IoT/Smart Lighting, Product Reviews

Silvair perfects connected lighting technology

Lux met up with the folks from Silvair at their LuxLive 2016 booth.
Silvair aims to create a connected lighting infrastructure  that offers  a platform for services. Pictured: The Silvair LuxLive booth last year.

Connected technologies have become a common sight at industry events and they were among the most important trends at last year’s LuxLive.

The list of benefits that they have to offer in commercial lighting is impressive, but the adoption rate and the list of real world implementations is not as impressive as you might expect.

To learn more about where commercial smart lighting technology is at the moment Lux met up with the folks from Silvair at their LuxLive 2016 booth.

Silvair evangelizes the concept that a connected lighting infrastructure should become a platform for services; a powerful, multi-application engine turning commercial buildings into adaptive, sustainable and smart organisms.

In addition to a standard set of smart lighting features, including personalised wireless lighting control or predictive product maintenance, the product should offer more sophisticated services, such as occupancy analytics, occupancy based climate control, beacons, indoor location services or asset tracking.

How far are we from realizing this ambitious vision? According to Silvair, we’re almost there.

What prevents the fulfilment of the dream is the lack of appropriate wireless communication technology. Considering the scale of commercial lighting systems and the amount of services we expect them to deliver, it should not be surprising that low power, low bandwidth technologies cannot cope with such significant data volumes. Handling heavy network traffic is simply not what they were designed for. Plus, there is the security challenge, which didn’t exist in the world of wired controls, but is paramount in the wireless world.

What makes security so difficult is the nature of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which typically have very small storage and very low processing power.

Disappointed with the capabilities of available protocols, Silvair has built a proprietary mesh technology based on Bluetooth Smart. It has performed so well that multiple concepts developed by Silvair were later used as the foundation for Bluetooth Mesh, a new flavour of Bluetooth, which is to be adopted this year.

Products on the Silvair stand during last year’s LuxLive. The company strongly emphasises the importance of cross-vendor interoperability. 

In recognition of the company’s significant contribution to the development of Bluetooth Mesh, Simon Slupik, the CTO of Silvair, was appointed chair of the Mesh Working Group at Bluetooth.

Having worked with all the major wireless communication standards he believes Bluetooth Mesh is going to be the first solution capable of ensuring robust network performance in professional lighting applications where scalability, synchronous operation and high responsiveness are among the must have features.

The first iteration of Bluetooth Mesh has been developed almost exclusively with commercial lighting applications in mind and with the ambition to make it a wireless equivalent of DALI.

Why would Bluetooth Mesh be a better engine for commercial lighting systems than other technologies?

One of the things that make it so unique is the way it handles wireless communication. Achieving a satisfactory network performance, within a commercial lighting network with hundreds or thousands of nodes, requires minimising the occurrence of radio packet collisions.

Data packets must therefore be small enough and need to be transmitted as quickly as possible to their destination. Bluetooth is capable of transferring data at a rate of 2 Mbit/s, compared to only 250kbit/s achieved by the 802.15.4 standard (used by both ZigBee and Thread). Furthermore, it has been optimised to transport very large amounts of very small data packets, which are distributed over the mesh network using the flooding technique.

Why would Bluetooth Mesh be a better engine for commercial lighting systems than other technologies?

Silvair

Contrary to the traditional routing approach used by other protocols, flooding is perfectly suited for lighting control applications. Bluetooth’s unique characteristics ensure wire like reliability and scalability to thousands of nodes, a holy grail for commercial smart lighting systems.

Silvair also strongly emphasises the importance of total cross-vendor interoperability, which remains a major challenge not only in the smart lighting segment but also across the entire IoT. Bluetooth Mesh promises to ensure that, just the way the old Bluetooth managed to ensure that every Bluetooth-based headset works with every smartphone on the market.

Finally, being natively supported by mobile devices, Bluetooth with its proximity sensing capabilities enables an entire range of value added services from beacons and asset tracking to precise indoor navigation. No other protocol can do that.

While waiting for the adoption of the Bluetooth Mesh standard, Silvair is busy implementing pioneering pilot projects. The biggest one is a sensor driven smart lighting installation with 1,500 nodes, which was launched in cooperation with Organic Response at the AGL head office in Melbourne.

Lessons learned from these pilots will help the company address the challenges accompanying the implementation, provisioning and maintenance of high density smart lighting networks in commercial spaces.