The key to connected lighting? Keep it simple

The industry's dream of 'connected lighting' won't become a reality before controls get much, much easier to use, agreed a panel of experts at a seminar hosted by Lux Review at the Hong Kong International Lighting Fair today.

‘It’s all about who’s going to be the fastest to market to enable the most simple and cost-effective solution,’ said Max Yue of Cree.

Sophisticated lighting control systems are already widely available, he said, ‘it’s just that it’s so complicated. It takes a lot of time and energy to install those things’.

Neil Salt of Aurora Group said: ‘How many times have you heard of a control system that hasn’t needed maintenance, upgrading, changing? It’s incredibly challenging, and the consumer has little or no control over that.’

Even today’s generation of app-based lighting control systems aren’t instantly accessible enough to go beyond being ‘a bit of a novelty’, he said.

He added that the cost of control systems also needs to come down from the ‘four-figure sums’ currently charged. ‘What Sonos did for home audio, should be able to be done for lighting,’ he said.

Gordon Routledge of Lux Review agreed, saying: ‘We’ve always done an incredibly bad job at controls. The systems out there are absolutely terrible and you need a high level of understanding to do anything with them.’

When asked if he expected the  established controls suppliers to lead the way, Routledge said: ‘I think they’re going to really struggle. The days of the traditional lighting control system are almost numbered, really. If I were them I’d be quite worried.’

There was more bad news for established controls players when a majority of the audience agreed with a prediction that drivers will no longer be with us in a decade’s time – due to their functions being brought into LED modules themselves.

Simon Coombes of Gooee – a new controls company whose system is based on building chips into LED modules and using power lines to send data back and forth – spoke about how lighting products need to be made ready to work with the emerging ‘Internet of Things’, in which everyday devices and items are connected to the web  to make them more useful and more efficient.

For this to happen, we need standardisation, he said, ‘and until there’s movement towards that, it’s going to be very frustrating for consumers’.

Fred Bass of Megaman said: ‘There’s such a diverse number of systems out there, I’m not sure it’ll just be one that will win.’

Ultimately, he said, lighting companies will need to take their lead from what happens in the smartphone market, because ‘everyone’s got one’.

Neil Salt said that making all the different systems talk to each other was key, because multiple devices with multiple interfaces add up to a bad user experience – regardless of how good each separate interface is. ‘Before we get lighting to be ‘smart’, it’s about figuring out how we get lighting to be interoperable [with other kinds of devices]’ he said.

Max Yue spoke about lighting providing the basis on which an all-purpose communication network could be built – because lighting infrastructure is already all around us. Routledge agreed, saying: ‘Lighting’s going to become a conduit to deliver other services and other functionality. You don’t buy a smartphone because it does great voice calls, you buy it because you can do lots of other things with it. And that’s what we’re seeing lighting go towards.’

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