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Taking smart lighting to the next stage

12 November 2015

Karl Jónsson
Karl Jónsson

The ‘Internet of Things’ is set to drive a new generation of smart, interconnected buildings and deliver considerably more functionality to FMs through their lighting systems. Karl Jónsson of Tridonic explains

The ‘Internet of Things’ is set to drive a new generation of smart, interconnected buildings and deliver considerably more functionality to FMs through their lighting systems. Karl Jónsson of Tridonic explains

In the last few decades we have become very familiar with what might be called the ‘Internet of screens’ and the connected world that this represents. Computers, smartphones, tablet PCs and televisions are connected to the Internet and, via the Internet, with each other.

These, however, are just the first steps towards a world where machines communicating with other machines is a matter of routine. The next stage in this connected journey is now being called the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), where everyday devices are able to communicate with each other automatically to the benefit of the people they serve.

These include heating and air conditioning systems, vehicles, production machines, domestic appliances and many others – even, potentially, other animals and plants! This isn’t a futuristic utopian (or dystopian depending how you view such advances) dream, it is already a reality.

At the heart of these developments is the trend of including wireless sensor networks in machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Potentially, these developments can revolutionise companies’ value chains and also enable new service offerings that benefit everything from shops to office buildings and even the management of whole towns and cities.

So, from the perspective of PFM readers, what can the IoT offer to facilities managers and their customers?

There is already a convergence in the professional building management industry where lighting, HVAC and other building controls are gradually moving from legacy standards and proprietary implementations to Internet-based standards. Once connected to a common Internet Protocol, lights, sensors and actuators form a smart and connected lighting system and can become a part of the IoT eco-system. This system can contribute to a sustainable and energy-friendly environment and open doors to new architectural designs, value-added applications and services that are only limited by the imagination.

In fact, it has been predicted that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. A major challenge, though, is that all of these low-powered devices will have to function for years without being recharged and, at the same time, submit data at a high frequency rate. Clearly an infrastructure is needed to solve this challenge.

Currently, devices are connected via various protocols in separated systems, using multiple wiring layers - a situation that is far from ideal. The optimal infrastructure would supply a low-power network, be omnipresent both indoors and outdoors and provide one standard protocol for the devices to connect with. What better network is available than lighting?

Lighting provides a dense network both inside and outside the building, covering the entire facility. With the growing use of LED lighting, such networks are increasingly digital and connected to a power source.

Moreover, lighting networks already collect useful data, such as occupancy, through luminaires and stand-alone sensors. So far this data is only used for lighting control but in the next step it can unleash much more value when being deployed outside the lighting world. An obvious example is improved visibility of occupancy patterns for use in space management.

Thus, using connected lights makes more sense today than ever before.

Connected lighting
Connecting our lighting to the Internet began in the consumer market with so-called ‘smart bulbs’, enabling users to take lighting further than the wall switch and unlock features that were previously only available to professional markets – such as creating scenes, managing colours or tuneable white etc.

Beyond illumination, the consumer market has also found several fun and helpful uses, like changing the lighting colour every time your favourite football team scores or making the lights flash when you receive a phone call or text message for hearing impaired individuals.

In the professional market a new generation of connectivity allows lighting to support new features and services that haven't previously been within reach, giving lighting designers, architects, service providers and FMs a powerful toolbox of IoT.

Smarter space management
Using the data collected by occupancy sensors that form part of the lighting control network can also facilitate more efficient space management within a building - replacing the traditional, time-consuming space utilisation studies that many FMs carry out. Rather than physically touring the building and noting which workstations and meeting rooms are in use at any one time, data from the occupancy sensors can be used to provide a real-time picture of space utilisation.

This more meaningful picture can then underpin an effective space management strategy that has the potential to deliver significant cost savings to the organisation.

Similarly, in meeting rooms the occupancy sensors can also be interfaced to a room booking system to indicate when meeting attendees have arrived – or if they are a ‘no-show’. Rooms that are not occupied within a certain time can be made available to others. Again, this enables organisations to manage their meeting rooms more effectively and potentially reduce the overall size of their building portfolio.

Enhancing the shopping experience
Nor is this functionality confined to office space. It can also be used to measure footfall in retail environments, helping retailers to understand the flow of customers more accurately and configure their merchandising accordingly.

Indeed, IoT can go considerably further in a retail environment. Instead of spending considerable time ‘cruising’ various aisles to find a product, shoppers can be guided directly to their selected products using an indoor navigation app on their smartphones. Of course, retailers could also take the opportunity to make them aware of some special offers while they are on your way to their desired product.

Once they have reached the correct aisle, they can then summon assistance from store staff via the app, with the tracking functionality via the lighting network ensuring the nearest member of staff responds promptly.

Deploying this technology will also enable retailers to provide new services. These could include location-based services that merge the possibilities of the online and offline world. A retailer could, for example, track the shop journey of the customer within the store and find out which products he/she is interested in. Having collected this data, the store owner can adjust the display of the goods more conveniently for customers and provide targeted advertising, special offers or matching products.

The technology can also be used to improve resource management, with faster stocking of shelves to avoid out-of-stock situations, as well as displaying additional information about products. In fact, these are just a few examples of what is possible with IoT in the retail sector.

In other types of premises, a smart and connected lighting system could underpin a dynamic and context-aware building where settings change dynamically based on a combination of sensory inputs like motion, heat, illuminance, humidity and orientation of objects. IoT sensory data can also contribute to intelligent controls, adjusting shades and window openings for optimised sustainability.

On the practical side, IoT devices are typically connected through wireless and wired protocols such as Ethernet. However, due to the power requirements and size constraints of Wi-Fi they will ultimately communicate at a common layer to enable cross industry features and communications.

One of the biggest challenges with IoT has been to make the setup and installation experience secure and frictionless. Thanks to collaboration between lighting controls companies, architects, lighting designers, IT managers and installers there is now real progress towards making Internet-connected lighting a reality that takes lighting way beyond just illumination.

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