Navigant Research Blog

Lighting-Based Indoor Positioning Gains Momentum

— March 22, 2017

Advances in technology are changing the consumer experience. Online shopping and omnichannel retailing are becoming increasingly important for consumers because of easily available product knowledge, price comparisons, coupons, and quick access to products. Another technological advancement changing the consumer experience and shifting the retail market is indoor positioning. In brick-and-mortar retailing, indoor positioning has gained traction in recent years as retailers adapt to the changing retail landscape and align their online and physical store shopping experiences. Lighting companies have taken notice of the changing retail landscape and are staking their claim to retail indoor positioning through visible light communication (VLC) and other indoor positioning technologies, such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The ability to combine these technologies for enhanced indoor positioning solutions is progressing the retail experience for consumers.

Partnerships and Acquisitions

The most recent partnership to advance light-based indoor positioning was announced by Philips on February 27, 2017. The company announced the creation of its Location Lab partner program, which brings together companies working to develop applications for Philips’ indoor positioning system utilizing VLC for “the power of GPS indoors,” as described by Philips. The new partnerships will enhance and customize indoor positioning across multiple industries, including retail spaces, offices, and malls. Philips’ location-based service partners with Aisle411, Favendo, Adactive, and other international companies. The IT and systems integration partners include SAP, Microsoft, and Capgemini, and the in-store technology partners include SES-imagotag and Zebra. Philips Lighting has also teamed with Blue Jay to improve operational processes.

Another lighting incumbent, Acuity Brands, has recently furthered its indoor positioning offerings. Acuity’s advancement of indoor positioning occurred through internal advancements as well as several acquisitions. In April 2015, Acuity Brands acquired ByteLight—a company developing indoor positioning technology—by combining VLC and BLE. In January 2016, Acuity acquired GeoMetri, which is a software and services platform provider for mapping, navigation, and analytics. These strategic acquisitions enable Acuity and Philips Lighting to be leaders in this space. On March 28, 2017, Acuity will host a webinar in conjunction with Navigant Research on adding value to a shifting retail market through indoor positioning.

Application

In Europe, other retailers are deploying indoor positioning, working with a variety of lighting manufacturers for new systems. Zumtobel has deployed indoor positioning at E.Leclerc, which is a hypermarket in Langon, France. However, unlike Philips, Zumtobel used Bluetooth without VLC for indoor positioning because it prefers Bluetooth over newer VLC technology. OSRAM took a similar approach by using Bluetooth and not VLC for indoor positioning in Switzerland. A fashion retailer purchased the Bluetooth chipsets to install existing lights in 23 stores throughout Switzerland for indoor positioning. While OSRAM does sell luminaires with a built-in Bluetooth transmitter, these were not used for this project. In collaboration with Favendo, Philips has installed the company’s first indoor positioning system in the supermarket EDEKA Paschmann in Dusseldorf, Germany. The system will allow shoppers access to the location-based services, as well as allow employees to more quickly search for items.

Going Forward

While the deployment of indoor positioning systems utilizes the combined technologies of VLC and BLE, these systems are still limited. One of the major barriers to the quick adoption of these solutions is the privacy concerns of consumers. Educating consumers about these technologies and the benefits enabled through indoor positioning will allow for greater adoption by retailers, and it is clear these solutions will be more commonplace in the future. Retailers are already capitalizing on the benefits these solutions provide to customers, employees, and retailers. This trend should continue as more companies realize the potential of lighting-based indoor positioning.

 

New Zealand Street Lighting Updates Could Make for an Attractive Market

— May 5, 2015

New Zealand lighting designer Bryan King estimates that his country is roughly 5 years behind the United States in terms of upgrading street light infrastructure from high-pressure sodium (HPS) to light-emitting diode (LED). Recent developments and a successful Road Lighting conference, however, may help close that gap quickly or even put the small country in the lead. This makes for an interesting case study in how a smaller market can rapidly shift from one technology to another, undergoing the process at a much faster rate than larger markets are capable of doing.

Favorable Factors

According to Navigant Research’s Smart Street Lighting report, there are an estimated 370,000 street lights installed in New Zealand. This represents a small fraction of the installed base of the United States and other large countries, making the challenge of upgrading far less daunting. Another significant factor that this country has in its favor is that municipal lighting is generally owned by the municipality, rather than by a utility that may not have a financial incentive to reduce electricity consumption, especially during nighttime hours. In addition, 50% of funding for street lighting comes from the NZ Transport Agency. This government agency has recently stipulated that its funding must be spent on LED lights and not on older lamp technologies. That alone will spur retrofit projects and likely means that no new HPS luminaires will be purchased.

The recently held Road Lighting 2015 conference is also expected to drive adoption of both LED street lighting and networked street lighting control. The conference organizers were able to gather representatives from a significant portion of the country’s municipalities, who then learned from city managers and other experts from around the world who have already implemented LED and controls projects. While decision makers in the United States often seem reluctant to draw on international experiences, decision makers in New Zealand were quite eager to benefit from the lessons learned by their peers around the globe.

Road Lighting

A significant focus of the Road Lighting conference was on the use of networked controls to deliver advanced control features to street lighting systems. As discussed in Smart Street Lighting, networked systems are being adopted in ever growing numbers around the world, but many municipalities have upgraded to LEDs without also adding controls. A new and widely adopted American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard (136.41) means that adding controls after a luminaire has been installed is relatively simple, but it still involves physically accessing every single street light. Thus, it entails a cost and effort that deters many municipalities. New Zealand is in an excellent position to take advantage of the benefits of both LEDs and controls, installing both of these now maturing technologies at the same time to reduce costs.

