LEDs the Eyes and Ears of the Internet of Things

Display portlet menu

LEDs: The Eyes and Ears of the Internet of Things


It may seem to be a stretch to assert that LEDs play a truly important role in the future of the Internet of Things. After all, by themselves, they’re just lights. However, with sensors tucked neatly inside and a bit of intelligence added throughout, LEDs are already evolving to be our eyes and ears as the rapidly expanding IoT unfolds before us.

LEDs are already used beyond their basic lighting function in such applications as indicating occupancy, adjusting mood, conserving energy and remote control. Their use greatly expands by combining intelligence with movement or ambient light sensors, and interconnecting the LED nodes in a programmable network. The availability of low-cost ultra-miniature LEDs, sensors and communications protocols such as Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), now makes it possible to embed Internet connectivity into every light bulb, and to do so with a low price tag.

The use of smart lighting has become a major component of IoT-enabled homes as lighting plays a larger role in metering, heating systems and appliances. How big is this trend? Let’s take a look at statistics and projections provided by several market research companies:

  • According to ON World research, wireless LED light bulbs will be one of the fastest growing IoT markets over the next decade, driven by demand for smart device apps and cloud-connected LED lighting systems.
  • Navigant Research states that annual sales for occupancy sensors, photo sensors and lighting network gear related to LED lighting applications are expected to grow from $1.1 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion by 2020.
  • Revenue growth of smart lighting is expected to reach more than $56 billion by 2020 with an estimated CAGR of 15.8 percent between 2014 to 2020, says MarketsandMarkets in a recent report.
  • Worldwide, grid-based electric lighting consumes 19 percent of total global electricity production, slightly more than is used by the nations of OECD Europe for all purposes, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • Furthermore, Philips estimates that worldwide, a complete switch to LED technolog will generate savings of approximately $170 billion, equivalent to the elimination of 640 medium-sized power stations globally.

So, while it may seem bizarre that a mere household light bulb is so important, when one considers creating an intelligent lighting system such as a wireless sensor network, the picture becomes more clear. The impacts of large-scale networks of LEDs can be quite “enlightening,” and the future is upon us. Standards, for example ZigBee Light Link, will continue to push the market further and faster. As LED lighting eventually gathers, processes, and reacts to stimuli in the environment, their benefit to the IoT becomes immeasurable.

Where are we now?

Fortunately, there are many products on the market for designers and developers to consider as they enter this arena. For example, the Texas Instruments CC2530 ZigBee Light Link (ZLL) Development Kit has three LED lamps and one remote control. Ideal for designers wishing to experience ZLL lighting control for LED light products, this kit simplifies the creation of applications and demos based on the standard. The kit has everything needed to set up and control a ZLL network including an easy-to-use remote control for powering on or off, color change, intensity and saturation. Lamps can be targeted individually or as a group.

Fig. 1: Texas Instruments’ ZigBee Light Link Development Kit includes everything designers need to set up and control a ZLL network. (Source: Texas Instruments)

The Texas Instruments ZigBee Light Link kit delivers a comprehensive set of hardware and software tools to help designers add wireless functionality to LED-based products. The kit’s three modular light engines, dubbed Zlights, are based on OSRAM’s Oslon LEDs combined with the TI CC2530 microcontroller. ZigBee Light Link was recently endorsed as the network and protocol of choice for connecting lighting products and controls in the home by the Connected Lighting Alliance, which includes industry heavyweights such as NXP, OSRAM, Philips, Silicon Labs and Toshiba.


As we’ve seen in headlines, technology seems to be moving faster than protective policies. Many LED-based networks raise both privacy and security concerns — privacy concerns based on information collected (and used) by the government, and security concerns because it is still possible to hack into these networks.

Read more: Securing LED Networks in the Age of the Internet of Things

The global lighting marketplace may not be ready to entirely adopt LED networks for quite some time. For example, in industrial and commercial lighting applications, linear fluorescents are still inexpensive and it will take time for them all to be displaced. This is especially true in high-bay lighting where, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, linear fluorescents comprise a very strong 78 to 80 percent market share.6

Additionally, the IoT demands that LEDs hook up to other devices and technology components. As such, high-performance dedicated LED drivers, surge protection and efficient thermal design influence the lifetime of LEDs as well as light consistency, and are critical in the delivery of a rich LED-based network.

The Future

After decades of focusing on LED lighting for energy savings, the time has come to shift attention to LED applications among the IoT. Connected LED advancements occur regularly. From government to health care and real estate industries -- applications in the works vary from providing better surveillance to ensuring national security as well as the import and export of control solutions. Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Philips, Texas Instruments and a score of other major technology companies are spending serious dollars and resources on the Internet of Things, as are major LED companies. Work continues on such elements as drivers, compact operating systems and real-time communications, solving obsolescence issues as the market rapidly evolves and, naturally, figuring out how to harness incoming data, process it and use it efficiently.


Written By: Carolyn Mathas


LEDs the Eyes and Ears of the Internet of Things

Display portlet menu

Related Articles

PoE + LEDs: An effective pairing, with some limitations

Using the evolving Power over Ethernet standard to supply DC power to LED-based lighting in place of...

AC/DC Supplies: Design and Make, or Just Buy?

How to implement the ubiquitous AC/DC supply is a complicated decision with many factors and perspec...

Internet of Things: Using Wireless-Controlled Lighting to Reduce Energy Costs

Lighting represents a significant fraction of electricity usage in residential and commercial buildi...