We all have witnessed, how the latest trends of automation are affecting the lighting industry. Automation which was once done only in commercial/Industrial settings has now become a trend in smart homes. Alexa and Google home add in a fun factor and takes the smart home concept to the next level. The lighting industry itself has evolved over last 10 years from using the old faithful Incandescent bulbs to traditional fluorescent lights to compact fluorescent lights and now to LED lights. Within a mere 4 years period the lighting industry has been engulfed by LED lights. LED lights have truly transformed the lighting industry by reducing the power consumption by almost a factor of 10 as compared to the incandescent lights.
The lighting automation industry has traditionally been using wired solution to create a smart lighting environment, for example, Motion sensors have always been wired in the AC path of the lights which it controls. Dimmers have always been triac based dimmers which use a phase cut method to control the intensity of lights. Colored lighting was not such a norm until LEDs came in. The transformation to LED lighting has happened at such a rapid pace that the automation industry is still trying to adapt to this shift. This shift has created quite a few problems like, (1) Dimming of LED lights using Triac dimmer directly is not possible. (2) the existing wired infrastructure is mainly designed for the AC operated conventional lighting systems. The industry has reacted by developing retrofit solutions like dimmable LED drivers, Potentiometer based dimming etc. But with all these products developed inter-operability has been a challenge.
Meanwhile there has been a steady progress on developing wireless lighting control solutions and these are now showing a great promise. A few of the wireless technologies which have been adopted to lighting control are Wifi, Zigbee, Proprietary 2.4GHz RF, Sub-1GHz bands and Bluetooth. We at Mrinq Technologies think that Bluetooth might just win the race. Bluetooth has released Bluetooth 5.0 which greatly extends the range of Bluetooth devices. Line of site (LOS) ranges in excess of 1KM have been comfortably achieved using Bluetooth 5.0 hardware. This now makes Bluetooth a robust wireless carrier for indoor as well as outdoor applications where range has been a challenge.
Recently Bluetooth special interest group (SIG) has announced Bluetooth Low energy (BLE) mesh standard as an interoperable standard for lighting control. This standard allows any luminaire to talk to the next luminaire forming a mesh network of lights. The standard allows for 32K devices in a single mesh network and using the group feature this can be increased even more. The Mesh standard works on a subscribe and publish methodology and gives extreme scalability. It has features like “Friend node” and a “Proxy node” where something like a battery-operated Bluetooth temperature sensor can send data to a nearby Proxy node and that that data can be propagated over the lighting Mesh network allowing temperature control. Such sensors can last for several years on a single coin cell battery.
Deep power savings can be achieved by creating adaptive lighting environments. For example, using BLE-Mesh enabled motion sensors and ambient light sensors the light intensity can be intelligently controlled to maintain a constant lighting level throughout the office space. The lighting network will not only serve the purpose of smart lighting but also serve as a powerful data channel for passing sensor data and/or other relevant data to the cloud. Other applications of the lighting network could be precise indoor location tracking and navigation.
BLE-mesh in combination with Bluetooth 5.0 promises a range of wide applications in the areas of commercial lighting, Industrial IoT, Medial IoT, Warehousing, Airport management and Outdoor smart city applications. It can virtually help you get rid of all the Cat-6 cable we have been using fir wiring while constructing new building and in turn saving thousands of dollars. The adoption of this technology is still slow and we feel that once a tipping point is reached the market will make complete shift to wireless lighting.
Wireless interoperable lighting is the true future of lighting which will change the way we have been installing and using the lights.