Lighting Positions Itself at the Heart of Smart Buildings

The first electric light was made by English scientist, Humphry Davy, in 1800 and later improved by compatriot Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. In 1877, American Charles Francis Brush began the electric light’s commercialisation before Thomas Edison’s experiments led to the style of light bulb we used for the next 100 years or so. None of these men, nor the many other people involved in creating the early light bulb, could have imagined the place that the humble light bulb could take in today’s smart society.

Smart Lighting

Lighting today owes a lot to Soviet inventor Oleg Losev, who reportedly created the first light-emitting diode (LED) in 1927, but it was over half century until LED lighting showed its true potential. Its low power needs and longer life allowed it to ride the wave of energy efficiency, while also making it possible to power through ethernet cables. It’s faster switching capability opened up the possibility of light communication, through technology such as Li-Fi. Lighting now finds itself at the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution.

“The transition to LEDs for lighting has come at the same time as the development of the Internet of Things, which is about to disrupt the building automation systems (BAS) industry and opens up the possibility for lighting control to play a much more important role”, reads our recent in-depth report on the Lighting Controls Business.

This transition enables LED lighting systems to serve as a connectivity link between sensors, things, smart applications, artificial intelligence programming and even new connected wearables. The disruptive result will be a lighting system that delivers both light and artificial intelligence for running our smart buildings.

By implementing even basic intelligence for lighting in buildings we can create a variety cost saving and performance enhancing benefits. On a sunny day unnecessary lights can be dimmed or switched off automatically, for example.

Using occupancy sensors tied to building schedules we can reduce lighting where it’s not needed, having it only turn on in reaction to human movement around a building. Within the business enterprise, in retail for example, we can adjust light levels and richness based on where a customer is standing in relation to a product display.

Beyond that, lighting can play a key role in tying together the IoT in buildings, or Building Internet of Things (BIoT). With the dramatic fall in the price of sensors we now expect that everything will soon be connected. Every light, appliance, air conditioner, computer, and human being will have one or more sensors, and a pervasive lighting network can act as the platform to connect this wide variety of “things”.

LED lighting has also created the opportunity to become a form of communication itself through light fidelity or Li-Fi. In the simplest terms, by flickering the output of an LED bulb, at a speed and intensity invisible to the human eye, binary code can be sent to a receiver (such as a smartphone camera). The system, along with a variety of other benefits and limitations, allows significantly higher levels of data transfer than WiFi, a technology it may replace in many applications.

“It has always been clear that Li-Fi is a disruptive technology, but for that to happen it will take some time. There are already many people, worldwide, that have recognised the opportunities of this technology and it is all going in the right direction. I predict that we will see this technology introduced to the market in three to five years, on a large scale”, the inventor of LiFi, Harald Haas, told Memoori in an interview last year.

With the advent of artificial intelligence in the smart building sector, a building can now have the capability to learn how to best optimise itself by analysing occupant activity. This advanced learning process can draw in meteorological data, holiday schedules, even public transport and traffic information to reduce energy waste while also improving efficiency and comfort of occupants.

Lighting is positioning itself at the heart of all these changes in the building sector, due in large part to the pervasivity of electric light throughout the building and urban environment. Within the lighting sector; M&A, divestment and several disruptive start-ups have shaken up this rapidly developing industry.

I think Edison and co. would agree with our report’s conclusion that this “is the most exciting time for the lighting industry since the early twentieth century. Lighting is truly at an inflection point and the forthcoming shakeout over the next 5 years will determine the winners and losers in the game; as well as those who will be the lighting giants of the future”.

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