What’s New in LED Control Systems?

Whether it’s a simple light switch or a software system directing a lightshow in a state-of-the art theater, every LED has a control system. And while the most important decision in LED lighting is the decision to adopt them and free yourself from the waste of incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, better control can mean a better return on your investment.

How is control shaping up as we approach the third decade of the 21st Century? Let’s take a look.

The Current State Of Control
One reason we should discuss where things are now is so we can orient ourselves. But another reason is that (with a few exceptions, like some of the AI we’ll discuss) nearly all of the technology that will revolutionize LED lighting control is already in use. We can expect it to decline in price and increase in capability and ease of use, but much of it is already here. Some of it has been in your local lighting store for years.

The controls in current use (dimmers, timers, and motion, occupancy and photo sensors) do the important job of providing the right light at the right time and saving energy when it’s not. But they’re either simple mechanisms or are relatively “dumb” even if they include software. That’s about to change.

The Internet of Lighting
The Internet of Things (IoT) is, well, a thing. This term refers to the increasingly common process of connecting everyday objects to the Internet. We’re not only seeing more and more devices connected, we’re seeing them do more. For example, newer refrigerators will not only alert you if there’s a problem with the appliance (the refrigerator version of a “check engine” light) but can forward you a shopping list you’ve curated during the week or let you use internal cameras to check what’s currently inside.

What does this mean for lighting? Bulbs and fixtures that are controlled with a smartphone app are already on the market, allowing the user to turn lighting on and off, adjust brightness, and even color. Users can also put set-it-and-forget it timers in place, avoiding the expense and hassle of physical timers.

Meanwhile, more and more companies in industrial settings are using IoT technology with their industrial machines, using smartphones or tablets to control aspects of entire shops or factories, and collecting data for further analysis so they can work more efficiently. Lighting can also benefit from these technologies. Imagine being able to set every light subsystem in a facility for maximum efficiency from your smartphone, predict when a specific fixture will require replacement, or being able to analyze data on lighting use and cut costs even further.

A Helping Hand…Or Subroutine
As lighting control software improves, it will do even more to help you achieve the greatest possible efficiency. Artificial intelligence research is leading to greater capability to recognize and analyze patterns, and such software could spot areas where lighting use is inefficient and improve them. But some companies are already banking on sophisticated lighting controls to improve efficiency in other areas of their business.

One such company is Roche Pharma. The Swiss firm is trialing a new lighting control and data collection system at their facility in Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany. On a single floor of the building, a system using DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) technology keeps track of how people use lighting and the physical space itself in each room. This data is then fed into Interact Office software developed by Phillips Signify for analysis. In an interview with LED’s Magazine, Tobias Bächtold, Roche’s digital real estate manager, said, “Based on these data, the real estate and facility management get insight into the usage of the provided area. This can result in the optimization of the provided spaces (area, equipment, quality, collaboration etc.) or operational processes such as cleaning.”

A system that not only saves power, but is so smart it even tells you when the cleaning crew should come in? That sounds like something out of hyper-optimistic 1950’s science fiction, but it’s quickly becoming the reality of our day.