The app-ortunities in connected lighting

August 01, 2017

Joe Bokelman-August 01, 2017

This is a compelling time to be in the lighting industry for people who like to be on the cutting edge of technology—and I’m not referring to the advancements made in the transition from conventional technologies (incandescent, fluorescent) to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), although those are certainly significant. Lighting is now being equipped with wireless connectivity, enabling a building-wide wireless network infrastructure to be built with lighting fixtures. This new chapter in connectivity could revolutionize how people use and interact with their immediate environment. Imagine being able to book an impromptu meeting in an empty conference room or find the location of equipment carts that are often moved, without having to hunt for them. Connected lighting can make the built environment an active participant in achieving the goals of a space and supporting the people inside them. The key will be the apps that are developed to unlock the potential of this new connected reality.


Figure 1. Connected lighting systems create a building-wide wireless network infrastructure and the sensors in the fixtures detect data-rich details about the environment that can be used by apps to transform how people interact with their surroundings. (Source: Eaton)

The Connected Infrastructure

In the continued transformation of the built environment, equipping spaces with a connectivity infrastructure seems to be the next logical step in the trend of our ever-increasing need to connect people, connect devices, and transfer data. It started with telephone systems that became more and more elaborate as people realized they needed telephone jacks in more places. Then Ethernet networks took over, and, today, almost every wall features not just one, but four or more Ethernet ports, most of which are on PoE. With Wi-Fi and cellular service, people expect to be connected wherever they are and now demand greater access to information and the ability to control their immediate environment.

Introducing Connected Lighting

The term connected lighting refers to a lighting fixture that features an embedded technology, often a sensor, that detects important system and environmental details and shares that data with systems and people in real time. Connected lighting is the ideal medium to serve as a connected backbone in a building, because of the prevalence of lighting fixtures throughout the interior and exterior space and the fact that the lighting system is constantly powered. People spend most of their day inside a building or a home, standing directly under or nearby a lighting fixture. With connected lighting, even if the light is off, the fixture is connected.

The Value of Connected Lighting

The goal, however, is not to have a building full of technology. The goal is to have a building that delivers incredible value to the owners and occupants of the space through the use and application of the technology with which it is equipped.

The information that can be produced by these connected lighting systems assists in the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the lighting system, and provides insights that advance and inform conversations about things outside of the lighting system.  Data gleaned from connected lighting systems enable facilities managers and owners to make better decisions about how the building is being used, create more accurate forecasts about upcoming operational expenses, and identify opportunities for improvements. Building occupants will get information that will help them to make better use of building resources or improve productivity.

A recent survey, conducted by the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), identified the most attractive advantages of incorporating connectivity into a building as the ability to improve financial planning and to further reduce energy consumption. Connected lighting systems support financial planning activities by providing building data that can be used to create more accurate financial projections and cost analysis. The data generated through connected lighting systems can also provide a better snapshot of how the system is performing and identify opportunities to optimize it, saving energy. But that value description seems to just scratch the surface of what these connected lighting systems can ultimately provide. As we saw with the smartphones, it will be the apps that unlock the real potential of a connected environment.

Make Way for the Apps

Through connected lighting systems, apps will have access to incredible data about the built environment provided in real time. The powerful, and constantly powered, sensors in the lighting fixtures are equipped with a wireless radio that enables them to communicate over the system’s wireless network without interruption. The type of information that can be detected through the advanced sensing technology in the light fixtures is almost limitless: occupancy, air temperature, traffic patterns, and a whole host of other sensory inputs.


Figure 2. Apps to maintain a lighting system, optimize space usage, and track equipment in real time have already been developed using data provided by connected lighting systems. (Source: Eaton)

Some connected lighting sensors also feature advanced embedded systems such as Bluetooth chipsets.  With BLE on board, the system offers personal area networks that support real-time location services (RTLS) used for asset tracking and wayfinding. With the right apps, this information can be transformed into powerful tools that will support the financial planning and energy savings needs already identified and enable people to use building resources better, improve productivity and even create customized experiences.

Some apps have already been created to use the data from a connected lighting system to provide information and insight that improves the way people live and work. The focus of these existing apps ranges from lighting system management to space utilization and asset tracking.

Energy Manager App

The energy management app includes the tools to configure, manage and maintain the lighting system.  Most lighting systems have this down pat, so the value of a connected system lies in the ability to manage and maintain entire buildings, campuses, and even a global property portfolio.  Expected features, like sending text messages when maintenance is needed or creating reports of the energy savings generated by the system need to be there, but having the ability to review that data, and make tweaks to save even more energy over time are compelling reasons to have a connected lighting system.

Space Utilization App

This app leverages the standard occupancy data to analyze patterns and presents it in a simple floorplan graphic. Facility managers can identify interior and exterior space that is being overused or underutilized and adjust as needed. The continued monitoring of the space will enable them to see the success of the reorganizing efforts and inform them when spaces could be used more effectively in the future.

Asset Tracking App

The BLE beacons in the sensors combined with indoor positioning system (IPS) apps recognize and track the movement of data tags attached to objects. The asset tracking app uses the locational data provided by the sensors in the lighting system to pinpoint the whereabouts of any tagged item, making it easy to find, regardless of where it has been left. This type of app has tremendous value in a number of spaces, especially healthcare, where nurses spend a considerable amount of time locating misplaced carts and equipment.  Used another way, a user’s mobile device with an IPS app can help guide the way through busy airports, maze-like museums, and even help make brick and mortar shopping easier.

At this point in time, connected lighting is offering unprecedented access to and data-rich detail about the built environment. The apps that designers and developers will create to use this information in meaningful and valuable ways will change the way that people interact with and manage buildings and places. The app-ortunities are endless.


Joe Bokelman is a self-professed tech geek who has worked in the lighting industry for over three decades. Once Joe bought his own Commodore VIC20 and Datasette tape drive in 1980, he was hooked on having the latest and greatest technology. He is currently experimenting on a Raspberry Pi system with his 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. In the lighting world, his diverse experience includes lighting design, sales, product development and marketing roles, offering him a unique perspective on today’s industry trends. As a marketing manager in Eaton’s Lighting Division, Joe is focused on embedded wireless and sensing technology and unique applications for cutting-edge lighting systems.  Joe is an active member of many professional organizations, including the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), where he is the chairperson of the Control Protocols committee, and the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD). 

 

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