How to Light, IoT/Smart Lighting

How to Light: Can a Bluetooth mesh network control lighting across multiple buildings?

This question was answered by the technical team at Silvair.

The short answer is yes. Let’s explore the possibilities, starting with monitoring. To maximise efficiencies, monitoring services need to be remotely accessible. This allows data to be gathered, aggregated and processed – potentially by a third party – in the cloud. Once sieved, sorted and prioritised, this data can be displayed in a form that enables building owners and property managers to optimise energy savings or improve processes taking place across a given space.

Bluetooth is a short-range technology, which means that a gateway has to be deployed in order to establish connection with the cloud. Bluetooth mesh subnets can connect with the cloud either through a gateway that is plugged into the building’s IT infrastructure (usually a local area network), or through a gateway that reaches the cloud directly via cellular technology. The latter enables remote monitoring without having to rely on the building’s IT infrastructure. In multiple cases this might be a desired scenario, since such interaction often requires a number of arrangements and can cause various complications. Of course, to enable remote monitoring services, you will need software that supports such features.

Bluetooth mesh is a relatively young technology, but software solutions offering monitoring tools are already emerging on the market. It is possible to monitor not only the performance of the lighting system itself (such as luminaires’ health or energy consumption), but also the way the space is used by its occupants (occupancy heatmaps based on data from occupancy sensors, for example). More advanced monitoring tools allow for creating and managing multiple projects – ranging from single rooms to entire buildings – via a web-based interface that can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

As for remote control, it should be carefully considered whether direct remote control

capabilities are needed in professional lighting applications. In its basic functions, such as occupancy sensing or daylight harvesting, lighting control consists of relatively small

autonomous systems. Occupancy status or daylight level in room A doesn’t impact light control in room B. And once we move a level higher, it becomes obvious that between buildings there are no such interactions at all. It is hard to come up with a case where you would need lighting in one building to be controlled from another building. Remote thermostat control in smart homes makes sense because it takes time to heat up a building – but you don’t need the light unless you’re inside a given space.

Advanced lighting control strategies are based on very precise rules, but it all happens fully autonomously. Such architecture could be described as a full authority system, similar to the ones used in jet engine control. As explained in a previous Q&A,  Bluetooth mesh puts a software controller into each luminaire. This controller acts like a Fadec (full authority digital electronic control) – it processes parameters and commands to influence luminaires’ behaviour. The fact that it is an autonomous and locally operating unit produces tangible benefits that are particularly important in the case of wireless networks. However, the most important benefit of shortening the distance (both literally and figuratively) between the controller and the controlled entities is the radically increased reliability.

As far as multi-building lighting control is concerned, it is not our goal to centrally control the output of each luminaire in every building. The luminaires will be doing just fine considering how extensively Bluetooth mesh supports advanced lighting control strategies. What is needed is the centrally-controlled scheduling that would allow for implementing relevant lighting scenes for movable holidays, national anniversaries, etc. With such central schedules, property managers can easily e.g. light up the facades of multiple buildings within one office complex – so that they match the country’s national colors on the Independence Day. Another example could be a centrally imposed reduction in luminaires’ output of e.g. 10% that would allow for meeting the energy consumption target previously agreed with the energy provider. In both cases, it is necessary to set up relevant scenes that are managed centrally. But in the end, a scene is just a set of parameters for the controllers. And the controllers implement such scenes locally whenever needed.

To sum up, Bluetooth mesh introduces autonomous real-time control. It is full authority control realised at the level of individual zones or rooms. In a multi-building scenario, you can centrally control scenarios and schedules, configure calendars, or change operational parameters. But the implementation of these parameters takes place locally. The improved efficiencies of this model are intuitively obvious. They can be achieved thanks to the unique properties of Bluetooth mesh and its distributed control architecture.

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