Networked LEDs are becoming more and more common in the commercial building space. But almost all of these LEDs are wirelessly connected through retrofits, using proprietary networks that can’t communicate with one another.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s LG Innotek announced that it’s breaking this pattern, with the launch of an LED driver that comes embedded with standard ZigBee wireless. Its partner, Silicon Valley startup Daintree Networks, has been working with LG on ZigBee-embedded LED light bulbs since last year. But this week marks the partners’ first foray into a wireless-embedded product for the troffers and retrofit kits that can replace standard overhead fluorescent lights with far more efficient and controllable LED equivalents.
“This is the first open-standard, ready-for-purchase solution for the mass market” in the LED driver space, according to Daintree CEO Danny Yu. LG Innotek’s new driver is using a defined standard -- specifically, ZigBee Pro, which is being rolled into an umbrella standard known as ZigBee 3.0.
“The biggest advantage of using this driver is cost savings,” said Shin Cho, senior development engineer at LG Innotek. “Integrated drivers can eliminate the need for additional or extra wireless, or wiring.” That could make the company’s new wireless-integrated LED drivers attractive to the unnamed “major fixture manufacturers” interested in the new product, as well as smaller lighting fixture makers looking for a simpler route to wireless connectivity, he said.
Daintree and LG aren’t the only companies integrating LEDs and wireless controls in commercial ceilings, of course. Boston-based startup Digital Lumens has deployed its LEDs into 100 million square feet of commercial real estate, much of it warehouses. Redwood Systems (bought by CommScope) and Adura (bought by Acuity) have both installed their networked LED lighting systems into millions of square feet of commercial buildings as well.
LG Innotek’s new driver is built not with a Daintree chipset inside it, but with a standard ZigBee chipset, designed and built by LG based on the firmware designs that Daintree has made available to partners since 2012. That means that, theoretically at least, any other provider of an “enterprise-class, multi-function network control platform” adapted for ZigBee could make use of the drivers in lieu of Daintree's ControlScope platform, Yu said.
For LG Innotek, this standardization has meant a much faster path to market, Cho noted.
“With Daintree, we didn’t need to modify anything -- we just adopted that, and we went through the certification process easily,” he said. That, in turn, allowed LG Innotek to “minimize [the] resources dedicated to software development. We can spend more time focusing on developing and improving the hardware.”
The overall benefits equated to cutting product development time in half, and reducing total bill of materials cost by 10 percent to 20 percent, Cho estimated.
Of course, there are reasons why other vendors have made tweaks to standard ZigBee in their lighting networks. The low-power wireless technology can sometimes struggle to scale up to the hundreds of endpoints that it needs to support in lighting applications. “There is no perfect standard,” Yu said about this issue. “We are aware of the potential limitations of the ZigBee standard -- but we are there to solve those problems.”
There are also reasons to architect a wireless lighting control system in ways that require a non-standard solution. San Francisco-based startup Enlighted, for example, has built distributed intelligence into its smart lighting nodes, giving them the ability to follow schedules and automated response patterns in ways that systems reliant on constant network connectivity might not be able to match.
Proprietary networks could gain ground simply through the weight of their incumbency in the market. Big lighting vendors like Cree and Philips have built their own proprietary wireless mesh-embedded LED control platforms.
Meanwhile, other contenders for low-power wireless standards in networked lighting are emerging, such as the Thread standard, an IPv6 networking protocol built on the same IEEE 802.15.4 standard that underlies ZigBee, launched by Google’s Nest Labs and Samsung last year.
But Daintree and LG Innotek are betting that their standards-based approach, combined with the current market penetration of ZigBee, will offer lighting system manufacturers a more compelling path toward future interoperability. That doesn’t just apply to the lighting environment, but to broader building networks, Yu noted. Like most of the networked lighting companies out there, Daintree and its partners are hoping to expand their in-ceiling wireless nodes to connect thermostats and sensors, and serve as the glue for broader energy management systems.
“Some of our products, like networked sensors, occupancy sensors and networked cameras, can be connected to this kind of system as well,” Cho said. “Our first approach is to develop and launch available product, which has cost-effectiveness” -- and LEDs, which offer much greater efficiency, lifespan and light-by-light control features than the fluorescent lights they replace, have that characteristic, he said.
“After that, we will try to expand our types of products, like sensors and cameras, and [will also be] adding more features.”