Early conventional rotary and touchtone telephones did one thing and one thing only: they sent and received voice calls. Phones were like this for decades.
As the technology became available, beginning in the late 1970s, telephone makers started adding all kinds of “smart” features to phones, including phone number storage, speed dial, wireless operation, and voicemail. While these features expanded the capabilities of telephones, they didn’t change the nature of what a telephone is – a device for sending and receiving voice calls.
All that changed with the advent of the smartphone. By integrating voice capabilities with a range of other data-driven communications capabilities, the smartphone has become much more than a phone. You can use it for business communications, wayfinding, scheduling and alerting, playing games or music or videos, staying in touch with your friends via social media, and Web access.
Service providers can gather, store, and mine massive amounts of data on smartphone usage and activities, allowing them to precisely adjust their business objectives to maximize efficiency while offering customers the best possible user experience. They can invest in infrastructure and bandwidth as needed, and they can partner with other service providers to uncover insights and identify opportunities that were simply never available before.
Luminaires are evolving in exactly the same way. Standard lamps and luminaires – conventional incandescent and fluorescent, and single-channel LED – can do one thing and one thing only: illuminate. You can turn them on and off, and in many cases dim them, and that’s it. That’s the full range of illumination control. Electric light sources were like this for decades.
As the technology became available, beginning in the late 1990s, lamps and luminaire makers started using LED technology to make “intelligent” (dynamic) luminaires. By using multiple color channels in a single luminaire – red, green, and blue, usually, but also other combinations – LED luminaires could be designed to produce millions of colors. Similarly, by using multiple channels of white-light LEDs at different color temperatures, LED luminaires could be designed to produce “tunable white” light, allowing users to select not only the brightness and intensity of the light, but also the tint, from warm to neutral to cool.
With more sophisticated capabilities came more sophisticated controls, allowing lighting and content designers to author dynamic light effects that change over time, and intricate, timeline-based light shows. By plotting color-changing light points on a grid, show designers could even project low-resolution video on building façades, bridges, and other large areas.
But as stunning and awe-inspiring as these lighting experiences can be, dynamic capabilities don’t change the nature of what a luminaire is. We’re still talking only about lighting control – about on, off, and dim – whether we’re switching and dimming all luminaires in unison, switching and dimming LED channels in relation to each other, or switching and dimming LED light points in relation to each other. Control commands are delivered to luminaires via wallbox controls, sensors, or controllers, and the luminaires simply do what they’re told.
All this is now changing with the advent of connected luminaires.
Read more about connected lighting here