Lighting and Shade Control in the IoT Age


Lighting and shade control is proving to be one of the more exciting aspects of the Internet of Things expansion.

As the future of home automation continues to morph into an everyday reality, dictated more and more by networked solutions that unify home environments, the need to fully integrate control of lighting and shades, and by extension interior climate, has produced new approaches aimed at underscoring ease of use.

“There are many evolutions and changes that have had an impact on lighting and shade product development,” says Paul Williams, vice president of solutions at Control4. “Most notably the push to IoT and the move to wireless technologies have primarily had the most impact. The IoT world has reset customer expectations that there is an app for everything that is powered.”

Control4’s open ecosystem, according to Williams, has made it easier to incorporate third-party blind, shade and lighting solutions within a Control4 environment controlled by one of the company’s simple interfaces (pictured below)—bypassing the multiple app process we have come to associated with early IoT adoption.

Williams adds, “The move to wireless technologies has yielded an environment where blinds and shades in particular can be retrofitted into existing homes more easily, as wires are not required. This has allowed us to incorporate third-party blind solutions into our already very retrofit-able solutions.”

For Niko, customer demand for one-touch control of multiple lighting circuits to create moods has been an innovation driving factor.

“One of the most neglected areas of lighting is the client’s selection of a ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ light,” say Andy Moss, Niko’s managing director of Moss Technical Services. “This decision can create a relaxing or invigorating mood with very little effort. With the use of these different LED options, homes can be transformed. Lighting is not just about illuminating a room to see what you’re doing, but to create contrast, shadows and an ambient living environment. These subtle accents can really help to create aesthetically pleasing living spaces.

Moss adds, “Automatic functions such as an ‘all off’ option, or the restriction of light levels at certain times of day can help homeowners to save energy too. Many homeowners are making energy saving the key priority when choosing electrical installations.”

Citing BI Intelligence research that estimates that the smart home devices market is expected to grow to $490 billion by 2019, Swedish-Swiss automation company ABB points to ubiquitous smart phone use and simplified, cheaper smart home solutions as triggers of industry growth.

“The latest home automation technology, such as ABB-free@home is making building automation technology available for the masses,” says Christian Schiemann, ABB’s product marketing manager for Building Automation and Wiring Accessories. “Not only is it simple for homeowners and building managers to use and change settings through an intuitive smartphone or tablet app but it is also simple for ordinary electrical installers to set up, which keeps the cost down.”

Launched in 2014, ABB’s free@home (pictured below, right) has added voice control functionality and wireless capabilities that will enable control of lights, blinds, heating and door control without the need to rewire the home. Schiemann sees future development of the technology to include gesture commands, such as turning on/off lights with the opening or closing of a hand, and the integration of intelligent energy usage by combining solar panels with and energy storage system and a controller.

“A practical example is a washing machine that is left ready to go in the morning. It will only start once solar panels have generated enough energy to complete the washing without pulling power from the grid,” explains Schiemann.

This extension into energy management is a development that Crestron sees as a current market demand with a focus on low-energy consuming light fittings and the control of solar gain and heat loss from windows and doors.

“We at Crestron have seen a huge shift away from conventional dimming to low voltage dimming and now very much a mixture of DALI for downlights and a small amount of conventional dimming for 5-amp and feature lights,” notes Phil Pini for Crestron EMEA’s Residential Business Development.  “The introduction of the LED caused a multitude of problems mainly concerning color temperature and dimming ability but we have seen great advances in recent years to the point where it is really no longer an issue. Power consumption from these fittings is up to 80% less than the halogen incandescent load it replaces. As energy costs rise technology has changed and with a good LED lamp and a great control system you really can save money but still achieve amazing results with your lighting scheme.”

Crestron has also invested in enhancing the thermal performance of buildings by using control. Pini points out that blinds and shades can be used to reduce the amount of light entering a space, but more importantly, they can reduce the amount heat gain.

