The intersection of LED lighting and the Internet of Things is driving the lighting industry into new realms of building and IT services. Because lighting is ubiquitous in the built environment and it brings electrical power into all those spaces, lighting systems will very likely form the structure on which the IoT is built. Proponents of connected lighting systems are moving away from energy arguments toward innovative use cases and value propositions. However, issues of security, interoperability and interchangeability will continue to make these systems challenging to integrate and maintain.

A lighting control system typically signals lighting devices to change their operating status: dim, turn on or off, or change color. In recent years those timeclocks, daylight harvesting algorithms and occupancy sensors have been shrunk down and integrated into individual luminaires, such that they respond to ambient conditions on their own.

In truly connected lighting systems, the devices speak to one another. Lighting fixtures send information on their operating status to the network and may respond to cues directly from onboard sensors or from the network. Whether wired or wireless, networks execute operations based on time, ambient light and occupancy; plus inputs from non-lighting sensors and systems in all sorts of locations.

Building automation systems are the first step, transmitting signals from the lighting system to actuate other systems; primarily, HVAC. Lighting fixtures and sensors that are individually addressable allow for highly granular control of lighting. “But how much impact that can have on your HVAC system really depends on how granular your HVAC control is, and how advanced its capabilities are. So you can think of the connected lighting portion as extending its sensory knowledge of the space and giving the HVAC system access to that knowledge,” said Matt Petti, Eaton’s product manager for connected lighting for architectural lighting products. “That’s something that we’re working on now. And I’m sure it will have tighter integration in the future.”

Other systems such as fire safety, security, even phones and Wi‑Fi may become linked to whole-building controls, as some of these are already Power over Ethernet (PoE) systems. But code constraints and hacking concerns may delay full integration of mission critical systems like life safety and security. Certainly, an occupancy sensor could inform a security system of an intruder, or lighting could respond to an emergency notification. Siloed systems can still communicate without being integrated on the same network.

Eaton has equipped luminaires with Bluetooth antennae to provide asset-tracking capabilities.
In addition to wireless lighting controls, Eaton has equipped luminaires with Bluetooth antennae to provide asset-tracking capabilities. Potential applications include warehouse equipment and healthcare diagnostic apparatus – anything you waste time looking for.

One plus one equals three

“In the Internet of Things, the data may not be important just in and of itself. It’s how we use that information and make it cost effective. We have to have systems able to get information from point A to point B, then process it, and then send it back out to another system or another device to make use of that information,” said Matthew Deloge, vice president, business development & technology – lighting & water services for Johnson Controls.

It is non-lighting applications that show the most promise for ROI in connected lighting systems, beyond any energy savings. Any device that monitors conditions in a space – temperature and humidity gauges, occupant trackers, vibration detectors, RFID and Bluetooth antennae, CO2 monitors, microphones and cameras, etc., etc. – can provide actionable information and, thus, value.

Open APIs invite third-party applications to exploit data from connected sensors and systems, so profitable use cases could be limitless. IoT systems can help office occupants locate an open conference room; warn of detrimental high temperatures in a factory, museum or distribution chain; and track noise levels and traffic patterns. “Over time, the data from these IoT devices can also reveal long-term trends that will enable city planners and building managers to make smarter decisions about lighting needs,” wrote Sameer Sharma, general manager, IoT Group new market & business development for ‎Intel Corporation in an email Q&A. “Autonomy will play a major factor in IoT moving forward. With advances in AI and machine learning, lighting and buildings will become autonomous and attuned to user needs.” Very few of today’s lighting companies are equipped to venture into this type of big-data predictive analytics and automated decision making.

Intel, Current by GE and AT&T have partnered on a street lighting solution to be deployed in San Diego among other cities, according to Sharma. Potentialities include video surveillance, traffic monitoring and gunshot detection. “The platform gets deployed one time and functionality may be added over time for future expansion,” he wrote.

