Why I (kinda) hate the lighting industry sometimes

I HAVE A SECRET to confess. Back in the day, when I edited Lighting Equipment News (hands up if you remember the trade rag LEN?), this industry wasn’t my only squeeze.

For a few brief years – to please my bosses and earn a few extra grand – I also edited Shop Equipment News (we weren’t very imaginative with titles at Emap).

I recalled my run in retail recently during a panel discussion about the internet of things and lighting. Some of the panellists expressed cynicism that the IoT would become a ‘thing’. They couldn’t see why we would want our lights talking to the cloud. What would they tell it?

Further, they couldn’t see why anyone would want to access their smartphone in a shop. It wouldn’t happen, they affirmed, because of ‘security’ and ‘privacy’. And anyway ‘I can find the stock cubes in a supermarket without an app, thank you very much’.

Security? No one cares. Privacy? Sad, moist and lame.

It brought back to my mind a similar panel discussion about 15 years ago, this time about on-line shopping. Again the retail industry panellists were cynical. ‘It won’t happen’, they agreed. I distinctly remember one asking: ’Who in their right mind would type their credit card details into the internet?’

You won’t be surprised to learn that Jeff Bezos wasn’t on the panel. Global online sales, by the way, were worth almost $2 trillion last year. Yes, $2 trillion.

Our lighting panellists were equally adamant that no-one would walk around a shop while staring at their smart phone. Well, my 14-year-old daughter Lara does that all the time. Even when there isn’t a sniff of a bargain or a discount. She’ll take a selfie in the changing room of Top Shop or Pull&Bear and have 50 likes before she’s made it to the cashier. Security? No one cares, Dad. Privacy? Sad, moist and lame.

One senior lighting company executive confessed to me recently: ‘I thought the phrase Internet of Things was made up by you and the Lux team, Ray. And then I heard it on the BBC’.

My daughter will take a selfie in the changing room of Top Shop and have 50 likes before she’s made it to the cashier.

He’s not alone. I am regularly floored by the levels of dismissal and conservatism I hear in what is supposed to be a technical, innovative community. I hate this industry sometimes.

We should have learned our lesson a decade ago with LEDs. I remember clearly people saying to us: ‘LEDs are okay for some niches but not for general lighting’. They’d also complain that ‘all Lux ever talks about is LEDs’. Er, yes.

They couldn’t see why we would want our lights talking to the cloud. What would they tell it?

The LED revolution brought in a wave of new entrants to the lighting market, many of whom have taken a painful market share from the old guard.

The next revolution isn’t confined to the lighting sector, so there’s no excuse that we didn’t see it coming. The IoT will – is – disrupting whole industries. And not always in a bad way. Early adopters can do well: since 2014, BP has saved a staggering $7 billion by investing in Big Data technologies. It’s not for nothing they describe data as ‘the new oil’.

But here’s the thing: we in the lighting sector are in grave danger of missing this boat. I’d rate our chances at 50:50.

We should be all over the Smart Cities movement, but guess what? I reckon the energy companies and mobile networks will beat us to it.

Worse, luminaires could become dumb terminals, a cheap platform to carry digital services designed, sold and managed by someone else.

Last week we tested a high bay light we bought from China for $16 and found that it was dangerous. Scary.

This week we bought a $16 LED panel from Amazon (thank you Mr Bezos) and you know what? It’s pretty good.

Now that’s truly terrifying.

 

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