The lighting industry is undergoing a radical transformation. Thanks to technological advancements and rapidly decreasing prices, the demand for LED lighting is great and growing quickly. By some estimates, LEDs will account for more than 50 percent of total lumen-hours produced in the U.S. by 2022 and 88 percent by 2030.
LED lighting offers greater energy efficiency, better light rendering, and lower environmental impact compared to fluorescent lighting. However, it’s the extreme longevity—up to a decade or more—that’s disrupting the lighting industry, turning a centuries-old “razor-blade” business model of selling replacement bulbs and tubes on its head.
As a result, leading lighting manufacturers are beginning to rethink and re-invent their core business. It turns out that LEDs can offer much more than illumination; as semiconductor devices, they have certain properties that can support the deployment of digital services. One such property is their ability to be switched on and off very quickly, which immediately creates the opportunity for transmitting information. The fiber-optic communication community has taken advantage of the modulation properties of LEDs. Recently, however, illumination-grade, high-powered LEDs have been used to send data. This method of communication is called Visible Light Communication (VLC).
One of the most useful, commercially viable use cases of VLC is indoor positioning. It’s here that Qualcomm Technologies is a leader with our Qualcomm Lumicast technology, which can determine the position of a mobile device within centimeter-level accuracy (download our Lumicast white paper for more information).
This means lighting manufacturers, like Acuity Brands and GE Lighting/Current, can transform standard LED light fixtures into positioning anchors akin to GPS satellites-- it’s a matter of implementing the Lumicast VLC signaling protocol in the LED fixture’s software drivers. On the receiver side, mobile apps that integrate the Lumicast software framework can decode positioning signals broadcast by light fixtures and use them to pinpoint the location of the mobile device.
Location-based services and energy efficient lighting are of particular importance to brick-and-mortar retail stores. Lumicast can help create new in-store experiences to engage store guests, like the ability to navigate and locate products as well as receive product recommendations. It also provides efficiency gains for retailers with support for features like path optimization for remerchandising, planogram validation, location tagging of maintenance/clean-up requests, and location analytics such as aggregated user dwell-times and foot traffic patterns.
Lumicast can also compute the height of a device and its orientation, thereby providing more detailed information to the mobile app. It’s perfect for technologies like augmented reality where highly accurate position information can greatly improve detection rate and speed. Robotics, too, is another great use case, especially as manufacturing, warehousing, and industrial facilities increasingly rely on self-navigating robots and drones for a variety of manual manipulation and surveying tasks.
The same properties that make LED fixtures excellent positioning anchors also make them attractive as integration points for sensors and radios. For example, they are typically densely deployed and rarely need to be moved. They also provide low-voltage DC power, wall-to-wall coverage of a venue, and excellent line-of-sight view of an environment.
Because of these properties, networks of sensors and radios embedded within the lighting infrastructure can generate highly granular information about the indoor/outdoor environment, and the people and things in it. This information could serve as a digital foundation of Ambient Intelligence systems which would create environments that are sensitive and responsive to the needs and desires of their occupants while preserving the privacy of their identity and actions.
The lighting industry is one of the first to take steps in this direction. For example, some LED providers are integrating camera and audio sensors into outdoor light fixtures to help mobile device users find open parking spots and as a way to deploy gunshot detection so first responders can get to an incident faster. Others are using vision/thermal sensing to provide location analytics to facility managers, building and real estate advisors to enhance the layout and spatial utilization of office buildings.
Though we’re still in the very early days of these types of systems, the future looks very promising. Given the fast adoption of LED lighting, the availability of low-cost sensors and radios, and the ubiquity of mobile devices, the dawn of an exciting new era of distributing computing is on the horizon.
If you’re attending Light Fair this week, be sure to check out Lumicast technology demos at the following booths:
- Qualcomm Technologies: booth #6917
- Acuity Brands Lighting: booth #3217
- Current, powered by GE: booth #4017
- eldoLED America: booth #3117
Also, please join me for my session "Expanding the Boundaries of Lighting: Using Lighting as a Platform to Deliver Advanced Digital Services," along with Steve Lydecker of Acuity Brands Lighting, on Wednesday, April 27 at 2pm. > More details.