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Smart LEDs: Changing the indoor experience

Americans today spend almost 90% of their time inside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This means we spend a lot of time exposed to artificial light. For the first 140 years since the advent of electric lighting, we didn’t ask much of our lights. They came on when we needed them to, and that was about it.

That’s changing with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which represent the most significant advancement in lighting since Edison’s original patent. LEDs have actually supplanted traditional incandescent bulbs in popularity, and Frost & Sullivan estimates they will make up more than 80% of the market by 2020.

Energy efficiency and long life have been the obvious benefits contributing to their popularity, but lately smart LEDs — called luminaires — are paving the way for lighting to be used in remarkable ways. Luminaires are complete lighting units that combine LEDs with integrated RF transceiver microcontrollers. These lights can be connected to each other and become part of a larger network offering a host of benefits beyond energy reduction. Residential users can benefit from simple voice controls and zonal automation — for example, talking to your lightbulb and extending Alexa’s availability into every room. In retail and commercial settings, location services and personalized beaconing are possible thanks to integration with analytics and cloud services.

In buildings and retail spaces, high-end luminaires include temperature and light sensors that dynamically adjust the driver current controlling the amount of energy used to power the light over its lifetime. This feature ensures a consistent intensity and maintains perceived quality while extending the LED’s lifetime. External or internal light sensors provide a way to perform daylight harvesting by sampling and measuring the ambient light. The result is overhead lighting that dims and adjusts dynamically throughout the day. In addition to conserving energy, the mimicry of natural light cycles makes for a comfortable experience.

Indoor commercial farming is another area where smart connected lighting is making a big difference. By programming lighting formulas to the unique requirements of produce, growers can maximize yield and minimize energy consumption. And because LEDs don’t generate as much heat as traditional lamps, they can be placed in close proximity to plants to provide uniform coverage. Indoor farms use less water and energy than conventional farming, and they eliminate the need for herbicides, pesticides or preservatives. Another benefit is being able to construct indoor growing operations in close proximity to markets so the produce travels fewer miles, conserving fuel and delivering a fresher product.

Another user benefit of smart connected lighting is getting a good night’s rest. Connected LEDs can constantly adjust during the day to replicate the natural path and shifting color temperature of the sun. When our internal clocks are able to respond to natural lighting cues that mimic the circadian cycles of light and dark, our bodies can wind up or wind down depending on the time of day. Studies show that getting the right light at the right time can result in 45 minutes of additional sleep each night with fewer disturbances. Instead of setting an alarm, you could program your bedroom lights to gradually brighten as your designated wake time nears. The light will begin the suppression of melatonin and wake you naturally and on time. Exposure to natural light promotes sleep, increases productivity and improves our mood. Natural light even has a positive impact on patient recovery when used in hospitals.

Think about the number of objects in our homes designed specifically to diffuse light; lampshades, wall sconces and other household fixtures will become unnecessary because excess light will become a thing of the past. The small size of these LEDs means lamps can be integrated into our surroundings in subtle, unobtrusive ways that may be virtually invisible when the light is off. For example, a bedside table with a surface that illuminates rather than a lamp sitting on top of it. And since LEDs are equipped with wireless connectivity and sensors, we’re essentially installing a network of small computers in homes. Imagine getting out of bed in the middle of the night for a glass of water and instead of the jarring, retina-collapsing click of a bedside lamp, the gradual brightening of a hallway light illuminates the way. As you move into the kitchen, the hallway light dims and the kitchen light gradually comes on, anticipating your path without you ever needing to fumble in the dark for a switch.

As more and more smart LEDs are deployed in the places where we live and work, our life indoors will be greatly enhanced by these new large-scale connected lighting platforms. LED lighting technology stands to deliver us enormous value, including energy savings, agriculture gains and serious health benefits.

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