Lighting companies 'must embrace smart technology'

At the Lighting Fixture Design conference in London today, lighting designer Rogier van der Heide, formerly of Philips, asked why lighting is not further down the road of what he called ‘ambient intelligence’.

Van der Heide looked at the example of Nest, the US company that has pioneered intelligent thermostats and smoke alarms, asking, ‘Why are we not there?’

The real value of LED, he said, ‘is not that it does lighting more efficiently – the real value is that it’s a digital semiconductor. With ambient intelligence we can steer away from making a commodity towards creating new forms of interacting that are more valuable.’

'The lamp is not just a lamp anymore. A fixture is not just a fixture. Ambient design lets you attach services to your hardware offering.’

Once you include intelligence in lighting products, and start providing services off the back of them, ‘you enter a completely new value space, and you can create new paradigms of interaction that are very valuable,’ he added. ‘It’s not always known what we need – there are a lot of unknown needs that we will create lighting solutions for.’

Van der Heide cited several examples including that of a farmer growing vegetables under light that adapts to the needs of the crops; a drone that follows people around in a residential area, lighting up their path; and Philips' indoor positioning system, which could be used to track customer behaviour in shops, or to send them offers based on the products they're looking at.

But even in today’s most innovative lighting schemes, ‘the fixtures just light, they don’t do anything else,’ he said.

Comparing the transformation of the lighting industry to the digitalisation of the music industry, when traditional publishers and technology companies lost out to Apple, van der Heide added: ‘the big companies that collect big data are in a good position to create ambient intelligent products. So you might want to consider teaming up with one of them.’

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