DOE publishes first of an intended series of reports on connected LED lighting

Nov. 14, 2017
In Part 1 of a planned series, the US Department of Energy has evaluated how well application programming interfaces can deliver a homogeneous experience when dealing with multiple connected SSL systems from different vendors.

In Part 1 of a planned series, the US Department of Energy has evaluated how well application programming interfaces can deliver a homogenous experience when dealing with multiple connected SSL systems from different vendors.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has published its initial report studying interoperability among what the agency terms connected lighting systems (CLS) from different vendors. In the Part 1 work, the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) focused on whether common application programming interfaces (APIs) in different CLS implementations could deliver a homogenous experience for developers, specifiers, and end users. For now, the news in terms of interoperability among different connected solid-state lighting (SSL) systems is not positive, although the DOE has identified next steps that the lighting industry and the Internet of Things (IoT) sector should take to move the situation forward in a positive manner.

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Interoperability is of course a multi-faceted problem when it comes to network compatibility in general and even more complicated in an application such as smart lighting that is just emerging. Indeed, in this first report, the DOE did not even study network compatibility, but instead focused on the ability of disparate lighting and non-lighting systems to work together, share data, and deliver a seamless experience for developers, specifiers, and users. In fact, reading the report, the DOE infers that the CLS acronym really applies to a software platform, and such platforms are often referred to as a central management systems (CMS) in the SSL sector.

Of course, there has been effort both in industry organizations, commercial companies, and standards organizations to push interoperability forward. The TALQ Consortium for instance has been focused on interoperability in CMS for outdoor SSL installations. And TALQ has made some progress as we will soon report in another article. Even companies such as Daintree Networks were focused on open standards and interoperability. Of course, Daintree was acquired by Current, powered by GE and there has been little if any news since the acquisition about Daintree technology being used outside of the Current universe.

As it has done with many of its research projects, the DOE will focus on connected LED lighting hoping to ensure that the technology matriculates in a manner that endures maximum energy savings, implying broad acceptance and deployment. And the agency clearly sees interoperability as a key cog in broadening the deployment of connected SSL. The new report states that, in terms of connected systems deployment, the “potential is limited by significant fragmentation of the underlying technologies and interfaces.” The report continues to state, “As a result, today’s CLS are generally not natively interoperable, meaning they cannot be assumed to work well together or be capable of exchanging the data that they collect with one another or other systems.”

To enable the hands-on work described in the first CLS report and to enable future reports, the PNNL has built a connected lighting test bed (CLTB). The DOE described the work on the test bed as “a software interoperability platform was developed to allow installed lighting devices and systems that were not natively capable of exchanging data with one another to communicate through a defined middleware interface.”

PNNL then used the CLTB to initially study whether compatibility at the API level could deliver the required interoperability. The report states that at best a common API can deliver a common user interface and experience, but not what would be expected of a homogenous system in terms of seamless data exchange and interoperability. The report provides specific detailed examples of the shortcomings that are beyond our scope here, but you can access the full report on the DOE website.

Among the recommendations made by the DOE, however, was the suggestion that all CLS providers make their APIs readily available. The report further states that the lighting industry, and perhaps even the broader IoT sector, should adopt a common approach to authentication that could provide some protection against cybersecurity issues and that could move the interoperability goal forward for connected LED lighting systems.