The ability to connect lamps to the internet opens up all sorts of possibilities.
At the very least it cuts out the need for a dedicated control unit and lets homeowners switch or dim their lights and create lighting scenes using nothing more than their smartphones.
That idea is now a reality, thanks to tiny chips made by the former electronics division of Philips, now called NXP. The company has managed to make the integrated circuits small enough and cheap enough to fit in a lamp. This means every lamp can have an IP address, and can be controlled from any internet-enabled device such as a phone, TV or games console.
Crucially, NXP has announced that it is to make its technology available to all, reducing the chance that it will simply become a niche gadget for early-adopting geeks. Any lamp manufacturer can now join the IP revolution by buying a licence.
Already the company is in talks with Philips and Philips’ first IP-enabled MasterLED lamp is expected to be on show at the LuxLive exhibition in London this November.
Devices other than lamps, including kitchen appliances, are also set to get IP addresses of their own, creating an ‘internet of things’, and a highly connected world. The technology is not dissimilar to the wireless protocol ZigBee, which is itself a potential lighting control protocol.
John Croteau, general manager, power lighting solutions and high performance RF at NXP, says: ‘There will not be an “internet of things” if technology is proprietary or with royalties. If it only works with the iPhone, it won’t be deployable.’
NXP says it will establish a consortium to oversee the development of the technology, as other protocol and standards consortia such as ZigBee, Zhaga and Dali have done. But the company stressed that it would not be taking on ZigBee in the wireless control sector. ‘It’s not about competing with ZigBee, it’s about delivering something people want to buy,’ says Croteau.
There are two versions of the chip at the moment, one for compact fluorescents and one for LED lamps.
GreenChip-enabled lamps will operate on the same wireless sensor networks that consumers may already be using in their homes for energy metering, smart appliances and security systems.
TCP, one of largest suppliers of CFL and LED lamps in the US, was the first to licence the GreenChip technology for its lamps.TCP chief Ellis Yan says: ‘We’re able to match the quality of light and user experience of an incandescent lamp with up to 20,000 hours of life. As a next step, we are developing internet-enabled CFL and LED lamps accessible to mainstream consumers and commercial applications.’
TCP’s GreenWave lets consumers dim or turn lights on and off from any combination of devices such as PCs, smartphones and even televisions. One option the company thinks will be a hit with consumers is the ability for the network to work with sensors wirelessly. So, for example, the system could adjust the indoor lighting in response to the lighting outside.
Also, the lamps will interface wirelessly with presence and absence detectors, allowing the sort of lighting control common in commercial buildings to make its debut in the home.
‘Consumers and commercial customers now can easily and cost-effectively reduce their energy consumption associated with lighting, saving them money, simplifying their lives, and making a positive impact on the environment,’ says Greg Memo, chief of GreenWave Reality.
‘We think this is a unique and exciting technology,’ says NXP chief Rick Clemmer. ‘This moves us away from the internet of people to really the internet of things – the ability to control things, whether it’s lighting, home appliances, white goods, security cameras.
‘It’s the ability to have that control and have a significant impact on energy consumption. [About] 25 per cent of home energy consumption is in the form of lighting and at least 30 per cent of that energy is wasted because it is in the form of heat as opposed to light itself.
‘By us providing this capability, it allows someone to address that so that they can have significant energy savings.’
Clemmer believes the market for his company’s devices could be worth about £3 billion in four years. ‘Roughly a fourth to a third of that will be associated with lighting automation.’