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Will lighting provide the foundations for our connected future?

The ability to link your lights up to other devices and systems is great. But what's it for?

A wireless lighting network at Newark Airport in the US has shown how lighting can expand to embrace security and other services. The system can monitor the movement of people and vehicles and might, in the future, check travellers in for their flights and send them coffee coupons. 

Hugh Martin of Sensity Systems, which is providing monitoring technology for the connected lighting system at Newark Airport, said that surveillance and security were the main attractions right now, but added: ‘There is a lot of things you can do with the information. You could make data available to users of smartphones, such as the number of parking spaces available in the parking lot.’

Sam Woodward of Havells Sylvania said that the prevalence of sensors, wiring and fittings means that lighting ‘owns the ceiling’ in many buildings, and has the opportunity to be at the heart of new connected systems encompassing other services and technologies.

Martin said that lighting could form the basis of a new ‘data-rich environment’ in the same way that previous communications system have piggybacked on existing infrastructure, such as the telegraph system, which was built on the railroad system. He added that new technologies such as control systems for car parks can be prohibitively expensive to install because there has to be a network installed for the service. ‘We manage all that for them,’ he said. ‘It’s a tremendous cost benefit for the developers.’

Martin said that the future of a connected network of lights holds many opportunities beyond facility management. ‘Over time we are going to move into a world where there are applications that have nothing to do with the person who generated the data,’ such as looking at data to find large-scale patterns.

Martin also suggested that new, connected technology will help lighting manufacturers change their focus from commodities to services: ‘Now a manufacturer can get in and offer light as a service, or they could offer other services such as security. It’s a way for manufacturers to move into services.’

But the expansion could happen both ways, he added, with the IT world moving in on the lighting industry: ‘A few years ago, CES was all about gadgets. Now it’s about software and connections. The same will happen to the lighting industry.’