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Lighting's ubiquity will be key to realising the IoT

So 2016 draws to a close and there is much for the pundits to review; the reality of self-driving cars, power from the air and the DNA App store to name but a few in what has been a year of great surprises. But rather than looking back now is a chance to look forward to the new opportunities and challenges of 2017. This year has seen considerable advances in the development of the Internet of Things, it is now a mainstream idea and every new gadget is prefixed by the term 'Smart'. 

All the capabilities of these so called 'Smart' products will be facilitated via the Internet of Things. But what does this really mean, how will an already well connected world become even more connected and how will this ever more complex network benefit either the individual, society and or business?   I believe that whilst the Internet of Things is a great starting point to get people thinking about improved connectivity now is the time for additional views and approaches to take centre stage. This new approach is termed the Internet of Light and it is this that will actually provide the physical framework through which 'things' will communicate. Take a moment to think about your day to day life and consider the one element that is present from the first moment of waking to last thing at night. 

Whether you are in the bedroom, on the street, on the train, bus or tube, in the office or the coffee shop, the cinema or the gym, you can be guaranteed that there will be illumination. Lighting is ubiquitous, and it is this ubiquity that provides the framework for the connectivity.   

We are at a unique point with regards to the development of lighting, until now lighting always operated over its own network but there is now what many are terming a perfect storm that creates a hitherto unforeseen opportunity.  The reduced power consumption and higher efficiency of LED modules means that lighting can now operate on an IT infrastructure. 

This means that valuable and previously uncatchable data, not only from the lighting systems but from other systems that are co-existing /or interoperating with lighting devices, can be leveraged. This is the most exciting advancement to impact lighting since the creation of the light bulb in 1879. In the future, lighting will be the low power mesh network that IoT devices will use to grow, thrive and communicate, inside the buildings and outside in the ever more sophisticated spaces that will be an integral part of the smart cities of the future.  

How and why is lighting the key to the IoT?

Lighting will be key to smart cities and IoT devices for a number of reasons; namely lighting can now be powered over an IT network using either PoE (Power over Ethernet) or an IP Wireless network. Secondly previously constrained IoT devices can use the same low power mesh lighting infrastructure to reach their service application and finally, as mentioned, the ubiquitous nature of lighting.   There will be numerous opportunities afforded by the development and activation of smart lighting and the only constraints will be either our lack of imagination and/or our reluctance to accept and embrace new ways of thinking and society's willingness to change. 

It is this second limitation that is going to be far harder to overcome, not only in the commercial arena but also in our own private lives. When the time comes for historians to review the technological developments of the early 21st century I believe smart cities and the smart lighting that facilitates them will be viewed in the same way that we now look at the steam that was the power behind the industrial revolution. In both instances it will be the occurrence of the so called ‘perfect storm' that was the catalyst for changes that previously had been unimaginable. 

Take a moment to compare the similarities:

  • Growing numbers of people moving to urban centres, resulting in increasing population densities that require new solutions for housing, transport, social care etc.
  • The availability of new technologies coupled with businesses, governments and individuals recognising that they present new opportunities and then being willing to invest and explore these new scenarios.
  • Inevitable resistance from some segments of business and the wider community who may feel threatened and who fear that their traditional ways may no longer be valid and who may not see a future for themselves or their services.
  • Forty years ago when arriving at a new destination one of our first thoughts might have been to locate the nearest cash point, now the first thing I and everyone else does is request the Wi-Fi code!

We have one advantage over the people facing the challenges of the industrial revolution nearly two hundred years ago. It is far easier for us to see and understand the changes that are happening and we are able to read about and learn from the real life examples, that are happening now. This enables us to grow with the SMART concept and allows us to understand that it is not something to fear but something to embrace.

What are the implications for the IT community and wider business

An 'out of the box' solution will no longer suffice when tendering for a new contract and this will be particular true in the case of IT solutions e.g. telecoms, comms networks or wider facilities management offerings such as environmental controls. fire detection, space management etc. Developers, clients and contractors are going to need to talk and listen to each other from the very first stages of any new project. 

The final goal for all will be to meet the client's demands but this will not be possible unless these outcomes are at the forefront of every discussion from day one. Some organisations will baulk at such close co-operation even viewing it as an infringement of their commercial confidentiality but without this new, more open approach to business then there will be little or no chance of delivering the truly interoperable, integrated solutions that the clients are going to demand and which the Internet of Light can undoubtedly deliver.   

So as we look to 2017 what I hope and believe we will see is the lighting industry and the IT industry coming together on a horizontal architecture that will offer society even more choice and opportunity. 

Simon Blazey, Strategic Solution Sales Manager, UK, ‎Tridonic
Image Credit: Flickr / fernando butcher

Simon has 25 years experience covering integrated building & energy management systems. Now with Tridonic he is leading their thinking around lighting, connected buildings and cloud based lighting solutions.