In previous blogs we have looked at how the Internet of Things (IoT), connected hardware and cellular provisions are improving our work, home and leisure time, as well as our urban spaces and security.  Both our Smart Offices and Smart Cities blogs touched on the possibilities for lighting but as a constant in all of our lives, it’s worthy of a deeper look!

What is Smart Lighting?

Ever since the success of Edison’s bulbs, we have come to rely on electric lights. Smart Lighting is taking this technology further, improving convenience and efficiency;  lighting which can be controlled via an app (in situ or remotely) or voice-activated connected devices. Brightness levels, colours, schedules, there are many possibilities.

How does it actually work?

Most of the leading smart bulbs connect wirelessly to each other creating a network controlled by a hub which is plugged into a router.  This allows communication between the bulbs and connected personal assistant devices such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. In addition to using apps and connected devices to control lights, many systems are also compatible with If This Then That (IFTTT).  This web-based service is used to create chains of conditional statements known as applets.  In the case of smart lighting, your LED lights could flash blue when you receive a text or phone call, for example.

Beyond Smart Bulbs

There are many companies creating different Smart Bulbs, but also plenty that have developed additional tech to support them. Most traditional types of bulb are covered with E27/Bayonet fittings, candle bulbs with SES screw fittings and GU10 spotlight bulbs.  LED specialists Nanoleaf offer flat light panels which can change colour and brightness, be set to wake you instead of a traditional alarm and even be programmed to respond to music.  Outdoor lighting can also be connected, popular at Christmas, or to increase home security.

But connected lighting goes beyond the bulbs. There are several situations where a smart plug or switch might be a better option. Using a connected plug socket, you can turn any lamp with a standard bulb into a smart light.  In spaces with no fixed wiring, connected switches powered by mobile networks – connected by Arkessa are an excellent solution, enabling remote switch-on and control.

Where is Smart Lighting most useful?

Well, some would argue, where isn’t Smart Lighting useful?  In the home, it can be an excellent tool for increasing security, comfort and adding an extra element to entertaining.  Smart Lighting technology is perfect for today’s offices, and  industrial and public spaces. Everyone can benefit from the energy savings and lower running costs connected lighting offers.  In public spaces, lighting can be adjusted automatically to complement natural light levels. Occupancy sensors mean lights are only on when required so that energy isn’t wasted by lighting empty or infrequently used spaces – meeting rooms, bathrooms or car parks.  Outside of the home, energy and performance reports can be sent to a building’s facility manager so that staff can personalise lighting wherever they are.

Smart Lighting offers the benefit of added security whether at home, work, or out and about.  Lights can be set to come on both inside and out at chosen times, or when you are returning home.  You can even use your app to control lights whilst away from home – much superior to traditional timers which can only come on at the same set times.  Think Home Alone – lights going on and off at random times is far more of a deterrent than a predictable pattern.

Motion detectors in private or public spaces light up dark areas which can help deter crime, and on a national level in many countries, connected LEDs with sensors are replacing traditional street light bulbs. These allow lighting levels and data to be collected wirelessly. The data can include weather, temperature, footfall, sunrise and sunset timings – all highly useful information that is collected directly through a Smart street light sensor and can be used by councils to improve urban planning.

Are there any drawbacks?

All new technologies can experience teething troubles.  A common concern is that smart bulbs need to be ‘on’ at all times in order to work effectively.  This can cause confusion when it comes to light switches, which should always be left in the ‘on’ position.  The issue isn’t power usage, because the bulbs draw so little. The problem is that if a switch is turned off, the bulb is off and, as such, no longer smart!

Another, perhaps surprising, point is that smart switches don’t work well in conjunction with smart bulbs. It is the bulb which should be in control of how much power it uses, and when.  The bulbs are not designed to be repeatedly turned on and off via a switch, and doing so could shorten their lifespan.

There has been some speculation that bulbs which plug in and access Wi-Fi, and are infrared enabled are open to hacking.  Potentially hackers could use the infrared to access data. For this reason, choosing a system which uses a connected hub might be preferable in order to keep data secure and up-time consistent.

Connected lighting is definitely here to stay, and can make a real difference to building and facilities management.  If you want to learn more, look out for our Smart Lighting podcast, coming soon!

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