It's not just the Internet of Things anymore. It's the Internet of Everything. And lighting is stepping into a greater role than ever.
An international San Francisco-based consortium called the AllSeen Alliance is on a self-described mission 'to advance the Internet of Everything,' and it has put lighting at the centre of its efforts.
First, in case this is all new to you: The internet isn't feeding just computers, tablets, smartphones and gadgets anymore. It's connecting to all manner of things – washing machines, cars, refrigerators, Coca-Cola dispensers, air and water sensors, and traffic control systems among them.
And oh yes, lights – everything from streetlights to smart bulbs in your home.
The idea is that everything connects to everything else, allowing for über communication which provides untold benefits to the economy and mankind.
Sensors in your refrigerator detect that you're low on lager, so they automatically order a case of pilsner to arrive in your next online shopping delivery. Electric utilities remotely switch on your ready-to-go home washing machine when they're generating a surplus of power that they're happy enough to sell 'cheap' at two o'clock in the morning. Cars' satellite navigation systems tie into constantly updated traffic data and route the driver (for now, a person!) on an alternate course if need be.
To tie this back into our lighting theme: The traffic data could well have come from a streetlamp, which is outfitted with a network-linked sensor that monitors the flow of cars and trucks. The lamps themselves are digital – they're LEDs (light emitting diodes) – that operators can switch on or off, or dim or brighten, via network connections.
At home, a smart bulb can similarly respond to a remote control – an app on your phone, for instance - which might even allow you to change its colour. As you pull up to your drive, you might crank up the kitchen lights to full brightness so that you can safely navigate the chopping knives and garlic cloves, while warming your living room with an orange glow.
As intelligent lights start talking to things like doorknobs (okay so this isn't exactly the heartfelt discourse of a Jane Austen novel) and bells and outdoor cameras and sensors, indoor bulbs could flicker when guests or prowlers arrive. Baby monitors could flash the dining room lights when the little one stirs from a nap in the bedroom. Lights wirelessly connected to a video console could dance when a game's action requires it.
It's the sort of thing that's in its infancy through products like Google's Nest home control system (it integrates lighting, heating, alarm and other systems) and with smart bulbs like Philips' Hue, LIFX's Wi-Fi connected lamp, and others.
It's also what has the AllSeen Alliance so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It has formed a Connected Lighting Working Group to 'develop ways for WiFi-enabled, multi-color and energy-efficient LED light bulbs to work in creative new ways with each other and things including televisions, home security systems, home appliances, smoke detectors and door locks,' it says in a press release.
The Lighting Working Group is weaving what it calls a Lighting Service Framework (LSF for acronym fans) into the consortium's 'AllJoyn' open source Internet project, and expects software applications to emerge by the end of this year. AllSeen has this sort of thing in its blood – it is a member of the Linux Foundation, a group associated with Linux open source software.
Techno-speak aside, the group's chairman Marc Alexander sees huge potential.
'Connected lighting has the potential to be one of the most dramatic applications of the Internet of Everything in homes and businesses,' says Alexander, who is also chief technology officer at San Francisco based LIFX, an AllSeen Alliance member. 'To meet that potential, lights need the ability to proximally discover one another and other things regardless of brand, platform or OS. That’s why there is a strong need in the market for a connected lighting framework based on open standards.'
Bring on the proximal discovery! A light bulb walks into a bar....
Photo is from Tom Raftery via Flickr