IBM addresses smart LED lighting, IoT, and Watson at LPS

Sept. 20, 2016
The IoT combined with platforms such as IBM's Watson will enable manufacturers to transform lighting from a capex item to an opex item for their customers while enabling new applications, according to Mike Bradshaw.

The Internet of Things combined with platforms such as IBM's Watson will enable manufacturers to transform lighting from a capex item to an opex item for their customers while enabling new applications, according to Mike Bradshaw.

The LED Professional Symposium (LPS) kicked off in Bregenz, Austria on Tuesday, and as has been the case with other LED-industry events, smart lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT) took center stage. Mike Bradshaw, IBM sales leader for Watson Internet of Things, was one speaker that shared an IoT vision and the benefits that solid-state lighting (SSL) manufacturers may realize with a solid smart lighting strategy.

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IBM appears to be the latest IT-industry stalwart to identify networked lighting as a prime target as a match for its systems and services. Cisco, for example, has looked at lighting as a key market that will ultimately allow the networking giant to sell more Ethernet switches and possibly services as well. We also just saw Philips announce a partnership with China's networking behemoth Huawei and we will post a news story on that deal shortly.

In IBM's case, the company that arguably founded the IT sector is looking to expand the reach of its supercomputer architecture called Watson and the cloud-networking platform that is implemented around that computational platform. Watson may be best known in the popular press for winning chess matches against masters and defeating former champions on the game show Jeopardy!. But Watson is capable of what IBM's calling the Cognitive IoT.

Also realize that this is not the first time Watson has been mentioned in relation to networked SSL. For example, late last year, IBM and PhotonStar, a UK-based LED-lighting manufacturer, partnered on a smart-lighting installation in the Munich, Germany-area Watson IoT headquarters building. Moreover, that article reported that IBM had committed to spend $3 billion over four years on the IoT division.

At the LPS, Bradshaw cautioned lighting manufacturers to not sit on the sidelines and think that they had no play in the IoT space. As an analogy, he mentioned the taxi cab industry that appeared perfectly healthy only three years ago, only to be usurped by cloud technology and the smartphone. The key technologies for Uber and Lyft had little to do with the automobile. To lighting manufacturers about their industry, he said, "If we don’t disrupt it ourselves, some young startup is going to come do it for us."

Part of the IoT justification across industries is the projection of the number of devices that will be connected to the Internet. Bradshaw said it is a moving target but some latest estimates peg it at 29 billion connected devices by 2020, up from 13 billion today. And the key to the Cognitive IoT in IBM's vision is the proliferation of sensors that allow gathering of massive amounts of data. Current, powered by GE has expressed a similar vision and targets its Predix analytics platform at such applications while acquiring companies and establishing partnerships.

Bradshaw explained the emphasis on data gathering, saying, "People don’t know what they don't know." The implication was gather the data and figure out how to make valuable use of it after the fact in new applications and services. Indeed, Bradshaw said supporting such data gathering and new applications will enable lighting manufacturers to convert their offerings from a capital expense (capex) to an operations expense (opex) enabling the end customer to pay as they use the service.

Where IBM is attempting to differentiate its play, however, is in the moniker “cognitive” that it uses to modify IoT. Bradshaw said a Cognitive IoT system is not programmed but rather learns from every interaction and the context surrounding the interaction. In the simplest case, context may just mean day versus night, outside weather, or who is in a building in addition to whether something like a light is on or off. He even said you can impact the perception of temperature, as in Fahrenheit or Celsius and not CCT, by changing the lighting.

Bradshaw gave one other interesting example of needing more sensors — say, beyond a simple occupancy sensor in a space. He said occupancy sensors tend to work fairly well when someone enters a space but may later turn off the lighting as a person sits still and works. But a cognitive system that was also connected to a CO2 sensor in the space would always know that a person is still present.

IBM has selected six specific areas in which their IoT offering could add value, especially in the context of smart lighting. Energy & Costs and Consciousness are easy to understand. And several others will ring true for anyone following the smart lighting movement. They include Health & Wellbeing, Safety & Security, Entertainment, and Convenience.