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Integrated software and the expanding role of lighting

Advancements in lighting technology are opening the door to integrated software and other features that enhance performance and add value.

“Widespread adoption of LEDs has introduced a whole new set of possibilities, because LEDS are inherently controllable at a finer light level,” said Michael Lunn, senior product manager for Eaton’s lighting division. “It’s allowed the lighting industry to respond to a culture shift toward apps, web-based software packages and personalized settings.”

Various software packages are now being integrated into luminaires to expand functionality. Sensors can handle many functions of the control system. In addition, the entire system can now be separated into smaller chunks–often down to the level of a single fixture–and light levels of individual luminaires can be automatically adjusted. LEDs can include built-in technology to handle things like occupancy, daylight and ambient temperature detection in addition to making light. And while it’s not quite ready for primetime, camera-based technology is well on its way.

For the lighting industry, integrated software is a clear win. Smartly planned and executed systems streamline the equipment needed to keep facilities running smoothly and reduce the amount of physical space needed for installation. They can provide significant energy savings, personalized environments and a gold mine of useful data.

However, as with any new technology, careful considerations must be taken into account. When a light is more than just a light, it becomes more vulnerable to tampering, either in the field or by remote access. In addition, the integration of powerful software changes how lights are sold.

“A year ago, light fixtures were primarily hardware, meaning the light fixture and control system were separate entities,” said Lunn. “The merging of technologies impacts how things are sold. The hardware/software mix is a great thing for the lighting industry and more importantly our customers, but it does change how we approach those conversations.”

The area with the greatest potential–and the most questions–might be one that is still in the development stage. Camera-based technology hasn’t made it to the market yet, but it is speeding toward the finish line.

“It will be a race to see who gets there with the best product first,” said Lunn. “And when you consider the inherent upside, it’s easy to understand why.”

Imagine mini-cameras in light fixtures that could:

  • Count people in hallways and train stations to determine space utilization
  • Watch which rows people visit most frequently in retail stores to determine the best store layout and potentially boost sales
  • Turn on lights as people walk toward them (similar to automatic sliding doors) to conserve energy
  • Personalize lighting using facial recognition (similar to cars that recognize their primary drivers)
  • Monitor loiterers to improve security
  • Detect smoke for early fire detection

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and hidden cameras raise privacy concerns.

“As the lighting industry begins implementing this technology in the coming years, we’ll have to take care to ensure we’re doing it responsibly,” said Lunn. “Cameras can be designed to provide live feeds without recording footage and transmitting video, or they can be limited to local control.”

Nevertheless, camera-based technology and other advancements in lighting are well on their way to becoming the norm because of the numerous benefits they provide.

“Even now, utilities are offering heavy incentives for the use of advanced lighting controls, so energy codes are helping accelerate the adoption rate,” Lunn said. “But integrated software is so exciting that it’s only a matter of time before all of these features really start to take off. The next few years will be fun to watch.”