From hardware to software: how the lighting industry is evolving

The lighting industry is in the midst of a profound revolution, and it’s not just to do with the shift from halogen and fluorescent lights to LED.

According to secretary general of the Global Lighting Association Bryan Douglas, the “new paradigm” is moving the focus from hardware to the new and evolving software systems with which lighting integrates.

Douglas told The Fifth Estate more and more smart controls were being developed that work with solid state LED lighting.

These adjacent technologies have a growing importance in achieving a range of outcomes, from smart cities to improved occupant wellbeing.

Bryan Douglas, Global Lighting Association

Light communication

There is also the recent emergence of “LiFi”, for example. This is a visible light communications technology that invisibly modulates the light frequencies of an LED luminaire to allow it to transmit data.

The Paris Metro recently signed a contract to have LiFi installed, and the 3500 square metre Sogeprom office building, also in Paris, plans to install high-bandwidth bi-directional LiFi to provide internet for staff.

“Communicating by light will become the backbone of the internet of things,” Douglas says.

The use of sensors is also set to take off in cities to assist with planning, parking and traffic management and law enforcement, he says.

In the US there are already cities where sensors attached to light poles can detect gunshots, report on the number of shots, the calibre of the weapon and the exact location.

This helps police respond more quickly and with better information about the situation, and is also usable in court as part of case evidence.

Douglas says it has been suggested that the revolution underway in road lighting and street lighting could see light poles become the most valuable real estate in the city – more valuable than the roads or the buildings, even.

The “profound implications” this has for industry include a seismic shift in the geographic base for manufacturing and technology, an explosion in the number of firms in the sector and an imperative for the old-school manufacturers to change their businesses.

“Once a handful of manufacturers dominated light source manufacture – that was just a decade ago,” Douglas says.

“Now there are around 10,000 manufacturers in Asia alone.”

Halogens and fluorescents are out

All the manufacturers globally have abandoned research and development into halogens or fluorescent lighting, and are exclusively focused on solid state lighting.

Douglas says the Australian Lighting Council is also in talks with the Australian government to implement a national phase-down of all halogen lights in the next three to four years.

New tech trends mean new business relationships are being formed with system and service companies, he says.

“The old traditional companies are struggling. Some are selling up, and others are thriving.

“The traditional suppliers and manufacturers will need new relationships.”

New opportunities abound

Douglas says “Current, powered by GE” is a good example. The start-up within the world’s longest-standing lighting manufacturer last year acquired Internet of Things tech firm Daintree Networks and has moved into the smart cities space.

Current signed an agreement last month with US communications firm AT&T to roll out IoT connection and smart systems to cities across the US and Mexico. The aim is have digital infrastructure installed on LED lighting throughout a city that is connected to GE’s Predix IoT platform to address issues including traffic flow, parking, gunshot detection, air quality data and weather emergency alerts.

The deal builds on an initial collaboration on a project for the City of San Diego in 2015 which saw Current and AT&T install sensor controls on LED lighting throughout the city to improve energy efficiency. This is expected to also save the city around US$2.4 million in energy costs annually.

Douglas says lighting is an “integral part” of both smart cities and smart buildings.

On the building level, this means there needs to be closer relationships between the different service providers. Lighting needs to be talking to HVAC, for example.

“There needs to be much more services integration.”

The need is for building designers, service and product suppliers, engineers and asset managers to be thinking of systems, not just individual elements.

The human dimension

Douglas says there is also a growing momentum in Europe and North America around the “human dimension” of lighting.

“Everyone’s talking about human-centric lighting.”

This is because of the influence lighting has on occupant wellbeing, he says.

An emerging technology in this space is tuneable white LEDs that allow the colour temperature to be altered to match the needs of human circadian rhythms and activities. Cool white light, for example, works well for waking people up and helping them feel energised.

A lower colour temperature is better for getting ready to sleep.

“This has significant implications for classrooms, and office workers and factory workers,” Douglas says.

The tuning process is software based, and works via a remote control like tuning TV channels.

There is a trial underway in Norway in a school testing it in real-life situations.

It’s not something that’s catching on in Australia, however.

“In Europe these are concepts better known,” Douglas says. “In North America and Europe they are better attuned to thinking about lighting.”

This is because the long, dark, six-month winters in the higher latitudes make lighting a crucial part of life.

In Australia, he posits, we have so much sun it’s just not something we think about as much.

“In the commercial world they are more sensitive to lighting and people’s needs,” Douglas says.

“We have to change perceptions, and make people more aware of issues around human-centric lighting.”

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