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    How smart lighting is leading the way in IoT adoption

    It’s electrified, it’s connected, and it’s already there

    Ask anyone who works in the field of autonomous driving: certain IoT-driven projects can take longer to bring to fruition than the optimists expected.

    Smart lighting, by contrast, is an IoT-driven technology that offers rapid payback and immediate results.

    According to a 2018 Gartner report, smart lighting is the fourth-most mature IoT tech specialty, and one of the closest to general adoption. Navigant, too, lauds smart lighting's quick payback period and massive potential, noting in a recent report that a fully deployed smart street-lighting project can save up to 80 percent of the energy a conventional street-lighting system would use.

    As the Navigant report suggests, the entry-level case for smart street lighting is usually energy efficiency. Such lighting uses high-efficacy LEDs equipped with sensors that provide optimum lighting based on pedestrian and vehicle traffic needs. When a street is empty, lights dim—and money and resources get saved.

    But while energy efficiency is a tremendous benefit of smart lighting, it's merely the tip of the spear. Just as important is smart lighting's capacity to function as what Navigant calls a “backbone network," on the basis of which a range of both outdoor and indoor IoT solutions can take shape.

    Beyond illumination in the smart city

    Let's start outdoors, in the smart city that the IoT is doing so much to define.

    The possibilities here are startling. IoT capabilities embedded in connected light poles can help first responders by reporting gunshots that ring out on a dark street, or by sounding the alarm about a nearby building fire before a human witness has the chance to do so.

    Less dramatically, sensors and other IoT devices integrated into a connected street lighting infrastructure can provide motorists with automated updates on parking space availability, potentially transforming the experience of urban driving. Sensors may also be able to detect which streets need sweeping, so that sanitation workers can go straight to the right place—instead of making their usual gasoline-intensive rounds in heavy vehicles.

    The value of smart sensor networks in gathering actionable data from the urban environment is well established. However, questions remain around which sensor types lend themselves to physical integration into connected street lighting systems and which would be more advantageously deployed as separate systems. The answer, in some cases, has to do with optimum sensing height above street level. Wind and rain sensors, for example, are best sited at 30 ft (9 m) above grade—higher than the height of standard light poles. Temperature and humidity sensors, on the other hand, perform best at a height of 4 ft to 6 ft (1 to 2 m) above grade, and may therefore lend themselves to light pole integration. The ideal sensor/street lighting combinations will become more clear as cities gain more experience with these kinds of applications.

    The question of wellness

    Moving indoors, there's a strong “wellness case" for smart lighting, which can be tuned to promote alertness and comfort in different ways throughout the course of a day.

    In the bedroom, smart lighting can stimulate the body's natural wake-up mechanism with tones that simulate a sunrise, and, 14 hours later, help you get ready for bed by delivering light experiences—with low light levels and suppressed blue wavelengths—that evidence shows help promote sleep. Throughout the day, IoT sensors embedded in luminaires can communicate with personal fitness devices to enhance circadian entrainment, providing a more consistent and natural lighting stimulus curve.

    In the workplace, building managers can tune and angle lights to reduce glare, improve mood, and boost concentration and alertness. With anonymous occupancy and people-counting sensors, smart systems can direct higher-quality light to those areas where employees prefer to work and congregate.

    Indoor positioning approaches full potential

    Indoor positioning, meanwhile, is one of the most compelling projects to which lighting-enabled IoT lends itself—Gartner, in fact, considers indoor positioning the second most mature IoT technology, and capable of reaching full potential in less than two years.

    Recent years have seen large-scale indoor positioning solutions focus on warehouse locators, intra-office employee guidance, and other employee-facing applications. But as the technology achieves maturity, public-facing venues from supermarkets to hospitals to hotels to museums are seeing potential not only in the convenience and precision an indoor positioning system can provide customers and visitors, but also in the rich mine of data it collects.

    What, for example, is the best way to arrange a store plan so as to funnel shoppers towards the merchandise that most needs to move? Connected sensors and cameras can tell retailers exactly that. Where does wheeled hospital equipment tend to cluster throughout a day, and what can we infer from that about patient needs? The data offer clues.

    Civic leaders will also benefit from deploying standardized indoor positioning solutions in public buildings, to make navigating them and accessing services easier. Lighting-based IoT solutions, in other words, offer an effective method of (at least partially) easing perennial citizen complaints about bureaucratic services.

    Electrified—and already there

    Lighting is a compelling platform on which to build the next generation of human-oriented services for a simple reason. Lighting is already there, everywhere where people go, and it's by definition electrified, an obvious advantage when what's at issue is the ability to power a tremendous number of connected devices. It's also generally located overhead—a convenient position from which to provide comprehensive coverage.

    And enhancing the lighting infrastructure of a city, industrial complex, or store with smart lighting doesn't damage the aesthetics or functionality of the space or require a new architectural design.

    The smart lighting industry is paving the way with new delivery models, including lighting-as-a-service. This approach can all but eliminate capex on smart lighting projects in favor of a subscription model that puts a trusted provider at the center of connected lighting maintenance and improvements. That should prove an attractive deal for the public sector and the private sector alike.

    Some of the more dramatic IoT-driven innovations that we've been promised may be taking their time in getting here. But especially on our streets and in our workplaces, the IoT is making rapid, steady progress in improving our lives. And it's doing so in partnership with a reliable technology to which we're so accustomed that we don't even know it's there: lighting.

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