Realize the promise of connectivity (MAGAZINE)

Oct. 21, 2015
Aaron Ganick, head of Lightify at Osram Sylvania, describes the potential for digital control in lighting and other systems, and reveals the roadblocks to the potential greater convenience and energy savings.

AARON GANICK, head of Lightify at Osram Sylvania, describes the potential for digital control in lighting and other systems, and reveals the roadblocks to the potential greater convenience and energy savings.

LED lighting offers many advantages compared to traditional light sources, one of which is superior controllability. LEDs can be controlled in terms of on/off switching, smooth and full-range continuous dimming, and white light color temperature and saturated color selection. What's more, LEDs are inherently compatible with digital control. The LED source brings lighting not only firmly into the digital revolution but also the coincident revolution in wireless connectivity. Still, the solid-state lighting (SSL) industry must solve some interoperability problems to realize the promise of connectivity.

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We are already seeing a new generation of connected smart lighting systems targeted to the residential market such as Lightify. These solutions place a radio-frequency (RF) wireless receiver in each lamp that is stamped with its own unique address. A wireless gateway or hub contains all of the processing needed for intelligent wireless control. The hub discovers devices in the area and controls them within a network. The user programs and controls the system using a mobile app interface.

Using this type of smart lighting system, the user can program certain things to happen at specific times. For example, at 7AM, the lamps in the bedroom can be programmed to turn on to full output and emit light with a cooler color temperature, both of which may be supportive of circadian health. In the evening, starting about two hours before bedtime, the lamps can be programmed to a lower intensity and warmer color temperature.

The promise sounds great, but there are three potential problems that can only be solved by discerning lighting manufacturers and specifiers. First, sticking a receiver in a lamp does not guarantee a satisfactory lighting solution. We need quality lighting products, with proper ratings, and in a breadth of form factors from A19 lamps to PAR, BR, RT, and striplights.

The second problem is even if the lighting and control perform as promised, the mobile app serves as a funnel for ultimate user satisfaction. Apps are generally improving, and as they do, the user's experience is getting better. But the user should be as discerning about what the software interface can do, and how easy and convenient it is to use, as they are about the associated hardware.

The third potential problem, and possibly the toughest, is interoperability among products from different manufacturers and integration with other ecosystems such as HVAC, security, window shades, and other systems. In the residential market, the current trend is for manufacturers to ensure their products can talk to other manufacturers' products, but in the commercial market, this is still emerging. Imagine a home that is fully automated but in which each ecosystem operates as an island. The user would need a separate app, gateway, and more to control his or her lighting, thermostat, window shades, and so on.

The buyer should look for products that support open standards, the most promising being ZigBee. Google, for example, recently unveiled a wireless gateway based on ZigBee. A standard promises the ability to utilize a singular infrastructure - intelligent hub/gateway and app - that can control multiple devices across ecosystems, such as thermostats, lighting, security alarms, and more to deliver simplicity, cost savings, and a better user experience. Imagine using a single app, ensuring that at 7AM, the lights not only turn on to a certain intensity and color temperature, but that the thermostat adjusts temperature, window shades raise, the security system deactivates, and the coffee pot turns on.

As the potential of integration becomes realized in the residential lighting market, it offers even greater potential in the commercial market. Imagine a lighting system that recognizes individual users and has the local environment respond based on who they are, where they are, where they're going, and what time of day it is. Imagine a lighting system that not only provides illumination but also acts as an indicator through color - the lights momentarily turning green if the company's stock hits a certain level, blue if a thunderstorm is approaching outside, etc.

With connected lighting based on industry standards, lighting systems are transformed from static and dumb systems into dynamic and intelligent systems that respond to individual user needs while broadly expanding capabilities. LEDs promise not only extraordinary efficiency and longevity but also so much more, and with connectivity, we're only now beginning to explore everything an SSL source can offer us.