The IoT takes center stage at LuxLive (MAGAZINE)

Feb. 14, 2018
The annual London LuxLive exhibition and conference focused squarely on lighting's future as a data and information technology play. LEDs' contributing editor Mark Halper was paying attention.

The annual London exhibition and conference focused squarely on lighting's future as a data and information technology play. LEDs' contributing editor MARK HALPER was paying attention.

Every year, the LuxLive exhibition and conference in London brings together the lighting industry's movers, shakers, and up-and-comers to focus on the future. And every year, the Internet of Things (IoT) gains more prominence.

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The November 2017 installment was no exception. The IoT literally took center stage, as the IoT Arena provided the focal point and main discussion forum of the sprawling show floor. Speaker after speaker took the podium and extolled the virtues of tying LED lights and luminaires into the Internet to help not only improve the operation and control of lighting, but to also gather data and thereby improve the operation of businesses, homes, roadways, public spaces, and facilities.

Seeing is believing: "For generations, lighting's been this thing that helps us see," said Gooee managing director Neil Salt in his opening presentation at LuxLive's IoT Arena. "Today, Gooee's providing the ability for lighting to see." Photo credit: All photos, Mark Halper.

Think security: Ken Munro, founder of IT security firm Pen Test Partners, warned that many building management systems are based on old protocols that worked securely in the closed days but that are easy to hack when connected to the Internet. He admonished IoT vendors who don't take proper measures to protect access. "The problem is, the rush to market to get first mover is really compelling," which leads to security oversights, he noted. "Things will get worse before they better." Munro is calling for legislation to ensure a well-protected IoT.

The premise is simple. As LEDs Magazine has written many times: Equip lights and the lighting infrastructure with sensors and communication chips, and suddenly lights move far beyond their traditional role of illumination as they morph into intelligent information networks that collect data and send it off to places for analysis in the cloud or elsewhere, providing valuable insights on sales, traffic, office use, and much more.

One thing remained the same as in recent years at LuxLive: Most of the testimonials continued to come from vendors, as opposed to end users.

But show organizers at Lux - a sister outfit to LEDs - did a fine job in bringing together the best and the brightest in the vendor community, and we expect that next year they might even land a few more end users, who at this stage prefer to stay closed-mouth for a variety of reasons, competitive advantage being one of them.

As is often the case, no one spoke more enthusiastically and articulately about lighting and the IoT than Gooee, the young IoT lighting company that provides electronics, networking, and computing to turn luminaires into smart devices. Gooee managing director Neil Salt kicked off the action, announcing several new advances at his company while also framing the importance of lighting to the future of the IoT, and vice versa.

Designs on IoT: Lighting designer Yatish Narsi goes by the title of "chief experience officer" at South African branding and design agency Grid, and before that, Design Partnership. He is a strong proponent of integrating smart lighting into lighting design, having helped deploy an ambient and intelligent data-linked system at South Africa's ABSA Bank using Gooee technology, for instance.

It's alive: Steven L'Heureux, CEO of Iowa-based PoE lighting company Igor, explained that founder Dwight Stewart named the company after the Marty Feldman character in the comical film Young Frankenstein, a movie known for the quote "It's alive," among others. PoE has fallen somewhat out of the headlines with the emergence of wireless lighting technologies such as Bluetooth, but L'Heureux said it's very much alive. It is considered more economical in new builds than in retrofits.

"For generations, lighting's been this thing that helps us see," said Gooee managing director Neil Salt, who spoke primarily from a Gooee perspective, but whose outlook summed up the new IT-oriented ethos that is driving the industry. "Today, Gooee's providing the ability for lighting to see. For lighting to gather data. To communicate. And to discover what's going on within the built environment, and help understand how we work and live within the spaces that we exist in.

"Gooee's vision is to be this data brain of building activity, using lighting as a host within the building, capturing the four key dimensions of building activity, which are people, products, place, and time."

Salt likened data-centric lighting infrastructure to " but for building activity data," and noted that third-party software companies will develop programs to leverage it.

"So this data brain drives software applications based around three core propositions: light and energy analytics; space and occupancy analytics; and lighting control," he said. "So retailers will be able to see information about what's going on in their store both historically and in real time. They'll be able to communicate with customers and generate brand value by using the beacons within the lights to generate sales; office managers will be able to use beacons and space optimization to provide more wellbeing and comfort to people within their buildings."

Don't forget the energy savings: Stefan Bernards, proposition manager for Dutch controls company Nedap, told the crowd that in these early days of IoT lighting, the number one benefit is to enhance LEDs' already-significant energy saving benefit, through smarter controls of on/off and brightness. "The killer app in IoT is still energy savings," Bernards said. "Although everyone is talking about big data and all the fancy apps, all the new technology is financed out of energy savings to begin with." Nedap offers a proprietary technology called Luxon, and is prepared to adopt other technologies such as Bluetooth as they pick up momentum.

