Someday, every lighting fixture, LED driver and fluorescent ballast will come with a ZigBee-interoperable radio inside it, if Daintree Networks has its way.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based networked lighting startup announced Tuesday that it’s open-sourcing its firmware designs, with the goal of getting LED driver and ballast manufacturers to embed its wireless controls in their off-the-shelf equipment. While the company didn’t name any partners in that effort, Jason Choong, vice president of product management, said in an interview that it includes major lighting suppliers in North America, as well as in Asia.

Daintree, which has a pretty impressive list of partners, including Philips and Sylvania Lighting Services, also announced two new partners on Tuesday: California Eastern Labs (CEL) and Silicon Labs, the company that bought ZigBee chipset maker Ember earlier this year.

As Daintree’s first “ControlScope Connected Enabler” members, the two wireless semiconductor companies will supply their chipsets and radios to Daintree partners interested in designing wireless connectivity into their devices, Choong said. Consider it an opening shot in expanding the smart lighting landscape from its current crop of one-off technology integrations by getting more and more lights to come with radios included, so to speak.

“Our drive here is to drive lower the cost of wireless luminaires,” Choong said, using the lighting industry term of art for lighting fixtures. “That’s going to happen when radios are built directly into drivers and ballasts.”

By contrast, the vast majority of “smart,” wirelessly networked lights today consist of two items, he said -- the driver or ballast that controls the light, and the wireless communications module that hooks it up to the network.

That’s how Daintree, along with networked lighting rivals like Adura, Redwood Systems, Digital Lumens, Enlighted and many others, have hooked up their projects so far. The results have been good -- projects have shown lighting efficiency gains from 50 percent or so for most buildings, and to up to 90 percent in buildings where energy is really being wasted.

But cutting the cost of an extra comms module out of the equation should cut about two-thirds of the cost of the extra gear lights that need to be networked, Choong said -- though he wouldn’t provide specific dollar figures on the price-per-driver or ballast that Daintree might be targeting with its would-be manufacturing partners. Other smart lighting startups, including Adura, have told me that they’re working on similar arrangements with manufacturers, though once again, specific partnership announcements are hard to come by.

What about open standards? Daintree’s system is compatible with ZigBee’s home and commercial building specifications. That means that, theoretically, lighting modules designed with Daintree, Silicon Labs and CEL’s combination of technology should be able to support other vendors that have also built to the ZigBee specification, he added.  

At the same time, Daintree’s ControlScope platform includes a lot of support for the complicated task of installing, commissioning and managing thousands of individual lights (nodes) in a network that can span multiple buildings, he noted. That’s an important differentiator from the simple “screw it in and turn it on,” Wi-Fi-enabled residential smart lighting systems being rolled out by the likes of GreenWave Reality and NXP, or Google and Lighting Sciences.

The big question, of course, is whether or not driver and ballast manufacturers pick up on Daintree’s offer -- or the offers that can be presumed to be on hand from its various competitors. The market for networked lighting is still very small, with only about one in ten buildings having anything like it installed today.

That means that there’s a lot of room for growth -- but also for change -- in the technologies chosen to supply the market. Stay tuned, and if you’ve got networked lights in your building, I’d be curious to know what network they’re running on.

Tags: adura, daintree networks, digital lumens, energy efficiency, general electric, green lighting, investment, led, networked, osram, philips, policy, redwood systems, smart lighting, vc