Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently interviewed Gary Trott, VP of Intelligent Lighting and IoT Platform, Cree for an article for the October issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. The topic: connected lighting’s potential role in the Internet of Things. The complete interview is below.
DiLouie: How would you define the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Trott: The Internet of Things describes hardware devices that are connected and utilize sensors, compute power, and software to exchange information and data with other devices or applications to create high value business outcomes for end users.
DiLouie: In your view, where does the Internet of Things (IoT) stand right now in terms of development, availability, standards and adoption?
Trott: We are at the very beginning regarding the development and implementation of the IoT. Many end users are intrigued by the potential and early adopters are beginning to realize the significant business value from IoT solutions.
DiLouie: How would you characterize IoT solutions? Is there a silver, gold, platinum level for implementation of capabilities?
Trott: There is no doubt that there will be multiple levels of IoT capability. These levels will likely be based upon the type of solutions, which will depend on the types of sensors, the network bandwidth connectivity, and compute power. However, at this point the market is not mature enough to have those stratifications.
DiLouie: Who do you see as early adopters of the IoT? What are ideal applications? In a typical commercial building, where should the owner start?
Trott: Anyone who is buying a light has the potential to be an early adopter of IoT. From a distributor’s perspective, an IoT-enabled solution can be the same price as traditional control system. With proper research, savvy distributors can offer IoT-enabled solutions without a cost penalty. Customers can install the luminaires today and upgrade to a full IoT solution in the future. Given this, you have to wonder why someone wouldn’t exclusively buy IoT enabled fixtures as anything else is obsolete the moment you pull it out of the box.
DiLouie: When a luminaire is “IoT-enabled,” what does that mean?
Trott: An IoT-enabled luminaire means it has connectivity, compute power and sensors. It also needs an infrastructure or ecosystem that enables applications or software to operate and extract data from the luminaire.
DiLouie: Can one specify a connected lighting system and thereby future-proof the building for later IoT adoption? How would that work?
Trott: Yes, but only if the lighting system is architected correctly. Some solutions require immediate connectivity to work. Others, such as Cree’s SmartCast technology, enable systems to operate as a simple, stand-alone product without connecting to the Internet. The owner can then retrofit the connectivity at a later date. For example, four years ago before mainstream lighting was thinking about IoT, Cree shipped luminaires that can be upgraded to the latest firmware and be connected for IoT solutions – that is the power of being future enabled!
DiLouie: What limitations exist for IoT implementation with connected lighting?
Trott: From a technical standpoint, the limitations that exist are related to the types of sensors on the light, the connectivity bandwidth, the compute power and the software. From an implementation standpoint, the limitations for IoT connected lighting are only restricted by your imagination and your ability to dream up new solutions that solve valuable end-user problems beyond light.
DiLouie: How should distributors sell the owner? How can distributors sell reluctant IT departments and make them comfortable?
Trott: As a whole, the lighting industry and distributors are used to selling energy savings and maintenance savings. However, with IoT solutions, distributors now have the ability to solve business problems that are far more meaningful and valuable to the building owners. These include:
• How can I make it easier to find conference rooms?
• How can I attract and retain talent?
• How can I grow my team without adding additional space?
• How can I make spaces more engaging and appealing?
Distributors should focus on selling these solution-oriented benefits instead of a one-for-one unit sale. Over the next few years, the distributors who elevate their sales conversations beyond lighting are likely going to be the winners as the industry transforms.
In regard to IT departments, make sure you partner with companies who have experience in making IT departments comfortable. The IT department is going to ask complex questions that are difficult for non-IT people to understand and answer. Many manufacturers, including Cree, have developed solutions that are operating in IT environments and have materials, such as white papers, and expertise that distributors can leverage to help make IT departments comfortable. Distributors should not hesitate to reach out to the suppliers and use them.
DiLouie: If you could tell the U.S. electrical industry just one thing about the IoT and connected lighting, what would it be?
Trott: Do your homework and become a student of IoT. Don’t just read a few articles, experiment. Buy a connected home device such as a light bulb or thermostat. That is the best way to grow your understanding of IoT, connectivity and what is possible for your customers. The more you know and the more comfortable you are with it, the more valuable you are going to be as this industry transforms.
DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?
Trott: The IoT transformation has the potential to be more disruptive to the lighting industry than LED technology. However, just like during that transition, distributors will have to be very careful about choosing suppliers and manufacturers. There are going to be new entrants that seem to have great solutions, but distributors will need to fully vet and understand their capabilities. Not all IoT solutions will be created equally nor will they all address your customer’s needs.
So, what should distributors look for as they are evaluating suppliers and systems?
• Security: Should be designed from the start and not an afterthought. If the solution is not secure, IT departments will not accept it.
• Simplicity: The platform should be easy to design, implement and use
• Scalable: The solution should be able to grow from a standalone luminaire to a fully integrated and connected platform
• Open: The system should be able to communicate and connect with other devices that are connected on the network.
Openness and willingness to interoperate with others (including competitors) will be a key to unlocking the full potential of lighting as the IoT backbone for high value smart building solutions.