IoT is trending. Companies invest in new tech...
60 percent of IoT initiatives stall before they leave the proof of concept stage – including smart lighting projects. Challenges may appear at any point throughout the development of the product – or occur right after its release, when a solution hits the real world.In this article, we’ll discuss the top 5 challenges you might face when building a smart lighting solution.
High Energy Consumption
Here are some stunning numbers:
- Lighting costs account for 10 to 12% of national energy usage.
- Up to 30% of your home or business’ electricity bill comes from lighting.
- In North America, 22% of energy consumed by industry is dedicated to the lighting consumption.
And won’t turning to a connected lighting solution result in even higher energy costs and a heavier impact on the environment?
In fact, one of the aims of smart lighting, both outdoor and indoor, is reducing energy consumption costs.
- Centralized control. One of the key elements of a smart lighting system is a central control panel, located either in the cloud or on a local server. It provides for the automation of many processes connected with lighting, and data visualization of energy consumption. This makes energy consumption more controllable and intellectual.
- Light scheduling & dimming. With connected lighting solutions, lighting can be easily programmed to turn on/off at a certain time, adjust to the time of day or night and to weather conditions. Besides, smart lighting systems are typically equipped with motion sensors or passive infrared sensors which register occupancy and adjust the lighting accordingly.
Here is an interesting fact: if you place motion sensors in areas that get a lot of traffic, you will be saving about 90% on each light bulb.So if the average light costs you $16 a year in energy, adding a motion sensor will reduce that cost to $1.60.
- Precise energy consumption calculation. What is called today an ‘unmetered load’ – electricity costs are assesed not because of directly recorded numbers, but through a calculated methodology – becomes a clear and comprehensive bill. A smart lighting centralized management component provides tools for precise electricity consumption measuring.
Developing Hardware Elements
Multiple off-the-shelf components for smart lighting structures are found on the market today. Their price is perpetually going down, making such systems more affordable.
So does it mean that building a smart lighting solution has come down simply to buying ready-made components and connecting them into a single network?
In most cases IoT projects demand highly specialised devices designed to operate within very specific contexts and connected ecosystems. Integrating off-the-shelf hardware components can be tricky from the point of view of the system’s interoperability, while building them from scratch comes as a costly and time-consuming process.
So how to combine reasonable costs with the smart lighting project tech requirements?
On the one hand, using standards-based commodity hardware can save time and financial resources in the early stages of development. Besides, today’s models are flexible and leave scope for their upgrade and modifications.
On the other hand, they can fail to fit in a particular project.
When solving the ‘Buy or Build’ dilemma, it is reasonable to consider the following factors:
- Levels of customization required. Some smart lighting solutions require a unique bespoke technology to get the custom functionality and receive ongoing support from a manufacturer. Others allow to customize a ready-made product, and here it is important to select the least rigid ones, allowing to modify their functionality in a useful way.
- Time-to-market. Getting commodity hardware speeds up the whole development process and allows to get a fully functioning solution in a limited timeframe.
- Effective integration into a smart lighting architecture. When every element of a system is built from scratch, their compatibility is guaranteed from the start. But if components come from different manufacturers, they need to communicate with each other, and it demands certain expertise from developers to provide such interconnection.
If product owners decide to get involved in hardware prototyping and development process, they should anticipate a long design process before a new device gets or application gets to market.
This challenge concerns those companies which have opted for off-the-shelf components. We have seen many examples of smart lighting solutions which have failed because IoT vendors have gone out of business,ending support of manufactured devices and leaving them obsolescent.
Like everyone else, we are looking forward to a bright future, where connected products will be configurable, open and standardized.
But today, there is no easy fix to the maintenance issue, and companies face serious problems, once the original creator leaves the market.
Choosing trustworthy partners, with many years of expertise and high-quality support service, is the most evident solution to the maintenance problem.
However, we can’t predict everything, and sometimes big-name tech companies go bankrupt, stop production of a particular product or disappear from the market for other reasons.
In this case, an experienced connected lighting solutions developer can come to the rescue and fix bugs left in the devices – or plan a smooth change of a legacy component for a more advanced one, without destroying the whole system.
Connectivity & Interoperability
The smart lighting world is known for its ‘walled garden’ approach, when different vendors go for proprietary controls solutions, which trap their customers with a single vendor. Otherwise, devices produced by different manufacturers won’t work with those from another one.
No wonder that Gartner has named Interoperability one of the top three challenges preventing IoT from reaching its full potential.
Like in any complex IoT solution, connectivity often becomes a serious roadblock for the implementation and effective functioning of an interconnected system.
How does an ideal interoperable smart lighting technology look like? First of all, it is based on open standards, i.e. it is brand-agnostic, allows seamless integration of third-party systems and custom applications, and grants the confidence of a continuity of supply over time.
However, today the reality is far from this perfect image. there is no silver bullet protocol solution yet which would guarantee foolproof communication within any interconnected system and with the outside world. Too many protocols are available, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must consider several factors before going for the most suitable one.
- Wired, with a control signal travelling over communication wires (DALI, DMX, Power Line Communications).
- Wireless, with devices communicating through the air using radio frequency (RF) waves (ZigBee, BLE, 6LoWPAN, WiFi).
- Hybrid, with a wired system for areas where it is feasible (such as new construction), and wireless to provide coverage in hard-to-reach areas or where it is too expensive to wire.
The choice of protocol is driven by considering several factors, for example:
- Size of installation. For large installations, using wired protocols will complicate the whole network and increase the costs of wiring and installation.
- Range of communication. It concerns not only the scope of work, but the context. Wireless protocols can experience certain problems with environmental related losses (noise, interference, physical obstacles such as walls and barriers).
- Scalability of the network. A connectivity protocol should not just fulfil current requirements, but provide the capability for future enhancements. First of all it concerns the simplicity to add or remove lights from the network.
- Cost of installation and maintenance. Both upfront investments and ongoing costs for maintenance and repair should be included in the smart lighting project development calculations.
Today we observe certain trends in the smart lighting environment:
- Moving towards wireless protocols, especially in indoor applications, smart home software projects, professional lighting and commercial markets, with Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Bluetooth as the primary contenders.
- Hybrid solutions are gaining weight in critical applications.due to their enhanced interoperability capabilities.
- Powerline communication is the leading contender for connecting industrial-based lighting solutions.
Hackers have proved many times that breaching a light to gain access to the entire network is possible.
For example, a number of LIFX smart bulbs breaching cases have been reported – and it is only one example.
The necessity to secure a smart lighting network and its endpoints comes hand in hand with heightened cybersecurity fears and a rising number of Internet security breaches.
Today, project owners rush to dish out the next innovative connected gadget before competitors do, focusing on the product’s unique functionality and marketing, while security takes a back seat.
While it remains a global challenge for the whole IoT industry, certain steps can be taken at the product development phase. For example, equipping devices with the Over-the-Air (OTA) functionality. It will empower secure remote update firmware, once a new version is released, and guarantee an automatic switch to a more advanced security control.