Will IoT-enabled lighting controls be the death of traditional light switches? (MAGAZINE)

Feb. 19, 2016
LumiFi CEO Beatrice Witzgall asserts that lighting controls that recognize a specific presence and set an appropriate "lightmosphere" will usurp the ubiquitous wall switch.

LumiFi CEO BEATRICE WITZGALL asserts that lighting controls that recognize a specific presence and set an appropriate "lightmosphere" will usurp the ubiquitous wall switch.

Wireless lighting controls are an exciting area of debate, with an estimated $8.2 billion market opportunity by 2020. Providing all the benefits of traditional wired controls at a fraction of the price, wireless lighting controls are easily installed and offer new automation capabilities.

Interested in more articles & announcements on lighting controls?

But can lighting automation change our ingrained behavior of using light switches and possibly render them obsolete? We are so accustomed to using light switches that it is a reflex to look for them when entering a room. Can we overcome this urge and let technology simplify this for us?

Many argue that pulling out a smartphone, unlocking it, and opening an app to turn lights on is too complicated in comparison to using a physical light switch. While I agree that the manual use of an app as nothing more than a remote light switch is not very attractive, smart lighting has a great value proposition. The power of lighting controls is that they group lights (average of 4-8 bulbs in a typical room) into meaningful experiences. Instead of manually turning lights on and off one by one in your house with a switch, it's simpler and quicker to control the group of lights with just one button on an app. You can also create meaningful "lightmospheres" - lighting scenes for specific atmospheres, emotions, moods, and personal wellbeing.

Another use case I enjoy is that as a woman, I hate to walk into dark spaces. Lighting provides me with a sense of safety, and smart lighting enables me to turn on my lights from my elevator, avoiding the struggle of finding my light switch when walking into a dark room. You can also argue that convenience is a driving factor when I schedule all my lights to turn off at a certain time or with one easy tap on my smartphone when I'm in my warm bed.

While these functions are currently available, I don't believe they will entirely substitute for a light switch. The exciting potential with smart lighting is that it has the ability to anticipate and optimize your lighting according to your needs or activities at any given time. The potential of smart lighting includes incorporating intelligence to not only recognize your presence and activity but to also compose lighting in new, meaningful ways.

The controls can be compared to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: The basic need is utilitarian lighting, while the more advanced stages are energy savings, convenience, and creating an atmosphere that fosters an emotional connection. The top of the hierarchy triangle is occupied by biological, health-oriented lighting solutions as lighting can affect hormones and circadian rhythms, leading to better physical performance, shortened hospital stays, or even mitigated jetlag. This will make lighting more dynamic and enable new user cases and interactions. I am almost certain I would not use a light switch if my lighting system could recognize when I came home and turned on my lights to my preferred lighting scenes: a bright, energetic mood on a Monday evening or a dimmed mood late on a Thursday to help me find my bed after a long day.

LumiFi, a smart lighting controls company, has already filed patents around these learning patterns and created algorithms similar to the Nest learning thermostat, but for smart lighting and how the technology can anticipate users' needs.

I believe that the light switch will be rendered obsolete the moment the ecosystem is developed enough to recognize presence and lights, then adjust accordingly to the user's needs or activities. It sounds futuristic, but many companies are already working on it. Hotels have started to implement digital check-in processes and utilize digital room keys via Bluetooth-enabled smartphones. Now it's easy to connect these two Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and have lighting turn on automatically when the door gets unlocked. Using beacon technology to recognize when someone walks into a room is now also a simple integration, the same as any other sensor technology.

The traditional light switch will get serious competition once presence detection is further developed and meaningful lightmospheres are enabled.