Where does all the data go? Rick Jacobs of real estate giant CBRE noted, "We are still fighting with some suppliers to get the data so we can make sense of it." CBRE's holdings include the Edge office building in Amsterdam, known for Power over Ethernet (PoE) lighting. As of this writing, it was also preparing to pilot Gooee wireless technology at its own offices in Amsterdam. "Who owns the data that sensors generate?" he wondered. The data debate is not stopping the property stalwart from outfitting its buildings with connected lighting and other intelligence. "CBRE is investing half its profits into IT," Jacobs said. "And it's primarily going into data intelligence - what is this data telling us, and what do we need to do with it? What do people on the floor need to do with that data to be more efficient and smarter?"

LEDs has already reported on news developments from the show. For example, Gooee used the occasion to reveal a smart lighting trial at the Amsterdam offices of US real-estate giant CBRE, and Feilo Sylvania disclosed that it has opened two new lighting innovation centers. And in one of the few IoT end-user testimonials, a guarded BMW executive appeared in a video pre-recorded by lighting vendor Aurora to laud the potential that smart lighting could help enhance the retail experience in automobile showrooms.

But there were many themes that ran through the lively two days on the IoT stage. Among them: Security and privacy remains a big concern; the question of who owns the data collected by smart lights can be contentious, as Rick Jacobs of user CBRE noted; the industry is still sorting out a preponderance of wireless and wired protocols that can be confounding in some cases but handy in others - the emergence of a mesh standard for Bluetooth has excited a number of people; the IoT has the potential to turn traditional building management systems on their head; progressive lighting designers are now factoring the IoT into their work to go along with style and ambience; and more.

New kid on the block: Neil O'Sullivan is chief innovation officer of Utilitywise, a UK company that helps other companies buy and manage energy, and as such is the type of company that is increasingly entering the smart lighting value chain. Utilitywise has partnered with Gooee, leading a team that also includes Dell EMC and Vodafone. Sullivan believes the IoT will pose a challenge to traditional building management systems, provided it is safe and secure.

Making a mesh of it: Szymon Slupik, president of Bluetooth specialist Silvair, lauded the new mesh specification certified last summer by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. The move was a long time in the making. It effectively expanded the range of Bluetooth lighting control well beyond its typical 30 ft by allowing lights to hand off instructions to each other. "With Bluetooth mesh, we get rid of the central box," Slupik said. "The control software is now instead in every luminaire. That is a very significant architectural shift. We are getting rid of the central control box. No longer an expensive box in the middle, no longer a single point of failure. All the controllers are spread around the network. Look at how beautiful and how simple it can be done. Now, if we have a failure, then only a single object fails, a single light. The rest keeps working."

Another theme that recurred: IT companies could serve as friendly partners, or they could potentially play the role of foe and take over business territory previously considered the domain of lighting companies. Gooee's Salt, for one, believes partnerships are the way to go.

"The IoT is not something you can construct on your own," he said. "It requires putting together multiple people to make something like this happen. From deployment to adoption, you need a whole mixture of people. And that's really what the idea is of this arena here today. You have installers, designers, engineers, communications companies, server companies. You see a lot of different people here you wouldn't typically see at a lighting show. I believe that demonstrates how a change is happening in how lighting is being perceived within the built environment. And it really is an infrastructure element, rather than something that just provides illumination."

It's all about the data: Niall Murphy, CEO of cloud data and software company Evrythng, pointed out that the ability to digitize products opens a "hugely powerful opportunity" to capture data not only about the product but also about its surroundings, and to build applications and services to leverage the data. He called lighting "the most ubiquitous infrastructure in the world" and thus one well suited to support the process. Evrythng recently took an equity stake in IoT lighting specialist Gooee, where Murphy has a seat on the board.

Bandwidth crunch: PureLiFi co-founder Harald Haas said Li-Fi - the use of light to carry data in a Wi-Fi-like manner - will help offload the world's already burdened Wi-Fi systems. "There is a rising problem - the spectrum crunch," Haas said. "Every year we consume 60% more wireless data. That would mean fast forward around 20 years, we will need around 6 THz of bandwidth. The entire radio spectrum is only 0.3 THz. So you have a 20× shortfall." You might dispute the exact numbers, but the point is, perhaps Li-Fi could go a long way to ensuring you can get a signal when you're at a crowded station in the future.

Whether vendors seek the peace pipe of partnerships, or don flak jackets to stake out territory on their own, most everyone agreed that a potential bonanza is in store. Peter Brogan, head of research and insights at the British Institute of Facilities Management, said the facilities management market in the UK alone is around £12 billion (around $17 billion), and that data-related technologies could help that swell tenfold. Brogan dusted off an old quote from American engineer W. Edwards Deming, reputed to have said in the 1950s, "In God we trust, all others must bring data."

Thus, Gooee was on hand with a dozen or so partners including its new minority owner Evrythng - a cloud software provider - as well energy broker Utilitywise, which itself leads a team consisting of data storage company Dell EMC and cellphone giant Vodafone.

Contributing editor Mark Halper was camped out at the IoT Arena, moderating the discussions and presentations over the two days. When he wasn't busy firing his own questions, or fielding insightful queries from the audience, he was able to snap a few pictures of the pundits, who together told the unfolding story of the IoT of lighting as seen here.

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.