The lighting industry has gone through a number of defining moments over the past decade, as it has embraced new technological paradigms and dealt with the economic recession and recovery. But at Lightfair this year, it struck me that when 2015 is over, we should look back and recognize this point in time as particularly distinctive. This marks a point of maturation, from a transitional phase when core light sources were completely turned upside down. In this new era, lighting manufacturers and lighting designers can begin to think beyond the basic technical components of an LED luminaire and start to see how solid-state lighting fits into a broader context of systems that have the ability to gather and transmit all types of data at an unprecedented scale. Lighting is now becoming a part of the Internet of Things.
We’re still in the early days, as the lighting community figures out what connectivity really means in terms of project applications and the integration of different fixtures and building systems. We’re seeing new platforms emerge for discussion within the industry, as evidenced by the inaugural Connectivity & Controls Forum at Lightfair this year (which you can read about in greater depth in this issue’s Report, “The Future is in Lighting Controls,”), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Connected Lighting Systems Workshop this upcoming November in Portland, Ore.
Twelve years ago, when I started at architectural lighting, the trade show experience was mainly about seeing new products, and that meant walking the expo floor seeking out all the latest luminaires with their new shapes and styles. Today’s lighting trade show does not reveal what’s new in such a straightforward, visual fashion. Lighting is becoming less and less about the fixture as a singular object. Rather, so much of what’s really new in lighting is about software and controls. Never has it been more important to actually experience what a fixture can do. Innovation in lighting today means revolutionary functionality and programming, not cosmetic upgrades.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the lighting industry as a whole embraces the Internet of Things, not only in terms of product discussions, but educational opportunities. One gets the sense that the Internet of Things is lighting’s new buzzword.
As the industry enters a broader discussion of networks and data, audience expectations are changing when it comes to content at events and in the media. The lighting community as a whole will have to figure out how to recast familiar product presentations and technical forums in order to meet the demand for cutting-edge information.
Ultimately, lighting is much more than a light source fitted around a housing. The exact shape of the industry’s future is emerging as we speak. Regardless of the disruptions that the Internet of Things may bring to business or technology, I am confident that the lighting industry will be able to distinguish valuable solutions from gimmicks, and stay focused on illumination and the core values of quality and innovation.