Controlling interests The Internet of Things offers undeniable opportunities. But could it compromise the primary function of a lighting system? asks John Aston
The 21st century has brought three major challenges to the lighting industry. At the turn of the century we first learnt about the non-visual effects of lighting and the third receptor in the eye. Next came solid state lighting – or LEDs, as we know them today – and now we have to contend with the ‘Internet of Things’. All of these subjects present our industry with threats and opportunities, new ways of doing things and a need to understand their impact. In the last issue (May/June 2017), Inessa Demidova provided a thought-provoking and informative article on light and circadian ryhthms. LEDs are now capable of meeting most lighting application needs, and enough has been said about these for now. So what do we need to think about with regard to IoT? The first, and obvious, question to ask is: what is the Internet of Things? We are all familiar with the internet and the World Wide Web; we use them to communicate, promote, seek information and shop. And we tend to think of the internet as something that connects our computers, smart phones and, more recently, control devices and sensors. These last items are taking us into the realm of connected things; hence the IoT.
However, the idea of connected things may have a far-reaching impact on the lighting industry simply because we now use LEDs as a light source. To understand why this might be, it is useful to have a look at how we have developed lighting and control systems for the non-domestic built environment in the past 30 years or so. The lighting controls industry can now offer building-wide, networked systems that can address each light and sensor individually, with luminaire designs now integrating much of the intelligence into their electronics. The result of this development work has been the introduction of a network that penetrates almost every part of a modern building; a fact not lost on those looking to manage other building services or interested in data collection. The lighting system is now being seen as able to provide the infrastructure for a building-wide, multi-function network with the potential to offer more than a lit environment. The introduction of LED technology has added to the attraction of this network because it is possible to use an LED to transmit data reliably and at very high speeds. This raises our second question: can the IoT compromise the primary function of a lighting system?