Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently interviewed Jamie Britnell, Director of Product Marketing – Lighting, Synapse Wireless for an article about the Internet of Things, which will be published in the October issue of tED Magazine.
DiLouie: How would you define the Internet of Things (IoT)?
Britnell: The IoT is a network of physical devices with embedded software and electronics that enable them to connect to, and exchange data with, other smart devices. These smart connected devices form a network capable of collecting data from a vast array of sensors, sending commands to industrial equipment and lighting controls, tracking status and location of assets, and many other applications.
DiLouie: In your view, where does the Internet of Things (IoT) stand right now in terms of development, availability, standards, and adoption?
Britnell: IoT is still very new. Development, standards, availability, and adoption are largely in their infancy. It’s still the Wild West out there with plenty of both opportunity and uncertainty.
DiLouie: How would you characterize IoT solutions? Is there a silver, gold, platinum level for implementation of capabilities?
Britnell: There are certainly implementations of IoT technology that are more expensive than others. On the industrial side, much of the new machinery today comes with embedded IoT capability but requires large capital expenditure and infrastructure changes to implement. At Synapse we are focused on providing IoT capability without drastic disruption of processes or huge capital expenditure. Our lighting control network can be implemented easily along with an LED retrofit. Once this network is in place it provides the backbone to affordably add more IoT capability either immediately, or in the future. We want our IoT technology to fit alongside existing manufacturing infrastructure, so that each IoT capability added provides rapid ROI.
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?
Britnell: Exterior lighting controls for parking lots and pathways are a good place for commercial building owners to start. Our lighting controls are also very useful in buildings with high ceilings and large fixtures such as gymnasiums or high bay areas. Other ideal applications are remote monitoring of sensors to collect information such as temperature, air pressure, vibration, fluid levels, and more.
DiLouie: Where do you see IoT adoption through connected lighting in the next 3 years?
Britnell: Connected lighting is the most practical place to start for IoT adoption. Obviously, lights are pervasive in locations that are ideal for IoT-related applications — Manufacturing facilities, warehouses, commercial office spaces, retail, and outdoor applications such as site/area lighting and cities. Because of the presence of lights in these areas, and the increased adoption of connected lighting due to energy code requirements for advanced control strategies, a connected lighting system can serve as the foundation for building out an IoT network that could be leveraged for future applications.
Connected lighting is growing due to more energy codes that are being enforced and more entities are wanting to drive down their energy costs or reduce their energy footprint. These dynamics will cause rapid adoption of connected lighting in the next 3 years. Solutions that have an IoT-related component can ride this wave if they are delivering additional value beyond just connected lighting.
DiLouie: When a luminaire is “IoT-enabled,” what does that mean?
Britnell: At a minimum, an IoT-enabled luminaire can provide data that is part of the lighting network and share that information with non-lighting control applications either built into the software of the lighting control solution or sent to other systems. This may be as simple as understanding the per-fixture energy consumption so that you can receive data on how much energy specific zones or areas are consuming over time and due to varying environmental conditions. Occupancy and photocell data could also be shared by the lighting system to other applications such as HVAC, security, or other building management systems.
DiLouie: Can one specify a connected lighting system and thereby future-proof the building for later IoT adoption? How would that work?
Britnell: It depends on the connected lighting system being utilized. Some solutions offer additional IoT-related applications as a part of their standard solution. Others will be compatible with other industry-standard options.
It really depends on the partner that the customer has and what problems they are trying to solve within the facility. It’s best to start with the problems you want to solve, where and IoT application could help, and find a partner that can address it. Depending on the problem, a connected lighting solution could be the foundation and provide the flexibility for additional IoT applications in the future but will require a way to onboard data from compatible sensors or other devices and present the information in a robust software suite.
DiLouie: How does one integrate a connected lighting system into an IoT solution?
Britnell: Rather than getting into a deep discussion on what the best technologies are for integration, suffice it to say that if you’re going to integrate systems together – whether it’s a connected lighting system, an IoT solution, security system, or something else – the best option for integration is at the IP layer via a web-services API.
But, more generally, especially for industrial locations (such are warehouses and manufacturing) lighting is the ideal entry point for IoT data. Because all these facilities incorporate lighting, a IoT communication network grid is essentially installed as a part of an LED retrofit or in new construction. With this network in place, compatible sensors can be distributed through the facility to monitor various equipment and processes.
DiLouie: What limitations exist for IoT implementation with connected lighting?
Britnell: The main limitation is delivering a compelling value proposition through the channel to the end-user and solving their real-world problems. There’s been a lot of hype around IoT and use-cases such as facility heat maps for congestion control or gunshot sensors for public safety, but these tend to be very narrow in their usefulness and with very niche market applicability. Manufacturers and distributors need to understand the problems of their customers and find solutions that can be solved through IoT applications.
The technology and compatibility of ecosystem partners is often mentioned as a limitation, but as more providers offer connectivity to standards-based API interfaces, the IoT software applications can utilize these interfaces to connect to disparate services and build the applications that can leverage all this data.
DiLouie: How should distributors sell the owner? How can distributors sell reluctant IT departments and make them comfortable?
Britnell: To convince the owner, the IoT solution must address some pain point that he or she is experiencing. That’s an easy thing to do when you’re talking about connected lighting that is paired with an LED install/retrofit. There will be immediate benefits from proceeding with that initially. The payback is evident, and the savings can pay for the potential IoT infrastructure being put into place with the LED lighting system with embedded controls. With this approach, the IoT infrastructure is paid for, and then additional applications and services can be provided to address other operational problems within the facility.
In terms of IT involvement, the distributor must ensure that their IoT and connected lighting partners are adhering to the latest security standards. Addressing these concerns head-on with the IT staff early in the design and quotation process is the best approach to limit surprises down the road. Additionally, some IoT and connected lighting solutions can completely bypass the facility IT network. Rather than requiring connectivity to the existing network, they can connect to separate cloud-based services via the cellular network. This isolates the IoT infrastructure from the corporate network, but still allows the end-user to get the benefits of installing IoT and connected lighting applications.
DiLouie: If you could tell the U.S. electrical industry just one thing about the IoT and connected lighting, what would it be?
Britnell: As lighting solutions become more advanced, additional capabilities are being added that allow contractors and distributors to offer value-added services. With power monitoring and automated alerts/notifications, and with emerging IIoT technologies, these channel partners can begin to offer monitoring services, break/fix, and/or moves/add/changes to their portfolio. Lighting as a Service (LaaS) is one service-oriented innovation occurring within this segment of the channel.
As more IIoT applications are being integrated into the lighting control software, it’s important for the industry to understand that these products are coming and will become a critical part of many applications over the next few years. I would encourage the industry to further educate their employees on this technology and gain the skillsets needed to support these solutions.