‘Internet of Lights’ is Much More than LEDs

on February 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Popular Incandescent Bulbs Phasing Out In New Year

Energy consumers live in a time of rapid technology change, but if Digital Lumens has its way lighting consumers at least may rarely notice the adjustments except where they benefit.

It would have been hard until recently to come up with a sector of industry less exciting for its world-changing possibilities than lighting. Major manufacturers had driven down the price point of light bulbs and lighting technology to commodification, one of the reasons that the arrival of early LED lights at a higher price point (no matter their remarkably longer life and extraordinarily reduced energy consumption) were viewed with such suspicion by customers accustomed to rarely thinking about lighting options.

But the combination of huge strides in LED lighting to provide much greater variety in approaches to lighting space alongside the automation and monitoring revolution of the “internet of things” makes lighting a counterintuitive candidate for an exciting area of development. In what Digital Lumens CEO Tom Pincince calls the “Internet of Lights” some of the same remarkable powers that make storing and acting on information in the online world so transformative will apply to physical space and our experience of it through omnipresent lighting.

Digital Lumens is a relatively young company that began selling its Intelligent Lighting Engine in 2010 and has already invested heavily in patented technology to make lighting smart through the addition of sensors, monitors and data platforms that allow building owners access to a grid of information about their property through the lighting system. The lights are just the beginning, the entry point to a broader building visibility marketplace that could allow for much more efficient and informed building usage that also addresses many of the difficulties people have with non-interactive built environments.

Digital Lumens segmented the market and targeted first industrial lighting applications like warehouses, the largest single segment of the lighting market and the one where usage insight could provide significant gains. The installation of LEDs provides cost savings that accrue rapidly and can pay off the inclusion of monitoring technology, rather than appearing as a further cost when the monitoring is applied separately.

The company and the marketplace are at a turning point for getting the Internet of Lights up and running though. If installations aren’t done as companies and then homes switch over to LED lighting en masse in the next couple of years, then the very long-life efficiency of the LED bulbs that underpins their appeal means it will be a decade before the opportunity to install both LEDs and monitoring technology in a single package comes again.

While Pincince acknowledges that the usual concerns about privacy that accompany monitoring software across the smart grid and in other areas of the Internet of Things persist for monitors like those installed by Digital Lumens, he also says that the same kind of opt-in and opt-out rules that apply to other sectors may apply to lighting monitors too. “There will be a level of attention paid to individual preferences and privacy optionality,” he said.

In the meantime, the company is expanding globally and targeting beyond the largely balkanized existing business models of some traditional lighting giants, and hopes to expand its non-US business from 20% of sales to 50% of sales.

For Pincince, though, the promise goes beyond that of better, cheaper, longer-lasting lighting. As befits the leader of a young firm, he has broader ideas of how the company’s products might be used to raise alertness and productivity, or even help solve health problems research shows can be related to lighting, including issues related to Alzheimer’s.