energy. This is where the rise in the conversation around DC micro or nano grids is incredibly important. With an increase in extreme weather and energy insecurities globally, you can use this technology to run an entire building off a local, sustainable energy source like solar and provide superior experiences to occupants inside the building. In fact, we will be a core technology in enabling the first net-zero hotel in the world. Sustainability is going to drive more connectivity and more low-voltage technology in our built environment.
LEDs: Where in the overall scheme of things will PoE fall in options for connectivity?
DS: With PoE being a universal standard, you can use it for anything — which makes it the perfect infrastructure so that you don’t have to have separate proprietary infrastructures for every little application. You can just standardize and make your life easier. You can use standard cybersecurity tools to secure it. You can use standard labor to install it. You can consolidate so many different sensors, applications, power, and data onto one cabling infrastructure — it is a huge benefit and the reason PoE is going to be a leader in the options for commercial-scale connectivity.
LEDs: And how do you view connected lighting in the smart buildings landscape? Different building systems seem to have been in silos to some extent. But that situation seems to be evolving. We recently published an article that laid the claim that everything should ultimately be BACnet based. How do you see the future of smart buildings?
DS: I think BACnet can handle quite a few use cases for data transport, but there are other use cases, whether it’s video feed, serial data, Bluetooth data streams, or other types of high-velocity data where BACnet would not make sense.
It doesn’t seem as though there is any particular protocol that can handle all data and controls situations. That is the reason why so many different protocols exist in the world — because there are these different use cases where no one protocol does everything. So, with Power over Ethernet and the right software, you can support multiple protocols simultaneously over the same cable. That is by consolidating your physical infrastructure and choosing a physical infrastructure that can support multiple protocols simultaneously over the same physical hardware.
It is the key because I believe there will never be one single protocol.
LEDs: I feel I should know the answer to this question, but if I have heard the answer I can’t recall. How did you choose the name Igor?
DS: I see this world as a whole bunch of objects that need to be digitally connected so that we can do interesting things with them, and that’s like Frankenstein bringing something to life. We are bringing devices and things digitally to life.
LEDs: Congratulations on winning our Sapphire Illumineer of the Year award. It was well deserved. I hope you and your team appreciate the honor. You join a very distinguished list. What did the recognition mean to Igor?
DS: So much! We highly value this recognition from LEDs Magazine, such a respected leader in the industry. We are humbled and appreciative. We are constantly striving to do things that are worthy of reward and recognition, so this means a lot. My whole team at Igor and I thank you!