THE ARRIVAL of Bluetooth mesh will transform lighting into part of the IT network and effectively kill the traditional lighting control box, its proponents have claimed.
The new standard, unveiled to the lighting industry at LuxLive last year, is promising to turn luminaires in buildings into a connected grid which can create new services for property owners and operators.
‘Bluetooth mesh is a completely new technology that’s very different to the Bluetooth that people are accustomed to on their smart phones,’ Martin Woolley, technical programme manager of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, told Lux. ‘It’s really designed for smart buildings and in particular for lighting systems. We’re talking about hundreds of devices such as lights, switches and sensors all able to communicate with each over long distances.’
It’s a mesh topology, so the enabled luminaires don’t need to be in direct radio range as messages are relayed from device to device at the speed of sound. As well as covering large buildings, the technology could cover collections of buildings such as university campuses.
Also expected to drive its acceptance in the lighting industry is the low cost and ubiquity of Bluetooth modules. Already 10 million Bluetooth devices are shipped every single day and the technology is widely understood by engineers in the lighting industry.
Woolley believes the new standard will create new opportunities for lighting manufacturers at a time of increased commoditisation and new functionality, insights and services for building owners.
‘The lighting will become a platform [on which] to run applications,’ says Woolley. The lights could track people and objects and lead to applications in dynamic, personalised lighting and asset tracking.
Simon Slupik, the chief technology officer of Silvair and chair of the Bluetooth mesh group, says wireless is now a well-accepted technology.
‘The wired versus wireless debate is over now. Nobody asks us to justify mobile phones, for instance. Wireless wins because of its flexibility and the cost advantage is huge.
‘Bluetooth mesh brings lighting control. Lighting control today usually consists of a box, and you can configure all your sensors back to that box, and then you need configure the software and configure that box to communicate with your lights. That’s the conventional approach. And of course those box can be very expensive’.
‘With Bluetooth Mesh, with the arrival of peer-to-peer communication, that box is gone. That box – when you think about it – is a computer with software. We’re simply putting a copy of that software in every light’
‘Unlike high-power networks such as wi-fi, which are designed to deliver a high amount of data, Bluetooth mesh network devices consume very low power, and transport low amounts of data but are capable of accommodating thousands of those devices.
‘The only [concern] is over reliability and we have to remember that mobile phones weren’t that reliable 20 years ago. But today, you don’t have many dropped calls or anything like that.
‘This spring will be a key time, and I expect the component manufacturers to bring product to the markets. Luminaire makers need to take care that manufacturers can deliver them mesh-compatible products.’
Already some top lighting brands have introduced compatible products. LEDvance has unveiled a series of smart LED lamps and LED tape for the residential market that are Bluetooth mesh ‘qualified’.
‘Unlike other proprietary lighting solutions that only offer mesh networking with their own products, our industry-first Smart+ Bluetooth lighting products are mesh qualified,’ said Aaron Ganick, global head of Smart Business, LEDvance. ‘This means they can be incorporated into larger, more robust Bluetooth mesh networks that include other qualified products like thermostats, locks, and especially voice assistants.
‘We’re excited to be working with many of these ecosystem partners on next generation lighting experiences directly controlled using Bluetooth mesh. By helping to enable an easy-to-use ecosystem that is available to everyone, Bluetooth mesh is making the smart home more of a reality for our consumers.’
WATCH THE INTERVIEWS IN FULL: MARTIN WOOLLEY, BLUETOOTH SIG
SIMON SLUPIK, SILVAIR