Acuity welcomes competitors into its broad Atrius IoT program

July 6, 2017
In an interview with LEDs Magazine, Acuity VP Greg Carter discusses the wide-ranging uses for Internet-connected lighting, and the myriad technologies that will enable lights to track assets, provide navigation, and such. It's a wide playing field.

In an interview with LEDs Magazine, Acuity VP Greg Carter discusses the wide-ranging uses for Internet-connected lighting, and the myriad technologies that will enable lights to track assets, provide navigation, and such. It's a wide playing field.

It sure sounded good when LED lighting vendor Acuity introduced a smart lighting brand called Atrius in May.

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“Acuity today unveiled its new Atrius brand, encompassing the company’s portfolio of Internet of Things (IoT) business solutions and Atrius software platform,” the company announced at the LightFair International conference and exhibition in Philadelphia. “Through Atrius, Acuity Brands will continue to provide and expand its comprehensive set of IoT business solutions, leveraging intelligent luminaires, lighting and building management controls, software platform services, and solution development tools.”

But what exactly is Atrius? Is it a set of specially-built LED lights? Is it software? Sensors? Is it a systems integration program along the lines of rival Feilo Sylvania's? With Atrius, will Acuity work with other lighting vendors? And how does Atrius differ from Acuity's ongoing pioneering work in the IoT, where it claims to be covering more than 50 million ft2 of retail space with lighting-based indoor-positioning systems (reportedly including trials at Target and Walmart)? In one line from the announcement, Acuity claimed it could upgrade a billion square feet at existing customers to become smart — but how?

For vice president Greg Carter and Acuity, Atrius marks the company's biggest thumbs up yet to IoT lighting.

In this interview with LEDs Magazine, Acuity IoT vice president Greg Carter reveals more about the ambitious new program, which covers a multitude of possible uses for smart lighting and in which, yes, Acuity will potentially work with rivals.

LEDs Magazine: Are you changing the name of your LED lights to "Atrius"?

Greg Carter: No. Atrius is our new brand for all IoT and software services under Acuity Brands. This includes Atrius platform services that software partners can use to develop IoT solutions. Atrius platform services include: Atrius Navigator for indoor-positioning services providing “blue dot,” routing, context-based alerts and other indoor-mapping services for smartphones and tablets; Atrius Spaces for understanding the utilization of indoor spaces — rooms and zones within open space; Atrius Assets, which is in early field trials and due to be launched in October, will provide asset tracking for people and high-value mobile assets using low-cost asset tags; Atrius Insights provides a broad range of analytics about the use of space and the movement of people and assets within spaces.

Also, under the Atrius brand, we are launching a number of Acuity Brands IoT solutions that provide mobile and web-based software applications to address critical business challenges for customer stakeholders well beyond facilities, such as marketing, operations, supply chain, and customer experience. These solutions leverage the APIs and mobile SDKs provided by the Atrius platform services and deliver visualizations and workflows that are relevant to specific vertical business challenges, for example, finding product in a store, improving order picking efficiency in a warehouse, or wayfinding for hospital patients. Luminaires from Acuity Brands and other lighting manufacturer partners can be enabled to become nodes in the Atrius Sensory Network, which feeds data to the Atrius Platform. This is accomplished by embedding Atrius-enabled eldoLED components such as intelligent drivers and Bluetooth radio modules into the luminaires. (Editor’s note: eldoLED was recently recognized as a finalist in the 2017 LEDs Magazine Sapphire Awards program.)

LEDs: Can you explain how a "billion square feet" of existing Acuity space can now be upgraded to benefit from Atrius? Does it require adding sensors? What sort of sensors, and would they reside inside the luminaires or outside? How would their data travel to the software, and via which wired or wireless tech?

Carter: It depends on which Atrius platform services need to consume data from the lighting systems. Atrius Spaces is powered by occupancy sensor data from our nLight and nLight AIR lighting controls. By installing and configuring the nLight ECLYPSE controller (from Acuity Brands) on existing nLight systems, they become nodes in the Atrius Sensory Network. In order to feed services such as Atrius Navigator and Atrius Assets, lights also need to be upgraded to luminaires enabled by Atrius.

Most Atrius data is transferred from lighting and building management systems via wired and wireless control networks and backhauled to the Atrius Platform via nLight ECLYPSE or ECLYPSE Link controllers. Atrius Navigator data is transferred to the Atrius Platform via mobile devices.

LEDs: Is the software new? Related to that: How has Acuity been processing information and analyzing data, if not through Atrius software? Is Atrius "cloud based"? Is it an Acuity technology, or do you private label someone else's?

Carter: Atrius software has been in development for several years, but the platform and platform services were just formally launched at LightFair. The platform uses a combination of software components that have been developed in house, brought to Acuity Brands through acquisitions or developed with partners like Qualcomm, Esri, and Microsoft among others. (Editor’s note: Esri is a Redlands, CA-based mapping, spatial analytics and geographic information systems firm.)

Atrius is a true IoT software platform. It is built to leverage the distributed computing power of many nodes over the large Atrius Sensory Network. So Atrius software runs in the cloud, on servers in data centers, on controllers, and will one day run in fixtures themselves. This allows data to be processed as close to the source as possible to improve performance and reduce network bandwidth requirements.

LEDs: You've suggested that Atrius software will work with other brand luminaires. Is that correct?

Carter: Yes, through two Atrius Partner Programs: Atrius Lighting Partners, in which lighting manufacturers embed our Atrius-enabled eldoLED components (drivers and BLE radio modules) into their luminaires so they can become nodes in the Atrius Sensory Network. And Atrius Software Partners, in which software companies and system integrators gain access to data from the Atrius Sensory Network through the Atrius platform services and use those services to build business relevant software solutions for their customers.

LEDs: Can you identify end users?

Carter: Most of our customers are very sensitive to their business innovation programs — especially in the early stages. They have asked us not to speak publicly about their projects and would rather make those announcements themselves. We are working on a [non-retail] application with a major airport, which is installing an Atrius Sensory Network to provide a range of solutions to improve passenger experience throughout the airport, and also to make the Atrius Services available to their airport tenants such as airlines, restaurants, and stores.

LEDs: Why did the company choose the name "Atrius"?

Carter: For Acuity Brands, Atrius is so much more than the Internet of Things. Just as lighting is at the core for your clients, Atrius, from the word “atrium,” is central to connecting systems, people, and space, transforming lighting into the most scalable technology infrastructure.

LEDs: Does Acuity have any interest in joining the IoT Ready Alliance? If not, why not?

Carter: No comment at this time.

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