Eaton has made an early foray into asset tracking via luminaires equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons (in addition to IEEE 802.15.4 wireless lighting controls). Depending on the customer’s application, the BLE beacons can be used to track individual “passive” Bluetooth tags attached to all types of equipment, even high-value personnel. Perhaps the equipment is liable to be stolen or is needed quickly in an emergency, or too much time is wasted looking for them: wheelchairs, baggage carts, medical equipment, forklifts and ladders, etc. A smarter Bluetooth-equipped device might determine its location within a facility – context awareness – to aid decisions made by software or by a human operator. Warehouse picker programs and smartphone museum guides seem to be in the forefront here.

Acuity’s indoor positioning system employs both VLC and Bluetooth technology, with accuracy less than 10 centimeters for VLC and a meter with Bluetooth LE.

Early ventures in visible light communications (VLC) offer a similar value proposition in retail environments: transmitting information to shoppers’ cellphones based on their location, aiding buying decisions. “We’ve made considerable progress in the retail market, having deployed our fully commercialized indoor positioning system (IPS) solution in nearly 40 million sqft of working retail space,” said Greg Carter, Acuity Brands Lighting vice president and general manager, IoT Business Unit, in a company statement. Acuity’s IPS employs both VLC and Bluetooth technology.

Security and interoperability

Security is a primary argument favoring hardwired systems over wireless networking. But we all read the headlines: it seems that any device that can be connected can be hacked. Proven communications protocols that are adopted by multiple manufacturers invite interoperation. But wide usage invites more hackers, and encryption must be robust. Intel’s latest building management platform communicates with a variety of vendors and protocols, but allows only authorized applications to run and includes a process for securely transferring building data to the cloud, according to Sharma.

He sees a blurring of IT (information technology) with OT (operational technology): “The overall value being created through IoT will translate into more values for these roles. It will also require IT and OT professionals to work more closely with each other and leverage their respective strengths…. I think we’ll see more convergence of those roles as adoption of IoT continues.”

It’s doubly important that weaknesses in a building system’s network not put an entity’s core business IT at risk. “Part of that is doing the due diligence with the manufacturers and assembling the system properly,” Deloge explained. “The other part that’s important is education: working with the customer in making sure they understand what security protocols are in place and what things they need to do in order to maintain those security protocols. As well, there may be some things they need to do in coexistence with other systems.” One solution is to maintain separate IT networks for core business and building operations. Forming a long-term relationship with the customer can help ensure vigilance. Johnson Controls works to maintain contact with customers for ongoing training and maintenance, annual retrocommissioning or ongoing implementation of long-range, building-technology improvement plans.

Infographic of world's largest smart city IoT senosr platform
In February, AT&T and the City of San Diego announced a $30 million investment in “the world’s largest smart city IoT sensor platform.” (see image full size)

As a systems integrator, Deloge is tasked with understanding his customer’s use case and delivering a specification and installation that meet those needs at the anticipated cost: no finger-pointing when problems arise. But the lighting industry holds on to proprietary technology, making compatibility challenging. Even if multiple components speak the same protocol, the handshake with the software is not always automatic. This limits the flexibility, interoperability and interchangeability of connected components and systems; narrowing options for customers and limiting their ability to integrate different types of products together.

Deloge claims he is seeing lighting manufacturers increasing compatibility, but he calls for more standardization. Command response times, for instance. Reporting of granular energy usage (useful for utility rebates and demand response) or temperature (HVAC tie‑in) or occupancy counts. Actuator signals that mean “off” or “50% dimming,” “intruder”or “Matt’s here.” “Those are the nonproprietary things that I need the system to share and share freely,” he explained.

Industry consensus can only help in a marketplace where demands on these systems can’t yet be anticipated. “I get excited from the standpoint of being able to create sequences or use cases for customers, and being able to accomplish things and automate things today that we couldn’t do 5, 10, even 1 year ago,” Deloge said. “I think moving forward there’s going to be more of a focus on ease-of-use and ease-of-install. I think one of the things that kept people from investing in some of this stuff was that it was just complicated to set up and manage. I do see a trend of things getting more simple.”

Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via [email protected] with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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