Lighting_IoT_ABB_free@home test“Also the use of relay switches on windows and doors which can reduce or halt a heat or cooling source as it is being wasted or having to work exceptionally hard to combat the environmental elements it is being exposed to,” Pini adds. “This is very common within the hotel sector and is now being adopted within the residential market too.”

Centralizing and simplifying control has increasingly become a design factor as more consumers embrace lighting control beyond flipping a light switch. While this has always been the goal of custom integration, both commercial and residential, the renewed focus has shifted to spotlight robust industry technologies such as Z-Wave and ZigBee.

“At RTI, our goal is to centralize and simplify control over all of the entertainment and electronic systems utilizing multiple communication methods — including Z-Wave technology,” explains Brett Stokke, RTI’s director of communications. A natural extension of the RTI ecosystem, Z-Wave wireless technology enables reliable interoperability of smart devices including lighting and shade control. RTI is currently developing the ZW-9 Z-Wave Interface Module that will become the communication “bridge” between Z-Wave devices and the RTI control system. RTI is also coming out with a line of Z-Wave enabled light switches [in the US only].”

Roller blinds specialists QMotion recently joined the ZigBee Alliance to help enhance its development of window shade electronics.

“In January, we announced three new communication options which provide the most flexibility based on the installation requirements,” notes Gene Demestre, vice president of sales and marketing at QMotion. “In addition, we are in the final development and testing stages for integration using the Z-Wave communication protocol.”

On the ground,  according to Craig Thorne, who is Philips Dynalite Product Manager for UK distributor AWE, integrators and dealers see lighting control being at the heart of any project, with a “less is more” mindset winning the battle. Along with highlighting Philips Dynalite Antumbra display keypad as wall-acne reducing, one-controller lighting solution, Thorne made the argument for better IP networks.

“There is also a demand for solid, managed IP networks in a property, since most of the products being asked to integrate are IP controllable, either via an app or a bridge,” Thorne says. “It won’t be long until a true POE lighting solution goes mass market, which will negate the requirement for mains power.”

Facing Challenges
Perhaps the two greatest challenges for lighting and shade control in the age of IoT is the proliferation of management protocols and the insistence from consumers and home building professionals for system flexibility.

“The challenge we see is in the proliferation of additional wireless protocols, and the way we address this is by researching that protocol to understand its pros and cons,” says Williams of Control4. “We then monitor adoption, both by manufacturers and consumers to determine the viability and importance of that protocol.  Ones that are widely adopted, we bring into our ecosystem.”

Protocols are also at the forefront of QMotion’s development practice, with Demestre noting that, “We are striving to enable our shading solutions to be able to integrate with any of the industry leading suppliers and multiple communication protocols.”

Lighting_IoT_NikoNiko’s answer for the inflexibility of already installed electrical systems is to install a Niko Home system, which Moss notes allows for complete control of all lighting circuits as well as control for most other aspects of the home automation system, including ventilation and heating. “We’re trying to educate our installers on the benefits of Niko Home Control (pictured left), and similar installations to ensure that the influencers in the market are all the while encouraging a move away from conventional wiring,” Moss says.

Crestron has been underscoring its Pyng platform as a solution that features not only ease of use, but flexible integration as well.

“It features both wired and wireless technology perfect for new builds and renovations and can be added to at anytime with minimal disruption,” notes Pini. “Perfect for those wanting to explore the use of control but not wanting to invest in everything all at once, you can continue adding to your system over a period of time and as your needs and requirements change with your lifestyle.”

Thorne, who foresees an uptake in next-gen window treatments such as SilentGliss— a silent, motorised curtain tracking system—believes the true obstacle to lighting and blind control evolution is simply education.

“The only challenges that I see with regards to residential lighting is that with the evolution of products, there will be a requirement for more and more additional parts to be controlled,” Thorne explains. “This will require better education for the dealers to be able to handle the expectations of the end users.”

Llanor Alleyne (@LlanorTech) has reported on the custom integration market for more than 10 years and is the Editor of HiddenWires.