Osram launches building management tools, free of lights

Oct. 5, 2018
The world’s second-largest lighting company takes another step in its high-tech transformation, and is starting to look a bit like an engineering firm — not far off its Siemens roots!

The world’s second-largest lighting company takes another step in its high-tech transformation, and is starting to look a bit like an engineering firm — not far off its Siemens roots!

Five years after engineering giant Siemens spun out Osram as a lighting company, Osram is now forging a non-lighting, engineering identity for itself. A few months after saying it will exit luminaires, Osram this week announced two pilot installations in commercial office buildings where is providing sensors and digital services — but no lights or lighting controls — to better run the facilities.

In two small trials begun in August, Osram and German digital consulting firm mantro GmbH have outfitted the offices of Lithuanian property firms Citus and Technopolis with a set of occupancy sensors and software, which Osram and mantro have jointly developed under the banner VISN.

Osram hopes that the pilots in Vilnius — across 250m2 at Citus and 400m2 at Technopolis — will serve as a maiden voyage for many larger VISN deployments to come. It is notable that Citus and Technopolis are property firms, as such companies can potentially serve both as end users and influential middlemen helping to sell services to tenants in buildings they manage. (Watch for LEDs Magazine’s upcoming feature on a deployment by real estate giant CBRE).

The idea is one that is becoming a common selling point among engineering, technology, and lighting firms vying for building services business worldwide: The sensors transmit occupancy information to central dashboards and to apps, helping managers know how to better utilize space, and helping office workers know where to find a free desk or room, which is a useful feature in today’s flexible work world and its “hot desk” practices.

Technopolis manages office space and is trialing the Osram sensor technology to keep better tabs on usage. (Photo credit: Technopolis website.)

It’s all supposed to save costs and improve productivity in many ways. For example, building operators will make more informed decisions about expanding, contracting, or reassigning space and other assets; peripatetic employees will be spending less time wondering about and searching for work areas; employees can better tailor heating and lighting to their preferences as the sensors typically tie into a number of building operations; heating and lighting costs will decline because they will be used more efficiently; and so on.

The data collected by the sensors is typically analyzed by a cloud computing system, providing plenty of potential value, such as the property insights. It also carries a horde of potential extra value, as it could be sellable to other data users across the global economy’s thirst for Big Data.

Lighting companies see their financial future in offering such Internet of Things (IoT) goods and services, now that they can no longer sustain a profitable business by selling SSL lamps that in principle may last for decades and deprive them of revenue from replacement sales.

The face of the lighting future: Occupancy sensors such as this VISN brand (also available in white) from Osram and mantro are increasingly playing a major role in lighting companies’ business plans because they can help collect data, whether embedded in LED luminaires or offered outside of the lighting infrastructure. (Photo credit: Osram.)

Many of them want to embed the sensors in ceiling luminaires and thus assure themselves as well as their traditional stock-and-trade — lighting — of a place at the building management and Big Data table.

But recognizing that end users might not want to make lighting the backbone of their building management and Big Data schemes, Osram is hedging its bets, which makes all the more sense given the company’s decision to sell off luminaires. As the Citus and Technopolis projects demonstrate, Osram is positioning itself to sometimes — possibly often — provide such services without also providing lighting.

“In both cases only VISN technology was provided,” an Osram spokesperson confirmed for LEDs Magazine, when we asked if any lighting was involved in the projects.

So does VISN control the existing lights?

“No, the system does not control the lighting,” the spokesperson said. “The sensors and software of VISN analyze and help optimize the utilization of office space.”

It is all part of a broader attempt by CEO Olaf Berlien to recast Osram as a “high technology company” that moves the company beyond illumination and into innovative, data-oriented ways to use lighting and other building infrastructure. Osram also continues to expand its LED chip and laser chip business, determined to market those products not just for general lighting but also for a wide range of digital applications including security, identification, biometrics, health and fitness, augmented reality, automotive and many more.

It is also not the first time that Osram has deployed building technology without being involved directly in lighting. For example, it supplied Bluetooth communication beacons to a Swiss retail chain to support communications in shoppers’ smartphones, although in that case it attached beacons to existing lights, in part to tap the lights’ electrical supply to power the sensors.

Lighting companies often point out that sensors connected to or embedded in LED luminaires can piggyback on the electrical connections that feed the lights. Such topology avoids the need for problematic batteries, they note.

But the ceiling-mounted sensors at Citus and Technopolis do not use batteries. Rather, the 7×7-cm (2.75×2.75-in.) sensors tie into the buildings’ electrical power, a separate Osram spokesperson told LEDs. Osram and mantro installed a total of 24 sensors across the two pilot locations, covering areas totaling around 130 employee spaces. They transmit anonymous occupancy information wirelessly to a central system via Wi-Fi.

None of this excludes Osram from also coming at the IoT and Big Data world via lighting products as well, something that it could do through its luminaire business while it still owns it, or through partnerships, helping to embed sensors and communication chips inside luminaires. In a cohesive lighting-based information technology push, earlier this year Osram unfurled its Lightelligence brand of IoT products and services, which helps prop up lighting as an IoT framework.

And in announcing VISN and the mantro partnership this week, it pointed out that “VISN is fully compatible to Osram’s recently-launched Lightelligence platform and can therefore be fully integrated into other solutions on the platform.”

Thus, in a way, Osram is re-morphing back into a broader engineering firm, harkening back to its days as part of Siemens, which, as it happens, also has a strong presence in building management, where Siemens even partners with the same mantro that joined with Osram to develop VISN.

That is not suggest that Osram will venture into Siemens things such as energy turbines, power plants, high-speed trains, and the like.

But with data becoming the new lighting — as LEDs Magazine has observed many times recently and which Osram well understands — it is leveraging its newfound data engineering capabilities, and broadening beyond the lighting world.

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.