Opinion: Momentum is clear – smart lights are coming

Martin Woolley, technical program manager at Bluetooth Special Interest Group, says the move to smart, connected lighting is building up serious momentum in the industry

 

ENERGY CONSUMPTION in the UK is increasing year on year, according to Gov.uk, which is continuing to contribute to negative environmental effects such as climate change.

Reducing the UK’s energy consumption is no mean feat, but new technologies are finding ways to harvest the energy already being produced and distribute it in smarter ways.

Smart lighting provides the potential to not only address this, but also offer cost savings and become a distributed platform for wireless building services and technologies to build upon in the future. From reducing energy consumption, to developing communicative and smart commercial infrastructures, it offers many benefits for the modern world.

The complexity and technological demands of the smart lighting industry has required a fresh approach to simple and secure wireless connectivity that can enable the true capabilities of the market to be achieved. Bluetooth is making big steps to respond to these industry demands by the introduction of their mesh networking standard.

The momentum in the lighting sector is clear; Research and Markets predict smart lighting will have a total market size of $65.3 billion by 2025, with smart lighting continuing to take greater dominance over total technology spend.

With proper deployment and configuration, smart lighting, using Bluetooth’s mesh networking, is able to support the operation of dense networks with thousands of intercommunicating devices

With the UK lighting industry’s products consuming around 18 per cent of all electricity generated in the country, and Gartner predicting that smart solid-state lighting in office and industrial installations alone has the potential to reduce energy costs by 90 per cent, it’s clear smart lighting will continue to drive buy in from businesses and governments alike.

Smart lighting is truly versatile when used to its full potential, and can act as a natural grid for wider connectivity to be built upon under certain circumstances. There are some clear needs in the market that are driving the demand for smart lighting, however in reality it can be difficult to implement effectively. Key issues such as reliability, scalability, automation and integration with networks and other devices need to be addressed in order to bring true smart lighting benefits into reality.

This is where Bluetooth mesh networking can be beneficial, a key enabler for the IoT market offering an improved method of communication between all sorts of devices, and a platform for intelligent smart building capabilities to be built upon. Bluetooth mesh builds on the company’s global standard that over 32,000 organisations already use and it is this standardisation that enables Bluetooth mesh to provide leading multi-vendor interoperability, increasing the viability for smart building and lighting adoption.

To demonstrate the complexity of smart lighting in a simple scenario, consider a wireless light switch operating a set of several hundred lights. Each light is controlled by the switch, and must come on simultaneously when the switch is turned on, with no discernible delay. This is easy in theory when considering lights and switches all in the same room, but much more complex in practice when considering a building, especially when thick walls and other factors such as wireless radio range can impact signal strength or cause interference. It gets even harder when replacing the traditional light switch with a wireless dimmer switch, which must provide smooth, responsive and precisely synchronised control of the lights in a way that feels natural and pleasing to the user.

Bluetooth mesh networking inherits the power efficiency, low latency and other traits that have made Bluetooth LE so popular in consumer devices. 

Other wireless technologies, originally designed for much simpler use cases, such as smart thermostats and smart smoke detectors, will struggle to offer such precise control, flexibility and scalability in this growing market.

With proper deployment and configuration, smart lighting, using Bluetooth’s mesh networking, is able to support the operation of dense networks with thousands of intercommunicating devices across commercial infrastructures and spanning large distances.

One of the things that makes Bluetooth mesh networking unique is the protocol stack uses Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) for radio communications. Bluetooth mesh networking inherits the power efficiency, low latency and other traits that have made Bluetooth LE so popular in consumer devices. In addition, Bluetooth mesh has been designed to allow Bluetooth LE devices like modern smartphones to be able to communicate with a Bluetooth mesh network. As a result, this saves commercial organisations both time and money when implementing a new smart lighting solution, allowing the use of standard, in-market equipment with which to monitor and control devices in the mesh network.

Nodes in a Bluetooth mesh network have functionality related to their specific product type, for example lights, but may also take on special roles in the network. Nodes can be enabled to act as a relay, participating in the distribution of messages across the network by relaying or forwarding messages to other nodes which are in range.

In this way, a single message can be distributed across wide-spanning distances via “multi-hop messaging”. This can drastically improve the scale of end-to-end communication as message distribution between nodes is not restricted by radio range. This boasts huge advantages in creating smart commercial infrastructures that may span large areas, such as warehouses, as rapid communication between devices, systems and assets can be integrated into operations management to enhance performance, asset tracking and user experience.

Bluetooth mesh also allows different types of device to work seamlessly together, to deliver useful and beneficial building capabilities. Let’s look at the concept of daylight harvesting as an example and how, with the inclusion of Bluetooth mesh, the solution can reduce energy consumption. Ambient light sensors can be fitted across every room in a building, and connected to the lighting system through a Bluetooth mesh network. Sensors detect the level of light in certain rooms within the building, and automatically increase or decrease the artificial light being provided, based on the detected level of light in the room, including both natural and artificial sources. The benefit of this approach is that the lights get dimmed or turned off when there’s enough natural light (a cost saving) and the ambient light level in the room remains constant throughout the day, making for a better work environment for people.

Multi-path message delivery is a strategy which makes Bluetooth mesh highly reliable and means multiple copies of messages are sent via different paths through the network to their destination. If we take the wireless dimmer switch example operating hundreds of lights, multi-path messaging would enable the dimmer switch to work and interact with lights across a building reliably. If one component of the network fails (for example a light is blown) the message will reach its destination via another path.

Lights in this environment contain microcontrollers running software, that as well as providing lighting capabilities, can also include additional functionality not related to lighting and enable building services such as way finding (indoor navigation) and asset tracking. A Bluetooth mesh lighting system can act as a distributed platform for the future that many other wireless building services can be built upon and can be seen as the foundations to creating smart buildings globally.

While Bluetooth mesh networking is a new technology for 2017, it is anticipated that we will start to see rapid adoption among those in the smart lighting industry, particularly attracted by the multi-vendor interoperability which the Bluetooth standard makes possible. Smart lighting is set to be a huge part of smart commercial buildings moving forward, and with the support of Bluetooth mesh networking, can help reduce operating costs, achieve greater building efficiency and reduce carbon footprints.

 

  • Martin Woolley will speaking on the Gooee IoT Arena at this year’s LuxLive 2017 exhibition at ExCeL London, which takes place on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November 2017. Entry is free if you pre-register at www.luxlive.co.uk

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