‘Smart’ is the buzzword of the moment in the lighting business, and Australian manufacturers, suppliers and designers are beginning to ready themselves for the rise of connected, intelligent lights.
But what impact will this technological shift have in Australia? Are customers ready for so-called smart lighting, or is it just a gimmick invented by manufacturers who fear their products becoming commoditised and the long lives of LEDs killing off the replacement market?
Lux Review spoke to some of the key players in the Australian lighting business at the Hong Kong International Lighting Fair this week.
Lance Stewart of controls system manufacturer Creative Lighting said: ‘We’ve got several big players looking at different ways to bring the internet of things about, and clearly that’s going to happen in the lighting industry as well. I think the interconnectivity of lights and controls is just going to keep growing and those who don’t keep on board are going to get left behind.
‘I think that we will see a move in the commercial lighting industry towards the controls being much more integrated with the controls of cars, with commercial controls, industrial controls and so on.’
But Stewart has his doubts over how fast the change will come in Australia, saying: ‘The Australian market has an unenviable reputation as being slow on technology uptake in some respects. We’re a funny market in that we’re known as innovators, [but] we’re not very good at taking up our own innovations.’
Lighting designer James Marshall said that if controls are to take off, they need to be much simpler than they have been in the past – to the point that they are able to recognise individuals and respond automatically to their needs, rather than requiring them to make selections on a wall plate or smartphone.
Pete Barry of Plan One Design says reliability will be key to the success of controls, especially as buyers become more sophisticated. ‘We find our clients looking for robust controls,’ he said. ‘They want controls that are intuitive and they want it to be seamless. They want it to work even when the Wi-Fi goes down, and this is where a lot of the current control systems have a gap – if it’s totally reliant on Wi-Fi or a high degree of electronics they find they’re have a technician at the premises monthly.’
Doug Galvin, director of Solus Lighting and publisher of Lux Review, believes that from the manufacturer’s perspective, controls are a way of offsetting the falling price of LED technology. ‘What we’ll see in Australia is the LED market being saturated, and what we’ve seen in the past is the price coming down on the fitting, but where the ‘value add’ will come in is with the new technology in controls.’
Whether that’s really what buyers want, is another question. Dudley Hewitt of Sydney-based commercial lighting supplier JSB believes much of what’s being offered goes beyond what customers are looking for. Although there’s been a big shift towards using Dali, most users still just want to ‘turn things on and off’, he says.
‘I don’t see [lighting in] every school, hospital, office connected to the internet. It’s just unnecessary. It’s the same with dynamic white lighting – whilst it’s a great story and cool to sell and interesting, the take-up is very low.’