• Connect

The connection between connected lighting and apps

office building at night

This decade might be defined by the development of apps.

When it first launched in 2008, the Apple App Store included a paltry 500 apps including Facebook, Yelp, eBay, Travelocity and Super Monkey Ball. Today, more than two million apps are available through Apple and Google, and thousands more pop into cyberspace every month. There are game apps, education apps, entertainment apps, and apps that fit into various other categories such as shopping, travel, music, finance, books, sports, navigation and the weather. Apps have revolutionized nearly everything – the way people communicate, play, date, get from point A to point B, park, identify the names of songs that cannot be readily recalled, and more.

But as far-reaching as apps have become, a new development in the lighting industry could be opening the door for apps to further revamp how people interact with the built environment. That new development is connected lighting.

Connected lighting refers to lighting fixtures that contain an embedded technology, often a sensor, that detects system and environmental details. Wireless radios installed in the sensors and other wireless lighting system components (wall stations, controlled receptacles, tile-mounted sensors, etc.) create a wireless mesh network over which the entire lighting system communicates. The sensors also share the collected data over the network in real time, which can then be used by system software and apps to offer important insights about how the building is used, improve the efficiency of the lighting system, or assist the people in the space.

Here are three ways connected lighting offers a truly unique connectivity solution in the built environment:

  1. The wireless network infrastructure created by the connected lighting fixtures and other lighting control components in the system is pervasive, installed throughout the interior and exterior space with a grid-like uniformity.
  2. The sensors are also constantly powered, so even if a light is turned off, the fixture is connected, and the sensor is operational.
  3. Connected lighting delivers connectivity in the footprint of an object – the lighting fixture – that is already present or will be installed in the building.

The potential application of this technology reaches well beyond the wheelhouse of lighting enthusiasts, because the type of data that can be detected and relayed through the connected lighting system is not limited to the lighting system. Of course, information about system performance is available, so apps can be developed to manage and maintain a connected lighting system.

But the sensors can also collect a wide variety of data points that have nothing to do with lighting including:

  • Space occupancy
  • Traffic patterns
  • Ambient air temperatures
  • Gunshots and more

Some advanced sensors are even being equipped with Bluetooth technology, making it possible to track equipment and other mobile assets in real time and offer wayfinding solutions to help people navigate through a building.

With the platform for capturing and sharing building-wide data in place, new apps can be designed to use this information to dramatically improve the use of building resources and the occupant experience in the space. In fact, developers have already created several apps to use the data from a connected lighting system.

Here are existing examples of apps that collect data from connected lighting systems:

  • Some apps use the greater level of constant environmental detail to optimize the efficiency and performance of various building systems. 
  • Others provide information and insights that improve the way people live and work. These apps use occupancy data to highlight congested areas or harness Bluetooth beacon signals so employees can easily locate in-demand equipment, allowing them to reallocate their significant search times to other, more productive activities.

Today, connected lighting systems may seem as if they are on the technological cusp. It may be difficult to imagine how this data could be used to make employees more productive or spaces more functional, comfortable or secure. But in only a few years, apps have shortened speed-dating to a swipe, put entire music and entertainment libraries at our fingertips, and streamlined almost every daily process from commuting and fact-finding to casual conversations. As connected lighting ushers in the next evolution of apps, the potential advantages to the built space and the people who occupy them could be nothing short of revolutionary.

For more information on the history of the connectivity trend in the built environment and the types of apps currently being developed to use the data from connected lighting systems, read “The App-ortunities in Connected Lighting,” featured this month on Embedded.com. 

The Lighting reSource