There is a lot of talk about the IoT and plenty of experimentation, but as yet nothing has arisen that will serve as the “killer app” that skyrockets in demand, driving down prices to enable a cascade of applications. But a case can be made that connected lighting might be such an app, strange as it might seem. A commonplace technology that has remained essentially unchanged for a century may be the first to jumpstart the IoT revolution.
Depending on to whom you listen, the IoT is expected to comprise 20-50 billion devices by 2020. The belief is that the IoT will be everywhere, affecting virtually all aspects of modern life. But as yet IoT applications, while they have been intriguing, they have not been compelling enough to explode in the market the way pundits have predicted. There are just not enough use cases with a demonstrable economic benefit to initiate self-reinforcing market growth.
Enter connected lighting.
The industry is making progress on lowering the cost of connectivity, but not fast enough for the chain-reaction of rising demand and corresponding volume production pricing reductions to really take off. The tens of billions of predicted devices serve such a wide range of applications that the individual solutions fail to reach the volumes needed to build significant production cost efficiencies. What is needed is a single application that, in itself, has the potential to require billions of devices.
Artificial lighting has been in use for thousands of years, with electric lighting in use since 1880. Today, every continent, every nation, and virtually every city, town, and village on Earth has some form of electrical lighting. But the power demand for traditional incandescent lighting is high, and energy costs have steadily risen, prompting industry and governments alike to seek lower-power alternatives. Compact fluorescent bulbs were the first effort, but LEDs have proven themselves the logical successor.
But what Daniel Cooley, senior vice president and general manager for IoT products at Silicon Labs, pointed out to me in an interview, however, is that the growing success of LED lighting is setting the stage for connected lighting to follow closely on its heels. The key, he noted, is that with LEDs manufacturers have already had to learn how to build electronic components into lightbulbs, and how to drive down the cost. “Once you have those,” Cooley said, “it's easier to add more chips, and create a smart, cost-effective electronic product that also generates light.”
The business model for adding IoT connectivity to lighting already has positive return on investment, Cooley added.