Is the cloud the future of lighting design software?

The power of the cloud is being put to the service of lighting professionals working on complex calculations and renderings, writes Lux technical editor Alan Tulla.   

Have you ever tried producing an accurate ray trace of 2,400 excavators illuminated by 800 metal halide highbays? Maybe not, but even if you wanted to, the chances are you couldn’t because your desktop pc isn’t nearly powerful enough. 

Producing photorealistic renderings requires huge amounts of computer power which just isn’t available on most office computers, let alone tablets and smartphones. 

This is where cloud computing can be a real boon. A new cloud-based design tool, dubbed Bloom Unit,  enables you to upload building data, in the form of a Sketchup model or Revit, and then use the vast computing power (6,000 CPU cores per user compared to four for a regular PC) to produce accurate ray traces from daylight or artificial light sources. 

You have to see the results to appreciate how good they are. 

There is a library of detailed materials and finishes in MDL (Material Definition Language). There is also a set of luminaires with full photometric data. Note that these also contain a detailed 3D model of the luminaire so it appears as a realistic image on the ceiling and not just a cube or cylindrical blob. There are two immediate advantages of using cloud computing for your rendering: The first is that it is really fast. You can produce several modified versions of a design whilst discussing it with a client. A neat feature is that the rendered images appear almost instantly – at first they are quite grainy and then become sharper and sharper as the iterations and inter-reflection calculations progress. But this is still only a matter of seconds for simple models. 

The output is normally a hi-res jpeg which can be seen on a pc, tablet or a smartphone. You can output walk-throughs as mp4 or other video format. In this way, design decisions can be made in a tele-conference or from an office to personnel on site. 

The other big advantage is security. Since the output is a simple jpeg image, it doesn’t contain any project or product characteristics. The output can be shared without the recipients even knowing what make or power of luminaires were used.  No spec busting! 

Apart from photo-realistic images, the renderings can have several different outputs. One of the commonest is a 'false colour' display. This can then have illuminance (lux) or luminance (cd/m2) values superimposed. This can be instantly updated as you move your viewing position around your scene.

Lux Verdict: Awesome processing power and stunning images make Bloom Unit a compelling piece of software.