Engineering & Technology


Why Lighting Controls Matter to Your Bottom Line

Tuesday, January 30, 2024/Categories: News, Engineering & Technology, Industry News, Member News, ALA News

The December ALA Engineering Committee meeting featured guest speaker Chris Primous, EVP/Sales & Marketing for LiteTrace – Autani, a provider of Bluetooth and IoT-enabled building automation solutions, on the topic The Here and Now of Lighting Control Options and Why They Matter.

Primous began by pointing out that, only 10 years ago, the term “residential lighting controls” referred to on/off functionality, manual switching, and basic dimming. “When you wanted to do any kind of programming, you had to use a timer — and all of those controls were mostly wired,” he noted. 

Today, “residential lighting control” encompasses smart home integration from voice or app controls to advanced features such as occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting, and demand response capabilities involving utilities. “Wireless, battery-powered controls are widely available now, reducing the need for those wired controls that you had in the past,” Primous stated.

These advanced controls communicate via a mesh network and can expand the capability of lighting controls quite a bit. “You not only have a connection to the device you are operating, but that device can now operate and control the next device in that same system, enabling large networks that all talk to each other without having one point of control,” he explained.

While once the primary benefits of lighting controls revolved around energy savings and convenience, these new advanced features allow your controls to become part of a smart home’s eco-system.  

Among the top benefits and selling points to consumers are:

Energy Savings
There’s no disputing that the use of lighting controls can save homeowners up to 20% in electricity costs, especially when utilizing advanced controls such as occupancy/vacancy sensing, daylight harvesting, and scheduling.

Convenience
Smart phone app control and voice recognition (i.e. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Siri) allows consumers to remotely adjust and control their lighting from wherever they are in the home and even when away from home. “You don’t have to do all these manual adjustments like you used to,” Primous stated. “It can all be automated. These features allow you to have a system that’s very convenient and personalized for the individual user.”

Customization
With the recent advancements in lighting controls, other smart products can interface with the lighting to match usage patterns. For example, if you have “smart” door locks that are wireless, they can be connected via wifi to automatically turn on the lights. “Each family member can tune it to their own space; if one person likes their lighting to be more dim, they can do that by adjusting the tuning of their space. And if someone else in the household wants their lighting to be another way, they can adjust it to however they want. The customization aspect (of lighting controls) is convenient and is a useful feature for these smart lights,” Primous said.

Scene-setting and RGBW capabilities of lighting controls are additional benefits of customization. “You can have the lighting tailored to your activity, whether you are working at a desk, dining, or entertaining,” he remarked. “Especially with the color-changing LEDs, you can have a creative interior atmosphere to match your activities. With the dynamic programming and presets, it’s like creating a music playlist.”

Another emerging benefit of lighting controls is the ability to positively affect one’s health and well-being. “Adjusting the light levels can help reduce eye strain and minimize glare, especially since people are on their phones and computers much of the time. Tuning the lighting’s color temperature and intensity to match your individual circadian rhythm preferences can also help with sleep quality, mood, and focus,” Primous said, adding, “Health and well-being features are becoming very important features of lighting controls.”

Safety & Security
Employing lighting controls in the home can create a safer home and deter intruders. Primous pointed out that motion-sensing lighting that is triggered by someone approaching a stairway or hallway can help reduce the risk of nighttime falls and injuries. Scheduling lighting controls to turn lights on and off when homeowners are away can make the home appear to be occupied instead of vacant. 

Voice Commands
“The proliferation of voice assistants is also affecting how residential lighting is controlled,” Primous said. Voice assistants – such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Siri – are a popular method for consumers to integrate smart products and IoT products into their homes. “Usage of these voice assistants is rapidly advancing in the home for controlling appliances and entertainment, and are already being used to control lighting,” he added. “Voice control gives you a convenient, intuitive, hands-free way to operate lighting. You can easily adjust it from anywhere without having to find where the switch is or even opening up an app. If consumers have these advanced eco-systems for their appliances, then this seamless voice integration is going to help expand lighting automation as well.”

According to Primous, advanced voice recognition accuracy and cloud-connectivity will help improve the recognition of individual voice commands. As technology evolves, these voice assistants will be able to know and set light levels by voice, and even distinguish between different family members and their preferences. 

The use of voice assistants has also become a game-changer for the elderly and the mobility-impaired. “For them, light switch access may be difficult or impossible; voice control allows them a way to adjust the lighting very easily,” Primous explained. 

The Future
As the IoT continues to expand, consumers will have more insights as to how they are using their products, which can help them tailor their usage of HVAC and other appliances as well as lighting. “The insights that you gain from smart products are going to be expanding more and more into lighting products,” he said. 

One of the burgeoning areas that Primous sees expanding is in gesture control. “You’re going to see more gesture control for controlling undercabinet lighting or table and desk lighting,” he predicted. These small sensors used for occupancy/motion sensing and daylight harvesting are becoming less expensive. As a result, “they’re being put into not just lighting but other energy-using products to make sure that those products are only using energy when they need to be,” he explained.

“Looking at some future trajectories as to where smart lighting is going, what we see happening is using artificial intelligence and sensors for predictive lighting – where the lights will be able to adjust to individual needs and be able to predict how you like those light levels based on historical usage – versus reacting to what you want,” Primous stated.
 
Transparent and diffuse lighting is a category that has become more popular on the commercial side of the industry and refers to an installation where the lighting is not coming from a fixture, but is incorporated into walls, windows, and surfaces to create a more integrated experience. “Transparent and diffuse lighting have been promised for a long time, but as time and technology advances, I think we will see more of it integrated into the smart lighting experience as well,” Primous remarked.

Up for Discussion
As the presentation closed, members of the ALA Engineering Committee asked questions, such as how lighting showrooms could best share this technology with consumers.

Primous mentioned demonstrating smart lighting control technology in a small area, even by using a briefcase-size demo kit. “You don’t need to devote a large space of a showroom to it,” he said. “You can show people, ‘If you press this button, here’s what happens,’ and demonstrate how easy it is to set up. I think something like that type of demo would be very beneficial for showrooms to set up.”

Noting that his experience has been primarily in the commercial sector, Primous observed that the pandemic-related closing of office spaces and the resulting increase of employees working from home halted the progression and familiarity of lighting controls. “People get used to control technology at work – like entering a conference room and having the lights automatically turn on – and then feel more comfortable using controls at home,” he remarked. Another factor that might have slowed residential adoption has to do with connectivity issues. “This happens when so many products are connected via wifi in the home and lighting is just one of those,” he said. The result is that consumers may be frustrated with smart controls and mistakenly blame the control products when actually it is a modem/bandwidth problem. 

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