Last week, I learned something new about lighting, namely, light fixtures are so much more than light sources. Yes, they can be design statements and architects can do crazy imaginative things with style and placement. But did you know they can also become internet-connected data hubs?
The gold standard
Consider the Edge building in the Netherlands in which every light in the building is ethernet connected. These lights can collect data such as body heat concentration, air flow, etc. They can also receive data. Example: Deloitte is the primary occupant of the building, and all of their seating is free address, meaning you are assigned or request a workspace as required by your schedule. These requests are handled by an app which also stores your personal lighting preferences. When you go to your assigned seat, the lighting receives data from your smartphone and automatically adjusts the brightness to your personal preferences.
Hue and brightness
On a more basic and less expensive scale, lighting can now be “wired” with sensors (my apologies to the folks at Mayer Electric who opened my eyes to this world and would likely be horrified at my overly simplistic language) to control not just the intensity of the lighting, but also the color (i.e. white, blue, yellow spectrums). Some local schools are using this “smart” lighting to optimize lighting to create the ideal learning environment depending on time of day and task at hand.
Sensors can also be used to monitor workplace occupancy and traffic throughout a space. For example, airports are using sensors in lighting for tasks ranging from guiding passengers to their gates to locating wheelchairs as needed by gate agents.
Temperature, humidity and air flow
For those willing to make the investment, sensors can be installed to monitor air flow, humidity, and temperature in a space. Facility managers can use the information gathered from such sensors to efficiently manage heating and cooling, and electricity can be conserved through on-demand rather than static lighting.
Perhaps because I am naively unconcerned about “big brother” monitoring, I find this all fascinating. My clients are always trying to understand how changes to their physical space are going to affect workplace occupancy and productivity. Without constantly surveying their employees or tracking them via Bluetooth monitors (which could accurately be characterized as a “big brother” approach), these variables are difficult to measure. With lighting sensors, however, an employer can determine which spaces in an office receive the most use, where the people traffic flows within and between floors, and how long people spend in various areas. Designers can then use this feedback to determine which design approaches are most attractive to the occupants.
The moral of the story
We cannot all afford lighting as smart as the Edge, however, we can all think of lighting beyond the appearance of the fixture itself.