There are cameras everywhere, data is beamed down to everyone through light, big brother can monitor your movements and the kitchen appliances are talking to light fixtures. No, this is not a modern Sci-Fi film, this is the reality of 2016. The emergence of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) has quickly transformed the way we live our day to day lives.

The concept is simple, by integrating internet connection into everyday appliances you can allow them to talk to each other. However, when you start putting this into practice you can start to develop complex and meaningful conversation. In Telit’s concept videos we can see how IoT can effect our daily lives (Telit, 2016). For example, when you wake up in the morning your appliances can be triggered by your alarm clock. Thus as you wake the heating is on, the shower has started and the coffee machine is preparing a coffee. Furthermore, as you drive to work the street lights beam traffic information to your Satnav system, ensuring you get to work on time.

The buzz created by the IoT has not been missed by the lighting industry who has began to look for ways in which they could benefit. To date the IoT has been dominated by the big tech companies. However, the LED revolution seen in recent years has meant that many lighting manufactures have transformed into tech companies themselves. The industry has one major advantage, Jon Couch of Gooee highlights lighting has the largest number of end points in any building (Lux Review, 2015), or in other words lighting is installed throughout every building, thus providing the perfect infrastructure for the sensors needed for the IoT to work. If each luminaire is fitted with a range of simple sensors then a highly intelligent network can be built, in fact 10 million light fittings will be gathering more data than twitter does daily (Lux Review, 2015).

The next question for the lighting industry’s claim on the IoT is how can all this data be transferred and made use of. At present Ethernet cables can be run through the network sending the data to a central hub, this data can then be sent through the internet to the relevant device. However, in 2011 Prof. Harald Haas came up with the new concept of Li-fi, a system that allows data to be transferred at high speeds through light using any off the shelf LED (PureLIFI, 2015). This enables the light from luminaires to transfer the data from its sensors, as well as other information from the internet, to peoples devices at speeds 100 times faster then Wifi (BEC CREW, 2015). The combination of the network of luminaries through every building and the data transfer capability of Li-fi could make Lighting the leading supplier of IoT systems.

Adoption of IoT technology within the lighting industry has seen some positive results, highlighting the opportunity. Notably Aurora Lighting have set up a sister company named Gooee which is fully devoted to adding sensors to LED chips and using them to create networks (ecosystems) for the IoT. In just two years the company has become the talking point of the industry, partnering with established companies such as Gerard Lighting, Architectural FX and John Cullen Lighting (Gooee, 2015). Another success story has been Philips’s work with Deloitte’s Edge building, which uses Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) technology to connect the office lighting fixtures to the building’s IT network while also powering them. The system allows the building to report on usage and impose energy saving features such as occupancy dimming (Rogers, 2015). The edge video (Philips Nederland, 2015) highlights how the design team at Philips managed to utilize POE and the IoT to maximize the use of the space.

While it is clear the benefits of IoT are tempting the lighting industry in, caution should be taken. As we have seen large amounts of data is collected by an IoT system. What happens to this data needs to be seriously considered. Many fear that the integration of such a system could cause a big brother effect. Everything from your health to your building usage will be monitored by sensors. A challenging question for the IoT industry is who owns this data. The building manager at Deloitte’s new IoT enabled office Tim Sluiter highlights that there are privacy laws in place to protect users “we can also use the personal data off the phone. We don’t allow this [because] there are privacy laws, and of course we obey them in Deloitte (Lux Review, 2015). The conversation over ownership is still ongoing and if not correctly addressed could destroy trust in the IoT. These questions need to be asked during the design of these systems and not become an afterthought.

The second challenge is the security of IoT networks. With every sensor is a new path for hackers to attack is opened. A new app called Shodan has revealed exactly how vulnerable these devices are by allowing anyone to search through unprotected IoT devices (Perala, 2015). Experienced hackers are able to view security cameras, take control of your home and take control of your car (Edwards, 2016). The lighting industry will have to ensure that maximum security is placed on every sensor within a network. While the tech world has had to deal with these threats for years it is totally a new area for lighting and could put the IoT out of their reach.

While it is clear the IoT is quickly developing into part of our daily lives the part Lighting has to play is still being discovered. The lighting industry has proved it naturally lends itself to the emerging technology due to the network of luminaires they already install into buildings. The real challenge for the industry will be understanding how to manage the design of an effective and safe IoT ecosystem. It appears that the industry has began to realize they will need to team up with the tech firms, rather than compete against them, with partnerships such as Philips and Cisco developing. These partnerships along with the emergence of successful installations show lighting is becoming a key player in the IoT. It is clear lighting can be used as the facilitator of the IoT as well as a supplier.

Written by Christian Haimes (LinkedIn/Email)

 

 

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