Guest post by Steve Mesh
If you haven’t been to LightFair in recent years, rest assured that lighting controls is the “next big thing.” While LED products are still evolving, this is considered to be a somewhat mature segment of the lighting industry. Controls, on the other hand, are virtually exploding.
A glance at the submissions for the LightFair Innovation Awards for 2019 shows a plethora of offerings for control systems, new controls components, apps, software, etc. In fact, here is a listing of controls-related categories for this year’s submissions:
• Controls: Components, Sensors, Interfaces and Software
• Control and Distribution Systems, Connectivity and Analytics
• Dynamic Color, Theatrical, Cove, Strips and Tape
• Ballasts, Transformers, Drivers, Systems and Kits
• LED / OLED, Chips and Modules
Some of these may not sound like they are directly related to controls per se. But the landscape is changing so you have to reconsider how you think about this. For example, LED/OLED sounds like a lighting source only. But – there are new products that are “color tunable” right at the level of the light source (the LED chip). Additionally, there are light sources (i.e., LEDs) as well as luminaires (i.e., track fixtures) that allow for either changing the size/shape of the beam and/or changing the aiming. In all of these cases, you must pair these with some form of control system in order to benefit from these capabilities. That may be something as simple as Bluetooth connectivity to control these from a smartphone. Or it may use a different protocol (such as Zigbee) to interface with a more complex, dedicated lighting control system.
It seems that there are more products on the market with the ability to work with more than one protocol. For example, an LED driver may be designed to tie into a system that drives dimming using 0-10V signals, or into a system using DALI-2 (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface – next generation). Because of the proliferation of tunable-white and color-changing luminaires, DMX512 protocol also seems to be gaining ground in the world of architectural lighting.
Exterior control systems/components
One category award winner is a “platform” designed to work with street lights. It not only has a 7-pin receptacle for a photosensor, but also contains an Edge processor. This product is designed to convert a plain old street light into a node of a “connected city” system. These types of systems can help city planners and administrators manage diverse issues such as noise, parking, traffic, security monitoring. This leverages the ubiquity of street lights and goes beyond simply monitoring the energy usage.
Miscellaneous trends/product offerings
A group of submissions seem to provide additional functionality to existing luminaires/lamps by added extra functionality. For example, one product provides a timing function so that luminaires/lamps can be controlled by a “schedule” – without the need for an internet connection to maintain proper time. It comes with a companion app to set up scheduling for luminaires/lamps.
Another product is a “scene controller” that is wireless, so it can also be added to the functionality of luminaires/lamps almost in an “after-market” sense.
A bunch of submissions are for wireless interfaces – such as scene selectors, dimmer switches, etc. Interestingly, one submission is for a wired dimmer switch, which can then be tied into a wireless control system!
There are several submissions for new sensors – either occupancy or photosensors. In some cases, these sensors have on-board processing. Some also have options for connectivity to a networked lighting control system, for example using the DALI-2 protocol.
It seems clear from these offerings and submissions to the 2019 LightFair Innovation Awards that there is a trend toward “interoperability”. And we haven’t even started talking about IoT yet! It seems that there is awareness in the industry that consumers and specifiers may want to pick and choose which components they use in a control system. If a particular component can speak in different protocols, that helps to make it workable with different systems. If your expectation is to install a control system that has true IoT capability, then by definition, you need some degree of “interoperability” to enable the flow of data back and forth to other servers/services that can provide analytics.
Among the submissions are a variety of software offerings designed to control networked lighting control systems. One award-winner is a software tool designed to facilitate commissioning for luminaires/lamps using Bluetooth connectivity. As such, this is a “non-proprietary” product.
The award-winner in the “theatrical” category is a driver that allows you to create your own customized curves for color control – for creating things like “tunable white”, “warm dim”, “color matching”, “curve matching” and “color calibration”. Other products in this category seem to stress “warm dim”, which often reduces the CCT from approximately 3000K to 1800K. Another product in this category is a tape where every single LED chip is individually addressable.
What seems clear from this group of submissions – and award winners – is that the controls portion of the lighting industry is rapidly changing and evolving. Manufacturers are exploring a variety of protocols, creating new components not previously offered, and offering new functionality with lighting controls and systems. Unfortunately, this will probably make a specifier’s job harder as opposed to easier – sifting through all of the available products and methodologies for providing control for a new or existing lighting scheme. Oh well. Time to get busy doing some research!