The 11 biggest trends in lighting technology right now
There’s so much going on in lighting these days that we couldn’t fit it all into a standard list of 10. So sit back and bone up on the technology trends to watch
With LEDs comprehensively in the mainstream, the next frontier in lighting is controls. Call it smart, call it connected, call it what you like – the point is that your lights can be controlled. Dimmers and sensors have been around for donkey’s years, but the challenge now is to make them more sophisticated, get them to communicate with other devices and make sure people use them. Energy saving is only the start of the potential benefits – connected lighting also promises to make us safer and pave the way for…
2. The internet of things
The internet of things is the term used to describe what happens when it’s no longer just computers and smartphones that are connected to the web, but also your fridge, your coffee cup, your heart monitor and your LED lights. Lighting is an ideal network for internet-of-things services to be built on – because it’s already there in the ceiling of every building, looking down at us, wired up and ready to go. You only have to add a few sensors or cameras and some kind of data connection.
3. Built-in light sources – good idea?
Because LED light sources don’t have to be replaced very often, and because no standards have emerged for what they should be like, manufacturers have got used to building them into fittings, rather than designing new luminaires around replaceable ‘lamps’. But what happens if they fail early? Or a better, more efficient module comes on the market? Organisations such as Zhaga have sought to address the issue by coming up with agreed designs, but integrated modules are becoming the norm. Will we regret lumbering our clients with light sources they can’t change?
4. New power technologies
Until now, LED luminaires have typically come with a ‘driver’ that converts the mains electricity supply into a form the light can use. But now new power technologies are appearing, with a range of benefits. Drivers are often the first component of a lighting system to fail, so some companies are taking them out of the equation – Iviti has a lamp with a DC LED chip that needs no driver at all, and Isotera (pictured) sells a power system for lighting using a central hub, with each fitting connected directly to a bus cable. The latest innovation is power-over-Ethernet, which provides electricity through data cables.
5. Retrofit lamps – on borrowed time
According to Time magazine, 2013 was the year of the LED lamp. That now seems a long time ago, as manufacturers begin to wonder what happens once the market for these long-lasting lamps is saturated. There are two ways they can go: up or out. Either move upmarket by adding value to this commodity product (internet connectivity, colour-changing and so on) or leave the market completely. Osram, Philips and Samsung all tried option one, then opted for option two – Osram is selling its general lighting business, Philips is selling a big stake in its own, and Samsung pulled out of lamps completely.
6. Look, no wires
Everything’s going wireless these days, and lighting control is no exception. It’s particularly appealing for retrofit projects. As well as radio-frequency-based systems, there are technologies such as power-line communication, which uses mains power lines to carry data to and from your fittings. And even for traditional wired control systems, it’s going to be more and more common for the user’s control device to be a tablet or phone that’s not wired to anything.
7. Healthier lighting
Light influences how productive we are at work, how well we learn and how quickly we recover from illness. The rise of LEDs means it’s gradually getting easier and cheaper for lighting manufacturers to put this knowledge into practice, and make products that promote health – usually by adjusting the brightness and colour of the light during the day to mimic natural light.
8. Revolutionary materials
Nobel Prize winner Shuji Nakamura (pictured) has moved from blue to violet LEDs. Nakamura’s violet LEDs put the gallium nitride on a base of some more gallium nitride rather than sapphire – ‘GaN-on-GaN’ in technical parlance. Not only do they render colours better, they also open up the possibility for longer lives and greater efficiency. Also set to revolutionise the world of LEDs is wonder material du jour graphene, which its proponents would have you believe will be used in everything from phones to buildings to water filters. Researchers at the University of Manchester say graphene’s high conductivity will make for brighter, longer-lasting and more efficient sources, and they hope to have a graphene LED lamp on the market soon.
9. The last few application areas fall to LED
‘LEDs aren’t for every application…’ That’s something we’re hearing less and less. Some areas have been slower to adopt them than others – the efficiency of T5 has been tough to beat in offices and LEDs have struggled to match the output of floodlights until recently – this year’s Super Bowl took place under LED light. In the past 12 months, manufacturers who had clung to old technologies such as metal halide and cold cathode have had to embrace LEDs.
10. The flight to quality
We’ve all seen examples of poor-quality LED retrofits that make a shop, café or office look dreadful, all for the sake of saving energy. But the Wild West of the LED market is being tamed, and even those who had their fingers burned in the early days are coming back wiser, with a renewed focus on quality.
11. Beyond light
Lighting isn’t just about light any more. It’s about data. Technologies such as Li-Fi (like Wi-Fi, using light) and indoor positioning (that tracks people’s position using LED luminaires and their smartphones) are both based on visible light communication. It’s set to transform our shops, museums and indoor spaces, and to turn the industry on its head as lighting products are used for completely new purposes.