LIGHTING designers working on the relighting of much of the art at London’s venerable Westminster Abbey this summer faced a conundrum: how to control 250 spotlights dotted in nooks and crannies around the space.
Extra wiring wasn’t an option at this Grade 1-listed building, and thanks to the solid stone construction, neither was a central wireless controller. The solution? Bluetooth Mesh, where the lights talk to each other and relay the control messages around the installation.
At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, designers have gone one step further. As well as for multiple light control, Bluetooth is being used for room environmental monitoring and lux-hour tracking helps to preserve the irreplaceable art, and beacons are enabling way-finding services and point-of-interest information for visitors.
Similarly, at Gatwick Airport outside London, an indoor navigation system comprising of 2,000 Bluetooth beacons is enabling passengers to steer a course through the complex by following a path overlaid in the camera view of their smartphones.
These early applications of the technology are demonstrations of how Bluetooth (and specifically Bluetooth Mesh) are not only shaking up smart lighting but pushing the boundaries of what the industry thought could be done with lighting.
Executives have long held the ambition to turn the lighting installation into a digital backbone - an ‘Internet of Things’ platform which would allow other technologies, services and tasks.
With Bluetooth Mesh, that’s actually becoming a reality.
The ratification of the Bluetooth Mesh in the summer by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) was clearly a bit of a game changer. The move followed three years of research and effectively boosted Bluetooth's reach far beyond the typical 10m range that’s familiar to consumers sharing things like audio files among smartphone, computers, tables, TVs, and other devices.
As it’s a mesh topology, the enabled luminaires don’t need to be in direct radio range as messages are relayed from device to device at the speed of sound. As well as covering large buildings, the technology could cover collections of buildings such as university campuses.
There’s no central point to fail, and robust ‘multi-casting’ of the ultra short messages with a fast data transfer rate means high reliability.
Global interoperability – indispensable in the IoT world – means kit from one vendor works perfectly with those from other vendors. Also driving its acceptance is its low cost, familiarity and the ubiquity of Bluetooth modules.
But what really takes things to another level is the sheer scale of weight behind the tech.
Bluetooth has a remarkable 34,000 corporate members. A staggering 10 million Bluetooth-enabled devices are shipped worldwide every day with forecasters* estimating that this number will increase to 5.2 billion annually by 2022.
Since July, Bluetooth SIG has certified about 50 Mesh-based products, which adds to 50 from the whole of the first year. With the pace now picking up, it’s little wonder that engineers in the lighting industry are predicting 2019 as the year of Bluetooth Mesh. It’s set to end a format war that never really got going.
‘The low power radio race is over and Bluetooth Mesh won,’ says Szymon Slupik of Polish lighting control specialist Silvair. ‘None of the competing systems comes close. And probably none of them is capable of maintaining the speed of evolution of Bluetooth.
‘But what’s probably the most exciting part is that this whole mesh is just the beginning. It is - formally speaking - version 1. And of course there will be new releases’. We can’t wait.