It is yet to be seen just how quickly New Zealand will adopt LED street lighting and networked lighting control. The City of Auckland has announced plans to switch all of its lights to LEDs in the next 5 years, and the timeline is expected to be similar for other cities and only slightly slower for smaller municipalities. So, while the total market size is modest, the rapid changeover when conditions are ripe can still make a small market attractive to international manufacturers.

 

Lighting Colors Evolve for Human Needs

— June 9, 2014

Complaining about the color of artificial light is nothing new.  Ever since fluorescent lighting took over office spaces decades ago, it has been criticized as harsh and sterile.  When compact fluorescent lights began making their way into homes 10 years ago, those same complaints followed them, leading many homeowners to cling to their drastically less efficient incandescent lighting.  The situation with outdoor lighting has been even worse, with the dominant high-pressure sodium lamps producing a monochromatic yellow light that makes object identification much more difficult.

Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting has shared some of the same color criticisms as fluorescent lighting, with many finding it harsh or unpleasant.  Advancing technology, however, has made it possible for LEDs to emit light of any color and to change the color of the light in real-time.  My colleague Madeline Bergner explored some of the new LED products that imitate incandescent lighting in a recent blog.  This will surely help silence the critics of color quality, but also raises the question of just what color light we should be using.

Color Me Productive

A number of creative uses of the color tuning ability of LEDs are already being implemented.  Boeing’s new astronaut capsule is outfitted with LEDs that emit “ambient sky-blue” light designed to improve astronaut moods, which could prove especially beneficial to people who will not be exposed to natural light for extended periods of time.  Back on Earth, another example is a partnership between Philips Lighting and Green Sense Farms, a Chicago-area commercial grower, to develop light recipes for indoor plants.  These recipes define specific colors of lighting for different plant types and different times of day, optimizing growing cycles and allowing Green Sense Farms to harvest more frequently.

Just as plants thrive under lights tuned to their needs, a growing body of science suggests that humans can benefit from the right mix of light colors.  The U.S. Department of Energy released a fact sheet in May discussing the science of LED light’s impact on health.  The primary conclusion is that further research will be necessary before color tuning for health can be broadly deployed.  However, it is clear that the optimal color for artificial light is dependent on factors such as the time of day, the type of activity, and the individual user.  Given recent advancements in occupancy sensors and ever developing networked lighting control systems, it’s not difficult to imagine LED lighting being constantly adjusted to meet all three of those factors.

In May, GE Lighting and startup ByteLight announced a control platform for retail store lighting that uses visible light communications to determine exactly where a customer is standing and send targeting information and advertisements to their smart phones.  A similar system could track individuals throughout an office building at the same time that specialized occupancy sensors determine the type of activity they’re involved in.  Factoring in the time of day, a smart control system could then tune the color of the lights over that individual to perfectly meet his or her current needs.  That could put complaints about light quality in the shadows.

 

The Battle for Control of Lighting Controls

— July 18, 2013

With the rise of LED lighting and inexpensive controls technologies, the market for networked lighting controls is expected to increase sharply in the coming years.  Three types of companies are maneuvering to take advantage of this opportunity: pure-play lighting controls companies, big lamp industry players, and traditional building controls vendors.  Each group has its advantages, and it’s far from clear which will end up leading the lighting controls market in the future.

Pure Plays

As  with other new technologies, the path has been broken by small, dedicated companies that have developed innovative techniques and demonstrated the value of those techniques in the marketplace.  Companies like Daintree Networks and Redwood Systems have shown that networked lighting controls can save money and provide a valuable service to building managers.

Big Lamp Industry Players

The rise of LED lighting brings an opportunity but also a threat to the large, traditional lamp companies.  The long lifespan of LED lamps will eventually curtail the market for replacement lamps, leading to declining overall revenue from lamp sales.  In response, the big lamp companies are expanding their offerings to include lighting controls and networked systems.  Philips, Osram, and GE have all begun selling the software and controls products needed to centrally manage commercial lighting systems.

Building Controls Vendors

While the networking of lighting controls is a relatively recent development, the networking of HVAC and other building controls has become almost routine.  Some of the key players involved in building controls have begun broadening their businesses to include lighting controls.  Honeywell, for example, has begun selling its own lighting controls software in Europe and has plans to bring it to the United States.  Schneider Electric has also made acquisitions to allow the integration of networked lighting controls with its building management systems.

Building controls companies have the advantage of existing relationships with the applicable customer base.  Their customers trust them to provide systems that already control other systems within buildings.  Adding lighting controls to HVAC controls seems like a logical step.  The big lamp companies also benefit from existing relationships – and it is their products that customers are seeking to network together.  It would be logical for a customer to assume that the company who sold them their lights and sensors would be best suited to sell them the networking controls and software as well.

Between the building controls companies and the big lamp companies, it might seem that the smaller pure plays could be squeezed out of existence.  However, these startups were the first players to come to this table and have made significant inroads, so they shouldn’t be counted out.  With the greater adoption of open standards that allow interoperability between the equipment of multiple vendors, it may well be advantageous for customers to employ a third party for their top-level controls that will not lock them in to a specific vendor for lamps and peripherals and that will continue to push the envelope on innovative controls techniques.

A soon-to-be released update to Navigant Research’s 2012 report, Intelligent Lighting Controls for Commercial Buildings, will discuss these trends and provide profiles for many of the vendors in the lighting controls market.

 

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