LEDs are changing luminaires’ form and function, but limits imposed by existing lighting infrastructure threaten to stymie their progress. “It boils down to having the luminaires do more,” says Eric Haugaard, director of product technology at Cree

Those fixtures stand to evolve in two ways, he says. The first involves integrating their components onto one circuit board around which the housing is constructed. The second adds sensors for tasks such as measuring occupancy, surveillance, and daylighting.

What those luminaires will look like depends in part on how willing consumers are to accept new form factors, Haugaard says. Adoption of LEDs will drive development and decrease production costs. A lower cost-per-unit allows for fixtures with more LEDs that are each run at a lower power to get the same effect. Integrating those components limits the ability to service individual parts in exchange for a higher-performing product. And, run at a lower temperature, the luminaire would need a smaller heat sink, reducing its total bulk and allowing for more cost-effective housings, such as plastic.

“Because of that, you can build a luminaire differently,” Haugaard says. Shrinking even one dimension, such as a luminaire’s thickness or weight, can have cost-saving implications that manifest throughout the entire supply chain while resulting in products that are “right-sized” for their application.

The nature of LEDs opens up the luminaires that use them to other functions, serving as the host platform for functionality that includes surveillance, motion-sensing, daylight monitoring, smart-parking services, and more, says Gary Harvey, senior product manager at Amerlux.

A sample app using Philips' connected retail lighting system, shown at Euroshop 2014 in Düesseldorf, Germany.
Philips A sample app using Philips' connected retail lighting system, shown at Euroshop 2014 in Düesseldorf, Germany.

“LEDs are semiconductor devices, which, like computers, smartphones, and cameras, require a DC power supply,” he says. “With DC power in every light, the light owners can now take advantage of that power for other technologies. … We are now talking about a new innovative networking platform that is placed 15 feet up in the air.” In January 2014, Amerlux partnered with light-sensory-network (LSN) developer Sensity Systems to integrate its NetSense LSN technology with the company’s exterior LED luminaires to detect environmental factors such as motion, daylight, energy, and temperature. And in February, Philips debuted a retail lighting system with integrated sensors that connect to a consumer smartphone app (shown, left) to push product coupons based on shoppers’ locations in the store.

“It’s not the ability to gather this kind of information that’s novel, instead it’s the ability to leverage a single integrated network infrastructure for multiple field applications,” he says. “Overall, it’s still early and we don’t know the exact balance point.”