Turn Up Tech By Turning Up The Lights

Facilities are taking advantage of smart lighting capabilities to piggy-back other innovations.

By Jered Widmer, IALD, MIES

As “smart” lighting technology becomes more mainstream, facilities are increasingly discovering its usefulness in daily functions and how they serve people. Interconnectivity across a room, building, or an entire campus can streamline maintenance, boost efficiency, and improve the human experience. More people are now understanding how lighting can serve them beyond providing a visual illumination role. As a result, businesses are taking advantage of this critical component of building design to piggy-back other innovations. Lighting fixtures, coupled with sensors and a wired or wireless network, provide a host of opportunities to bring facilities into the 21st century — providing new benefits to occupants, management, and owners.

smart lighting
Photo: The Lighting Practice

Among the benefits facility management can uncover, smart lighting can improve efficiency within an entire facility by streamlining maintenance. An interconnected lighting system can allow for centralized monitoring of light fixtures throughout an entire floor, building, or campus. A single device can relay the status of each light and provide quick and accurate diagnostics when something has gone wrong. This live communication among light fixtures provides an understanding of the maintenance requirements of the system and minimizes unnecessary time spent troubleshooting fixture problems. Over time, users may learn when to proactively order replacement parts and complete upkeep tasks.

Meanwhile, smart lighting improves the human experience. People within a space — whether guests, students, patients, employees, or others — benefit from the ability to control their surroundings. With integrated sensors, this control can extend from light and sound to temperature and security. Dimming capabilities and autonomous lighting changes based on daylight can promote a desired mood, assist with wayfinding, and improve the functionality of a space for the people within it. The ability to control lights on a micro level provides users the ability to control lighting overhead in an open office application.

Hospitality: Creating Convenience For Guests

smart lighting
Photo: The Lighting Practice

Several hospitality giants are experimenting with smart lighting to improve conveniences for their guests. Guest profiles store individuals’ hotel room preferences regarding lighting (as well as temperature, and TV, artwork, and more), which they can set and control with their smartphones. If a guest prefers to wake up to bright light, for example, the fixtures inside the room may automatically brighten at a certain time in the morning and open the window shades. Smart lighting can also improve accessibility for guests with special needs.

Healthcare: Encouraging Recovery

Studies have noted the possible benefits of circadian lighting for the health and recovery of long-term hospital patients. Hospitals are utilizing smart dimming systems to automatically adjust fixtures’ color and intensity to emulate the daylight cycle. This type of rhythmic lighting emulates the natural environment and may help with a variety of recovery processes. In neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), artificial circadian lighting may work in conjunction with natural daylight to help premature newborns develop their diurnal cycles. Instead of relying on staff members to adjust fixtures accordingly, smart lighting systems allows for these changes to take place autonomously.

Education: Improving Focus And Collaboration

Smart lighting can support the needs of students and faculty in academic environments. Carefully designed lighting can improve the effectiveness of presentations and encourage collaboration and communication. Adjusting the color temperature of light to deliver cooler tones in the morning and warmer tones in the afternoon have, in some studies, helped influence the attentiveness and focus of K-12 students. This same control of color temperature has been helpful in some special needs classrooms. Smart lighting can autonomously change these lighting settings and continually balance natural and electric light to focus attention and elevate the overall mood in a space.

Smart Lighting And IoT

Many smart lighting systems apply the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to a network of connected devices that have software and sensors that enable them to connect and exchange data. Facilities take advantage of IoT by incorporating sensors, antennas, and wireless protocols into their lighting systems. These systems can communicate with electronic devices and RF tags to track assets with high-level accuracy around a facility or campus. They can live monitor temperature, humidity, and air flow and communicate with third-party equipment to adjust settings for optimal use and energy savings. They can read daylight levels and monitor traffic/motion to not only dim unneeded electric lighting, but also provide facilities with data regarding space usage. The result of smart lighting is fast, networked communication between devices resulting in information that humans can use to save energy, reduce maintenance costs, improve workflow, enhance security, and eliminate wasteful and inefficient practices.

Considering The Benefits And ROI

For facility management executives who are exploring the possible applications of smart lighting in their facilities, it’s important to also consider how a high-tech solution would benefit maintenance, efficiency, and the human experience. A controllable, electronic lighting system could improve energy efficiency in a space, but facility management executives can also think about the value of the technology in terms of ROI for business decisions.

Product availability, variety, and costs are continually improving. Further, the decision to utilize smart technology does not have to be an all or nothing solution; an experienced design team can plan and incorporate beneficial smart features within the owner’s budget. With more facilities and campuses pushing the upgrade to LED lighting, understanding the premiums to add smart technology to the equation is often surprising in a good way. Many of the solutions can be integrated with a building or site’s existing network infrastructure.

smart lightingSince 2001, Widmer, Principal with The Lighting Practice, has designed architectural lighting for corporate, retail, historic, hospitality, academic, healthcare, and places of worship. His passion for architecture and mechanical engineering led him to lighting, a medium that combines these two paths into a unique career. The Lighting Practice, a WBE/DBE certified firm, has been a leader in lighting design since 1989.