Building intelligence into LED fixtures can be like sending your kid to a fancy boarding school: they might come out much smarter, but it will probably cost you a lot of money.

Digital Lumens, one of the leaders in intelligent lighting, wants to create the charter school for LEDs.

Today, Digital Lumens said it plans to work with manufacturers to integrate its Digital Light Agent communications technology into any kind of "dumb" LED fixture, thus expanding the company's intelligent platform beyond its own proprietary system.

Think of it as equal-opportunity lighting.

Tom Pincince, CEO of Digital Lumens, said some vendors are quoting up to $1.30 per square foot to integrate intelligent platforms to existing lighting fixtures. That can add up quickly when installing systems in the industrial sector, where customer facilities can sometimes cover up to 1 million square feet. Pincince said new partnerships with manufacturers could drive down integration costs to five cents per square foot. 

The company will start by releasing an off-board "translation device" that will reduce the number of components needed for the Digital Light Agent to talk to a fixture. The next step will be full integration into fixtures off the manufacturing line.

"This will bring us from dollars to dimes, and eventually from dimes to pennies," said Pincince in an interview.

Inside each of the company’s own fixtures is a small computing platform with sensors that monitor occupancy, temperature, energy consumption and light quality. Each fixture can make local decisions in real time based on those inputs; the central network records those local actions and learns from them for future optimization. The company recently said it has installed more than 500 of these intelligent platforms worldwide in the industrial sector.

Similar platforms have been developed by Adura Technologies, Daintree, Enlighted, and Redwood Systems. 

Because Digital Lumens delivers its own technology in an integrated platform, it can offer the system for roughly the same price as a dumb LED lighting system. But building a system around an existing fixture requires taking discrete components -- occupancy sensors, light sensors, wireless adaptors, and voltage relays -- and combining them to communicate with a dimmable fixture. Making fixtures "digital-control-ready" out of the manufacturing facility could cut costs by 90 percent, said Pincince.

It's no secret that Digital Lumens wants to move beyond lighting and expand more broadly into the smart building space. Pretty much every intelligent lighting company in the market is pursuing a similar strategy. Finding new ways to integrate an intelligent platform out of the box is one way to expand reach.

Today's news is one of a number of integration announcements in the lead up to the Lightfair conference in Philadelphia.

We reported yesterday that LED chip manufacturer Marvell will integrate its products straight into drives and controllers from Orama, making them ready to connect with Daintree's intelligent platform. The partnership could drop retrofits from $100 per fixture down to $2 right out of the factory. Marvell is also entering a similar partnership on the residential side with Samsung.

Bridgelux also announced (or actually, re-announced) that it has a new LED array called Vero that makes it easier for lamp manufacturers to integrate the device into products. The new array has a 20 percent higher lumen density, a solder-free connector port, and the capability to add new interconnection features. Bridgelux says the versatility of the array makes it perfect for intelligent lighting applications while cutting balance-of-system costs.

Finally, Xeralux relaunched itself today as Sensity Systems, claiming it has the "first multi-service platform" for intelligent lighting. (Actually, as we continue to report, there are plenty of companies with such an integrated platform.) Sensity says its system will also monitor security, weather, parking management, and retail trends.

Smart LED lighting is still in its infancy, but it's no longer a new thing to have an intelligent platform. The next step for these companies will be to form partnerships with manufacturers to drive down integration costs, while also broadening their services to other technologies in a facility.

The final step to seamless integration is to agree on standards for lighting. While many companies are using ZigBee wireless standards, they're also using their own applications standards, making interoperability tough to achieve. As part of its announcement today, Digital Lumens says it wants to work with other players in the market to create an open standard -- potentially getting the cost of intelligence down to pennies.