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Lighting the way to the future of IoT

From the candlestick to the first lightbulb patented by Thomas Edison 140 years ago, lighting has always been a necessity. Whether it’s in the home or the workplace, lighting simply needs to work. Next-generation smart lights are no different. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are the most significant lighting advancement since the invention of the incandescent bulb. Smart LEDs are opening up new use cases for lighting that Edison never dreamed of.

Today, LED lighting is a $30 billion global industry paving the way for smart lighting solutions, but the smart lighting industry still hasn’t hit its full potential and achieved widespread adoption to bring value to the lives of consumers. With improved interoperability, control and security, smart lighting is poised to become the next killer app for the internet of things.

The brighter the better

One reason why connected lighting has not taken off among consumers is cost. A typical home in the United States has 40 lighting sockets, so imagine spending up to $14-15 per connected bulb for an entire smart home. Prices for basic LED bulbs as well as connected bulbs are steadily dropping, and the rapid growth of the smart bulb market will keep driving down costs. Lower price points will help drive the deployment of other IoT products, particularly in the smart home where more integrated and flexible wireless connectivity options are available. This price reduction will also continue to make smart lighting more accessible to every house, commercial building and city as we continue advancing toward a more connected society.

A second barrier to consumer adoption is the level of effort required to install connected lighting systems, which until recently were beyond the do-it-yourself level of most homeowners. Today’s smart LED bulbs integrate sophisticated power management and wireless circuitry that ultimately makes the latest LED products much easier to install even by tech-averse homeowners. Smart lighting networks and ecosystems are also easier to use and maintain, providing plug-and-play simplicity and enabling consumers to commission connected LED lights with their smartphones.

Lighting on command

Most users will ease into the connected lighting world by installing a few smart LEDs at home. Smart lighting is also steadily spreading throughout commercial spaces and entire cities. Even the way we control lights is changing as the simple on/off switch gives way to flexible control options through smartphones, touch panels and even voice control. Cloud connectivity gives users the ability to remotely control lighting and monitor energy usage through smartphones, anywhere and anytime. Users can also access new, sophisticated features like occupancy and ambient condition sensing, which enable a lighting environment to respond and adapt autonomously.

These advanced capabilities such as turning off lights when no one is in the room are just the beginning. Looking ahead, no one will want to use multiple apps to control their lighting. Virtual assistants are the next solution for lighting control beyond switches and apps. Similar to how remote controls transformed the TV viewing experience, voice services like Amazon Echo’s Alexa or Google Home Assistant will eliminate the need to get up off the couch and touch the closest light switch or control panel.

Getting in sync

Connected devices are meant to make our lives easier and less complicated. Today, however, different smart home products use different technologies that do not always speak the same language, ultimately stalling the widespread adoption of many IoT devices. Solving this interoperability challenge begins with using connectivity technology that enables efficient switching between different wireless protocols, simplifying lighting designs while also helping to satisfy end user needs for easy installation. This multiprotocol technology is becoming increasingly important to future-proofing IoT product designs by enabling device markers to support multiple wireless options instead of betting on one protocol over another. A larger challenge yet to be resolved is driving system-level interoperability among the many divergent lighting ecosystems. To help move the industry forward, lighting manufacturers must agree to broader consolidation among competing application-layer solutions.

Bringing security to light

Security is a tough issue for any connected device, and lighting is no exception, especially since most consumer electronics makers are not in the security business. A system or solution is only as good as its weakest link. A single, unsecured connected light bulb can be a vulnerable attack surface, opening an entire connected home to malicious hacking.

Security is not simply an add-on feature at the end of a product design cycle. It must be viewed as a continuous process, from initial concept to final product to over-the-air updates. Everyone serving the smart lighting market — from chip designers to device manufacturers — must shoulder this security responsibility together. Securing IoT requires constant vigilance and ongoing development efforts across all layers of the IoT ecosystem. This even means that chips and software embedded in today’s smart bulbs must be designed with security in mind. With each high-profile attack, the fallout goes far beyond revenue loss or brand damage. The loss of consumer trust can slow the market for months or even years.

The future of lighting

Imagine coming home from work and your lights are already on before you walk through the front door. Your bedside lights automatically dim at night and then help you wake up in the morning by adjusting color and brightness. As these scenarios illustrate, lighting is a powerful technology that can enhance our daily lives in many ways while also helping us conserve energy in our homes, offices and smart cities. It is crucial that we address the interoperability, control and security aspects of smart lighting. Solving these challenges will spur technological innovation, and help drive widespread adoption other connected technologies that will contribute to the growth of IoT.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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