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The right way to turn on a light

blue LED lighbulbs

"How do you turn on a light?" The answer is quite simply "use the switch". You may find a question like this to be an insult to your intelligence. But hold your horses, there is more to our question. 

If you wake up in the middle of the night and do not feel like getting out of bed to find the switch in the dark, how would you turn on the light? Well, we now have the solution: install a wireless remote control lighting system. 

Next, if you want to save some money on electricity, how would you go about keeping the light off when there is sufficient ambient light or when there is nobody around? That's easy, just add an ambient light sensor and a sound control sensor to the system, so the light can be turned on just by stamping your foot or a cough in the dark. 

What if we want to be able to control the light at a distance, up to 1km away from the room, and to turn it on and off at certain hours and change color and intensity according to users? What if we want the system to be able to adjust itself in response to changes in the environment, to support voice command, and to manage more than one light? How would you turn on a light like that? There is only one answer: smart lighting. 

The reason that smart lighting is able to satisfy the long list of requirements above can be summarized in three key concepts. The first one is LED. This form of solid-state lighting is the only choice for minimizing energy consumption while supporting "color themes". The second one is wireless connection. Lights can connect and communicate with each other, including transmission status information and control commands. The system can be quickly deployed without having to invest in additional infrastructure for communications. The third one is the Cloud. A local lighting network is connected to the Cloud over the Internet. Data can be processed and analyzed to build up related databases and expand functions to create smarter lighting systems. 

Smart lighting - The right way to turn on a light

Figure 1: Three key players in smart lighting 
 
Upper left: The Philips Hue uses ZigBee networking, with a gateway that supports Siri voice control
Lower left: The ilumi has a simpler setup based on BLE
Upper right: LIFX uses Wi-Fi with a 6LoWPAN Mesh, and supports Amazon Echo​

 

Given that turning on a light can be so complicated, many great products have appeared in the market, such as the Philips Hue, or the LIFX (which has caught the eye of Nest), the unique ilumi, and many others. While it might be possible to claim that these products address specific consumer requirements, it would be more accurate to call them the trailblazers of smart lighting concepts, as they tell consumers what smart lighting is and what it can do, instead of giving consumers the final answer they seek.

While it will probably be some time still before smart lighting becomes ubiquitous in consumer lighting products, their road into becoming a solution for commercial lighting may be less challenging. According to data from the Department of Energy in the US, in 2013 power consumption by lighting accounted for at least 20% of all power consumption for commercial purposes. Business owners would love to be able to eliminate this cost. Therefore, commercial lighting may represent the first beachhead for smart lighting to establish itself.

The technological foundations for smart lighting had already been established before market deployment even began. In terms of core chips, power management components for LEDs have been reached an outstanding price-to-value level, thanks to the fierce competition in the market. In terms of main control units (MCUs), developers have a wide range of chip choices that combine MCU cores, on-chip memory, ADCs, and external and radio frequency receivers/transmitters. Examples include the NXP KW series, the Nordic nRF52 series, and the Texas Instruments CC2640 series. These solutions make smart lighting design easy. 

The choice of wireless protocol is likely to be the greatest challenge for developers. ZigBee, BLE, and Wi-Fi are engaged in a fierce battle over smart lighting, and the final winner is currently impossible to predict. Robust vendors are able to hedge their bets by pursuing a variety of solutions. For example, Avnet, with its wide range of product lines, is able to offer ZigBee-enabled as well as BLE Mesh-enabled projects. From a user's perspective, the technology is invisible and not of major concern. Instead, the user experience is always the primary area of focus, regardless of what technology is used. The lighting market is large, and sufficiently outstanding products are bound to retain a loyal group of users.

Now back to the question at the beginning, "How do you turn on a light?" The advent of smart lighting seems to have made this question more complex. Therefore, simplifying the issue and giving users a simple answer (either a product or solution) in the end, by making the entire process as simple as flipping on or off a switch is the best way to ensure success in the market in the end. Development in human society always proceeds in a loop that goes from simple to complex and back to simple again. 

Smart lighting - The right way to turn on a light

Figure 2: Smart lighting solutions by Advent
 
Upper left: ZigBee (ZLL) smart lighting solution
Lower left: Bluetooth network lighting control solution
Upper right: BLE light bulb design reference
Lower right: ZigBee smart lighting gateway solution

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