Aurora will commercialize data from smart lighting by early next year

May 10, 2017
The LED lighting specialist reveals more about its forthcoming AXiO line of IoT luminaires and services.

The LED lighting specialist reveals more about its forthcoming AXiO line of IoT luminaires and services.

Aurora Group has fleshed out details of its recently disclosed line of smart LED luminaires, telling LEDs Magazine that it plans to soon launch pilot implementations and to fully commercialize by early next year when it hopes to start monetizing the data that the product gathers and analyzes via communications chips, sensors, and cloud computing connections.

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The company will focus its new AXiO brand initially on the retail trade, where stores can use chips and sensors embedded in the lights to track customers around the aisles. Retailers could then send discounts and information such as navigational assistance to onsite shoppers' phones. They could also use the information to help decide on floor layouts and promotions, to gain insights into sales trends, and for other purposes, all on the cusp of the industry's nascent Internet of Things (IoT) movement.

AXiO also includes chips that help monitor and control the performance of individual lights. Aurora is designing it so users can control it wirelessly.

Welwyn Garden City, England-based Aurora first previewed early production versions and prototypes of different AXiO models at the EuroShop retail industry fair in Dusseldorf in March. At the time, it told LEDs that it would offer AXiO as a “hardware and software platform.” It also said that customers would be able to purchase AXiO either as part of a lighting service or on a more conventional product basis.

“Disruption can take a while,” said Neil Salt of Aurora, which hopes to start monetizing data collected via smart lighting products and services in early 2018. (Photo credit: Mark Halper.)

Although Dusseldorf inched Aurora closer to the brave new world of smart lighting that the company has been talking up for a few years, it was not a formal product introduction. It lacked certain details such as specifications and marketing schedules.

But a firmer plan is now taking shape, as Aurora managing director of IoT Neil Salt revealed to LEDs in a recent phone interview.

“This year is about specification, it's about us piloting, and getting into pilot environments,” Salt said. “We'll start that around Q3. And then in Q4 we will start to expand that commercial deployment maybe a little bit larger. And then the intention is to sort of start turning on some of the software services in earnest in Q1 next year.”

Salt declined to name which retailers will pilot AXiO.

“We can specify, put it in the store, activate all the lights, get them on, start testing it, and we anticipate sort of charging people for some of the value of the data that we're then getting out starting in Q1,” he said.

The AXiO line will include luminaires in linear, spot, and accent formats, all embedded with chips from Gooee, a smart lighting specialist founded by Aurora founder Andrew Johnson, who serves as CEO of both companies. Functions will include Bluetooth beacons that can ping smartphones, “heat mapping” sensors that note how people are moving around the store, and sensors that record the performance of light sources. Aurora ties AXiO into an Amazon cloud computing system to help analyze data, which in turn can help retailers figure out how better to use space and when to run certain promotions. (“AXiO” stands loosely for Aurora multiplying value through intelligence output).

The company will soon start producing finished versions of the linear model and then of a spot model. It will manufacture the goods in Swindon, England.

“Our intention is to have product that we can sell in a smart-ready fashion,” Salt said. “That means we would not activate all of the smart functions immediately, but we would start to bring that into the marketplace in Q3/Q4 this year. So we could start to specify now for installations by the end of the year. We would include the smart now, or not, depending on what the customer's requirements and we would be able to start turning on certain feature sets beginning sort of Q1 next year. So that would include things like wireless control, it would include space optimization, it would include beacons and human engagement.

“We intend to offer those things as subscription model, where someone would pay per month for certain information or value that they're getting out. It's a bit like if you buy an HD-ready TV, for the promise of certain content coming, a customer could specify a Gooee-ready fitting for the promise of the features being turned on within three or four months.”

The service options could include lighting that flashes or changes color or brightness in order to highlight a particular in-store item when the smart system spots a nearby individual known to be interested in that item. Such systems could rely on opt-in apps, which tie the user to a store's loyalty scheme.

The same dynamic lighting might also enhance the color of a branded item, opening up possible revenue streams to retailers who would promote certain products. For instance, it might make a red Coke can look more red.

Sensors could also adjust lighting levels, dialing up different ambiences to suit different situations and occasions. For instance, the smart lighting could emit warmer color temperatures on a cold day, or colder temperatures on a hot, sunny day.

“You could have dynamic lighting that could accentuate a brand's value or provide attraction, distraction, or improve the environment,” Salt noted.

It all sounds as promising if not more so than it has sounded for a few years now. But for all the talk about the fledgling era of smart lighting — count LEDs Magazine among the chatterers — anyone who follows the industry can't help but notice the lack, so far, of mass adoption. Trials and one-offs have recently started to pick up pace, such as with Philips Lighting's deployment of an indoor-navigation system at the four-floor Media Markt computer and electronics retail store in Eindhoven, the Netherlands; with separate and similar trials by Philips and Zumtobel in Germany and in France; and with an Osram deployment across 23 locations of a fashion chain in Switzerland.

“Yes, the gestation period has perhaps been longer for people who heard rumors about it earlier,” acknowledged Salt, who nevertheless said that relative to past disruptive technologies and the significant impact that smart lighting will have across many industries, “I think it's been short.”

Many factors are delaying true liftoff. Part of the problem is that some vendors, such as Aurora, have yet to finalize their finished smart lighting systems. At one point, Aurora was expected to ship by 2016. One thing that has held back Aurora is the failure, so far, of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group to ratify a Bluetooth standard for mesh schemes, on which Gooee relies.

Salt also noted that Gooee — which developed the technology that underpins AXiO and forthcoming lines from other vendors including Feilo Sylvania — has had to work long and hard to produce what he describes as “pure innovation” in the way sensors, Bluetooth chips, information gateways and software work together. On top of that is the time it has taken to work out viable business models and secure patents.

“Disruption can take a while,” said Salt. “From an Aurora and Gooee perspective, 2016 was about proving the technology, 2017 is about deploying that in controlled environments, and 2018 is about the mass rollout.”

Sounds like a plan. Seeing will be believing.

NOTE: The success of IoT lighting hinges on unsettled factors such as technology choices and industry dynamics. Watch for LEDs' upcoming report on Salt's plentiful insights in these areas.

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

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.