The IoT in smart homes will depend upon lighting

September 7, 2015 OpenSystems Media

Moving our homes into the Internet of Things (IoT) century and making them truly smart will require easy-to-implement IoT connectivity. Fortunately, the move to smart lighting is delivering a ready-made platform for intelligent, connected sensing. Simply updating our lighting systems will provide the delivery mechanism for sensor hubs in our homes, as well as commercial spaces, enabling smart spaces that respond and adapt to the people who occupy them.

Why lighting? If we think about the different fixtures in our homes, we land on things like faucets, sinks, refrigerators, HVAC systems, and lights. Of those, only one is in every room, and naturally supplied with electricity. Plus many of those lights are in the ceiling, which is a really good vantage point to monitor what’s happening within the space. While the IoT offers the promise that our “things” will be more customized and more responsive to our needs and activities, they need to know what those needs and activities are. The IoT needs awareness, and that’s what sensors provide.

It is simple enough to envision the addition of sensors and communications to create that initial concept of smarter, more adaptive lighting. If people are present, turn the lights on; if not, turn them off. Or use your smart phone to connect to the lighting system and tune it to the desired brightness level or to a particular color. Add gesture sensing, and the consumer can move away from the switch on the wall to “wave” the lights on, off, up, or down.

Light level sensing will automatically dial the added illumination down when there’s sufficient daylight in the space, and additional connectivity to cloud apps will provide real-time lighting energy monitoring and feedback to tell you how well that daylighting system is working. As creative control and cloud apps bring the business case and value, household adoption will begin to roll. Smart lights, with sensing, control, connectivity, and the cloud, will have a foothold in the space, just as affordable cell phones and air-time staked out the ground in our pockets, just waiting until the next step kicked in, namely smartphone apps.

For our smart homes, the smart lighting revolution will come from sensor expansion, beyond just lighting functions to all kinds of IoT related awareness. People counting will track the needs in the space (and tell the system whether to pay attention to all the waving arms or not). Temperature and humidity sensors can move off the wall, and away from the wires or batteries, and into the IoT smart lighting platform – there’s always electricity in the ceiling. Air quality sensing will measure CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and adapt the fresh air circulation to balance energy efficiency and our health. Smoke and CO sensors will keep a silent vigil over our children and pets, and eventually we’ll see generalized bio-monitoring from pathogen to heart rate detection, all in those IoT smart lighting fixtures serving in their role as sensor hubs for our smart homes.

If any of this seems a bit fanciful, or simply unaffordable, bear in mind the changes in our daily lives that resulted from the smartphone revolution. The first iPhone wasn’t introduced until 2007, and today everything has changed about the way we communicate, navigate, and access information in the world around us. That volume opened the opportunity to include a staggering number of sensors into each phone, with perhaps several not even being used quite yet while the next app comes along. The IoT smart lighting/smart sensing revolution will follow a similar track moving us quickly to sensor-driven awareness being at work, on the go, and in our homes.

Tom Griffiths works with Sensor Driven Lighting products at ams AG. He has spent the last 14 years as a communicator and evangelist immersed in LEDs, LED lighting, and the associated markets. Tom’s background includes 15 years in staff level marketing and sales management within the board level embedded computer industry. He holds BA and MA degrees from the University of California.

Tom Griffiths, ams AG
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