As networks become smarter we have to think how technology will converge. After speaking to a friend earlier in the week it struck me that technology is evolving across all platforms so to truly exploit the potential of that technology we have the look at the one common factor in all buildings that is omnipresent, and that is lighting.

Smart controls based on a Smart lighting platform can link to multiple Smart networks to provide true granularity whilst maintaining flexibility. Less is more so use the Smart devices in lighting to enhance the whole building not just one aspect.

The challenge moving forward with smart building technology is not so much the hardware but more about the software and the network that it sits on.

If we look at the network first, this in theory is relatively straightforward if you consider all we are doing is providing an infrastructure that through wired or wireless connections allows IP enabled devices to communicate over a known platform such as TCP/IP or BACnet over IP or a number of different versions of the same.

It’s a tool for sharing data securely and then pushing that data to software; hosted locally or increasingly in the “Cloud” which is often remote from the building.

There is no doubt that the Cloud will dominate in the future as so much of our lives already function around a “Cloud” of some sort. Music, images, video and other services depend on hosted services where we can access that data.

Logically buildings will work in a similar manner as we are granted access to different tiers within the building infrastructure to access services. These could be as diverse as Heating/ Cooling, Light level, AV and Blind control. Booking systems will link across the calendar function and will seamlessly integrate to the Head end to allow available meeting rooms to be booked.

I should stress that all of the above, can and is being done today, but with smarter software the integration becomes less obvious and the seamless integration of our work lives into smart spaces is therefore a given.

It’s worth mentioning that each generation has a different approach to connectivity and the level of integration will be determined by the budget as well as the enthusiasm of the individuals / companies that are adopting the tech.

I mention budget as ultimately cost drives everything but where the smart technology ultimately lives may have an impact on how we cost our models. Typically, we base cost around traditional systems, allowing for cables to be installed that power the devices. This won’t change dramatically with wired or wireless systems as you still need to power devices. Ok, I accept there are fewer cables for wireless solutions and we do have POE type systems, but in all cases whether mains of low voltage, we need to provide power to the luminaire or control device.

There are battery powered devices and some that use kinetic energy but in a smart world where we use controls to help manage and enhance the environment these will be the exception rather than the rule, if they are to be truly intelligent and interact with the system and user. A wireless switch that goes on and off is no more intelligent than a mains switch. Intelligence is all about the data and the analytics we can obtain from that connected device.

I mentioned briefly about where the intelligence lives, and this is a factor that we may have overlooked as the IT industry has also seen the developments in connected buildings and wants to be part of that story. Managed switches are getting smarter and the connectivity to other services they may well offer in the future provides a far more connected approach to lighting.

As an industry we need to embrace open protocols that can be exploited by other industries such as the Network specialists so that integration from multiple vendors becomes common place. If we consider the analogy of computers on a building IT infrastructure. They may be from different manufacturers, but the basic communication protocol TCP/IP allows the devices to connect to each other via a converged network. The hardware is a cog in a much smarter machine and as we develop a more convergent approach to connected buildings then intelligence can and will exist in multiple locations.

Ultimately visualised via the Cloud as a tool to manage or report but with redundancy built in across multiple platforms.

No one could have predicted the impact that Smart Mobile phones would have from the launch of the iPhone in 2007. We now have a supercomputer in our pockets than can take pictures, play music, browse the web, send and receive emails and messages as well as video calls. It’s still a phone but you could argue its prime function is no longer the making and receiving of calls.

This may well be the same with smart buildings in that the function of the controls and its integration to the networks may become more than the sum of its parts with mundane applications being automated through smart algorithms.

Carrying around your office on a smart phone or tablet is commonplace today but with faster speeds and greater connectivity our place of work may change, and we may need to slot into a range of different platforms across multiple buildings.

In this scenario, a smart approach to “Systems” full stop is important as we must ensure we don’t impact on the individuals ability to control their space by not being open and integrated.

The CISCO’s of this world want to be part of a much smarter world and will use their skill to deliver a smarter interface to IT, but we should never forget that the specialism of lighting is a technology that can be integrated but must always be true to its core values and deliver safe and appealing lighting that adds to the visual experience of that space.

Specialist to a point but ultimately connected with other Smart things to make the whole experience seamless.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Age of the user is an important factor within integration and the younger user is already more familiar with a connected world so the designers and engineers of today will be the ones looking to converge platforms.

Older generations need to accept that embracing change and open platforms will lead to a better lit environment, less waste, unnecessary duplication of services and a significant saving, both in construction and operation.

A smart wired or wireless DALI-2 device could in the future talk to lighting and non lighting devices through an Edge router such as the Application Controller as defined in the DALI-2 standard or directly to a Smart wireless enabled switch. The core function of the sensor is to manage lighting, but it could share some of its data to other services such as providing temperature or air quality information to the environmental systems.

Lighting control will be the basis of any truly Smart building as it provides granularity. Lighting is omnipresent in most buildings and therefore Smart connected lighting sensors can bridge the gap between services to provide a really detailed overview of any Smart building.

Linking Smart services makes sense and providing this integration is Open and transparent then significant strides can be made in reducing energy and waste whilst improving the wellbeing of the users of these spaces.

Stewart Langdown FSLL
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