Calm down everybody, Dali is not dead yet. That was the consensus in a discussion on the future of the lighting control protocol at Lux's Smart Lighting Controls Europe 2015 conference (watch the video of the debate here).
Dali continues to evolve, resolve its issues and respond to the needs of the lighting industry. But even so, its fate could end up being decided by forces much bigger than the lighting industry itself, and the user could be worse off, according to one expert.
‘The IT industry will take over and make the decisions for us. They’ll make protocol changes, they’ll adopt standards and we will have to live with what they want because their market is bigger than ours,’ said David Mooney, an associate at Atkins who took part in a panel discussion on Dali.
"Lighting is almost unique in having that open, universal protocol. That openness and robustness is absolutely imperative"
Mooney continued: ‘There are so many positions in the lighting industry where decisions are being made by non-lighting people, affecting the quality of the product that I can deliver to my client. The people who deliver solutions are not necessarily lighting-driven and won’t understand what we’re trying to do. Their system will suit them.’
Mooney added that the user might be worse off if the standard lighting controls protocol of the future is designed outside the lighting industry. ‘I’m worried that we’ll lose the functionality that we’ve gained,’ he said.
‘One of the key things Dali does better than most other things is failure feedback. Other systems struggle to get information back on failed lamps and ballasts. When you buy a Dali product all the error feedback is in the ballast.’
Panellists repeatedly stressed the importance of having an open protocol for lighting control, although Wayne Howell of Artistic Licence raised the issue of supposedly Dali-compliant kit from different manufacturers sometimes not communicating.
‘Lighting is almost unique in having that open, universal protocol out there. The openness and the robustness of it is absolutely imperative,’ said Mooney.
‘In a building there’ll be two or three retrofit solutions, maybe with different ballasts. The protocol should be able to talk to everybody else’s piece of kit, whether it be a ballast or a sensor. That is so important.’
Howell added: ‘The industry is sadly moving towards having more and more proprietary protocols that don’t have interoperability.’
Sam Woodward of Lutron pointed out that Dali is useful as part of the lighting toolbox, with some ‘really useful parts of the family of Dali standards still to come through.’
Andrew Glossop of Helvar mentioned new additions to the protocol for controlling colour temperature and RGB colours and said that it is important that the protocol continues to evolve and keep up to date with what people want to do. As long as it does that, it’s better than the alternative.
‘At the moment there really isn’t a clear follow-up to what Dali is doing,’ Glossop said.’ You’ve got 101 different versions of wireless happening, which one would you pick? Dali is fit for purpose and it’s being updated all the time, so the important thing is making sure Dali does what the industry needs. If something better comes along, I’m happy to make use of it.’
Tad Trylski, an independent lighting designer, highlighted the relative simplicity Dali. ‘The great thing about Dali is you can tell an electrician to wire it up as if it was mains. If you work with small independent electricians with little controls experience that’s useful. The physical layout is one of the successes of Dali.’
The improvements of Dali 2 and future improvements were also noted. 'There were numerous holes in Dali 1, particularly when it came to controls specification which allowed controllers to be compatible with the Dali standard but incompatible with each other. But there have been huge improvement now and I think we’ll see even better cross-manufacturer functionality in the future,’ Howell said.
Nevertheless, changing with the times could be vital if Dali is to stand a chance of remaining the industry standard. ‘Perhaps Dali is in need of a change of clothes. It’s been with us for a very long time, but quite possibly as a language, we’re moving away from the wires that it currently works with,’ Howell suggested.
Mooney added: ‘We’re moving to places where power may not be connected by wires, we need a standard that allows this to happen.’