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Most buildings aren’t smart yet because they are still working out how best to connect smart devices throughout their facility. However, we already have a network in every building, required by law to reach every corner of the facility without exception. We’re talking about the building’s emergency lighting system which, with a little bit of intelligence could lay the foundation for building networks that connect a range of sensors and devices to make existing buildings smarter. That’s according to Jeremy Ludyjan, senior director of field marketing for Fulham, a global manufacturer of energy-efficient lighting subsystems and components.

“Everyone has been talking about smart buildings and building automation, but the challenge always has been how to deploy building intelligence. What’s the best way to connect building systems into a central infrastructure?” Ludyjan asks. “Perhaps the most logical place to start is by augmenting building safety using connected emergency lighting systems and then expanding the system to support building automation,” he answers in detail within a article for LED Magazine.

Low-power, long-lifetime LED luminaires already dominate the emergency lighting market. They also provide greater efficiency and simplify emergency lighting testing using indicators that display red or green solid or flashing LEDs to show system readiness. Standards such as CSA C22.2 NO. 141 in North America and BS EN 50172:2004 / BS 5266-8:2004 in Europe have incorporated LEDs to improve building safety. However, building maintenance staff still need to conduct a visual inspection, which seems like an increasingly slow task in this blossoming age of real-time connectivity.

“If you connect those LED emergency luminaires into a single system, you can create a means for centralized monitoring and management,” states Ludyjan. “Once they are connected, you can inspect emergency luminaires from any location, including performing diagnostics to detect unit failures. You can even issue instructions to execute and log luminaire tests on a regular basis, including annual tests that require lights be operated for the full duration required, usually 90 minutes or more until the battery is drained. Once testing is complete, the results are automatically logged and lights returned to a readiness state, all without requiring a physical inspection.”

Smart emergency lighting systems are also more intelligent. Instead of simply illuminating all rooms, corridors and emergency exits in response to a power cut or emergency situation as currently happens, smart emergency lighting can identify the location of hazards and guide occupants along the best route to safety.

Smart emergency lighting connected to simple sensors could also track occupancy to determine if anyone is left in the building during a fire, for example, and even help direct emergency services during a rescue. This safety wayfinding function could be a lifesaver for occupants, first responders, and provides information that could help reduce damage to the building and assets.

“Machine learning can be applied to make the same emergency response system proactive as well as reactive. Based on incoming sensor data, programmed responses can include lighting a path to safety away from the source of danger, rather than telling occupants to go to the nearest exit, which could put them in harm’s way. Those same sensors can be used to detect room occupancy, which makes it easier to validate that the building has been evacuated or to locate occupants who may be trapped,” explains Ludyjan, who does not address the potential cyber security risk of connecting an emergency back up system in his extensive article.

The system that Ludyjan puts forward is connected by Bluetooth Mesh, the wireless two-way, robust communication system that we explained in greater detail in our recent article on the technology. By utilizing Bluetooth Mesh, data transfer is not stopped when one part of the network is damaged, as data is sent across the network until it finds a route to its destination. Bluetooth Mesh data can also be accessed by any bluetooth enabled device, meaning occupants could use their phones for wayfinding in an emergency. Data can even be routed to the Internet and shared with first responders ahead of their arrival, helping them locate hazards and people to support their efforts.

Smart emergency lighting systems are not just about making buildings safer in emergencies, however. The same ecosystem could be used for access control, for example, where sensors could track people by their badge or phone in order to authorize or prevent access to specific occupants and visitors as they move around the building. This Bluetooth tagging approach also opens up a range of new smart building applications such as wayfinding, asset management and energy efficiency.

“Using Bluetooth tagging, individuals can be granted or denied access to sections of a building based on the tag on their badge — a much more elegant solution than keypad access. Even visitors can be issued temporary badges equipped with Bluetooth tags to not only give them access to authorized parts of the building but even direct them to their location using Bluetooth beacons and a location-based mapping app that can run on a tablet or smartphone. Using Bluetooth tagging, the same ecosystem can quickly locate employees or vital equipment — an ideal application for a health care or hospital setting.”

As well as people and assets, a smart building network built upon an emergency lighting system can also monitor the indoor environment. Sensors positioned strategically across the network offers real-time visibility of temperature, light levels, humidity, and air quality to name a few. Connected to a central system, these environmental controls can be intelligently automated and controlled remotely to help the building and its occupants operate at optimum levels, just like new smart buildings with dedicated IoT networks.

“Installing intelligent LED emergency luminaires equipped with wireless capabilities may be the future of building automation. Using a programmable, wireless emergency lighting ecosystem, you can connect an entire building into a single building management infrastructure. Using Bluetooth Mesh, you can add devices virtually, and you can support various control protocols using the same system. Smart, connected emergency lighting could revolutionize building automation at the same time it improves building safety.”