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How can smart light improve human life?

04 Dec 2014  | Lee Goldberg

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Productising HCL

Moving from these early examples to mass-market products will probably proceed in an evolutionary manner as manufacturers gradually identify new markets and create the products to address them. In the process, their progress will be punctuated as they address the market resistance created in good part by the significantly higher price of smart, LED-based lighting products.

Steve Kennelly, director of marketing for Microchip Technology's lighting and medical groups, says that it's likely HCL will win acceptance more quickly for industrial, office and commercial settings where business owners will regard the higher cost of the equipment as an investment. Even before HCL's human factors dividends are factored in, smart, LED-based lighting systems often save enough energy that they pay for themselves in a year or less.

In these settings, Kennelly expects low-cost embedded controllers, such as Microchip's PIC10Fxx series, to be used in "lumistats," inexpensive, networked lighting controllers that enable people to easily adjust the colour, intensity and other characteristics of an area's lighting system. If necessary, additional components, such as IR motion detectors, temperature sensors and communication channels can be inexpensively added to these lighting controllers, transforming them into the photonic equivalent of smart thermostats, such as the Nest, which respond to both their environment, and the needs of the people within it.

HCL systems in the workplace

Human-centric lighting systems in the workplace that mimic natural daylight cycles can improve productivity and comfort. In addition, they can help employees maintain their bodies' circadian rhythms that play important roles in promoting good sleep habits and overall health. (Source: Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research)

Kennelly expects that HCL-capable lighting controls will also be very popular for restaurants and hospitality venues. Its software will include HCL applications, such as routines that transition the dining room's lighting throughout the day, setting the right mood for their customers' breakfast, lunch, dinner or after-hours activities. Similarly, bars and nightclubs could use smart, human-centric lighting to gradually crank up a party atmosphere as dusk approaches and then gently wind a rowdy crowd back down as closing time draws near.

A new map for a new territory

But, as with any emerging technology, there's still much to learn in the early days of a new era in which lighting systems begin to assume new roles in creating environments that enhance our lives, our work and the environment. One of the less-obvious challenges the lighting industry faces is the need for better ways to define the quality of light. As our understanding of the complex ways light affects our perception grows, it's become apparent that the colour rendering index (CRI), a well-accepted industry standard is, at best a very blunt metric for defining light quality. In fact, it appears to be completely blind to some important issues HCL attempts to address.

Mike Krames, CTO of Soraa, a manufacturer of full spectrum GaN on GaN LEDs, explains his company's solution to the limitations of the CRI metric. "Our work has shown that colour rendering breaks down along two orthogonal axes: accuracy and preference. The former is fairly straightforward (how accurately are colours rendered compared to a reference illuminant), but has been limited because the CRI metric, designed to measure it, uses a limited number of colour samples. We are working with the IES (Illuminating Engineering Society of North America) to improve CRI, and expect a recommendation to be put forth in early 2015."

Krames also says that additional metrics are needed. "For example, there is currently no metric for whiteness rendering for materials containing optical brightening agents. This is a critical issue if one wants objects to appear indoors as they do in natural light, e.g., sun or incandescence. Thankfully, there are products that provide this (e.g., all Soraa products), and the IES has approved a project on a metric for whiteness rendering as well, for which we hope to have a recommendation by the end of next year."

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