Take a look behind the bright lights at this week’s Lightfair 2012 lighting industry trade show in Las Vegas, and you’ll find a bewildering array of partnerships and technology integrations going into each display.
Take, for instance, lighting giant Philips and its OccuSwitch wireless wall switches and sensors, now being displayed at the table of wireless lighting startup Daintree Networks. The two companies have entered into a supply agreement, in which Daintree is providing its ZigBee-based network hardware and software for Philips to turn into real-world smart buildings, CEO Danny Yu said.
This is the second big partnership announcement for the Mountain View, Calif.-backed startup so far this year, which has raised about $18 million in venture capital and debt financing. Last month, Sylvania Lighting Services, the installation arm of lighting giant Osram Sylvania, said it was designing Daintree technology into its projects, starting with one 320,000-square-foot customer -- a figure that would bring Daintree’s estimated square footage of deployments up to nearly 4 million.
Yu wouldn’t say which products Philips was rolling out with Daintree inside, or on what schedule or volume. Nor would he specify how Daintree’s system, which adds ZigBee-enabled, smart wireless control nodes to building light fixtures, would apply to linking up Philips’ easy-install, battery-powered wall switches and sensors.
But clearly, low-power wireless devices like these are much more reliable when they’re backed up by a ubiquitous building-wide network, such as the one that comes from putting a wireless node at every light in the room.
Fewer than one in ten buildings today actively manage their lighting, but lights take up a quarter to a third of a typical commercial building’s energy bill. The barrier has been the high cost of installing wired networks to get lights to do simple things like shut off when people leave the room, or on a schedule.
Wireless solutions can cut the upfront installation cost drastically, although the nodes themselves still have to be retrofitted into lighting systems, or embedded into devices -- LED drivers, fluorescent light ballasts, and the like -- at the factory. The latter option is expected to make smart lighting cheaper still.
As for results, Daintree and competitors like fellow Bay Area startup Adura Technologies say they can cut lighting bills by up to 50 percent or more, via scheduled and occupancy-triggered on-off schemes, dimming lights in areas well-lit by the sun, and other such power-sipping measures. While neither discloses prices for their products and software, both say that return on investment can come in less than a year in some cases, and no more than two to three years for all.
Both also agree that standardizing the smart lighting field on a common set of technologies will be critical for building an ecosystem of partners and suppliers, though they differ on how they define their terms.
Daintree, which has partners like LED maker Cree and Philips subsidiary Crescent Stonco using its ZigBee-compliant hardware, network and software technologies, claims that its technology is more standards-based that that of its competitors, including Adura.
While Adura does use a non-standard application layer for its otherwise ZigBee-compliant stack, CEO Mark Golan has said that that’s because the standards for what it was trying to do didn’t exist. At the same time, Adura keeps a close eye on new developments in ZigBee, Wi-Fi and other networking standards, he said.
Earlier this month, Adura put together another partnership with the EnOcean Alliance, the proprietors of a low-power wireless standard that’s being used to network about 200,000 green buildings worldwide, mostly in Europe, including Siemens headquarters. EnOcean’s technology, which is proprietary but open to use through the 200 or so partners in the alliance, uses so little power that devices can power themselves from the kinetic energy of the finger that presses a switch or a button.
Alex Do, Adura's Manager of Product Marketing, said that the startup’s lighting networks helped bring even more functionality to EnOcean devices like switches and sensors, by increasing the level of network smarts that can be applied to what are, due to their power constraints, relatively dumb end devices.
Adura, which raised $8.5 million in April to bring its total VC haul to about $25.5 million, has about 6.5 million square feet of real estate under its networked lights, most of it in parking garages, though it’s doing a few office buildings as well.
Other smart lighting startups include Enlighted, which networks sensors to offer distributed intelligence at the individual light fixture level, and Digital Lumens, which networks LED lights for warehouses. While we’ve yet to see giants like Siemens, Schneider Electric, GE, Honeywell or Johnson Controls use their incumbent building management system positions to colonize networked lighting, that could change.
While incandescent lamps, fluorescent tubes, HID floor lights and other typical lighting systems can be controlled in this way, LEDs add a new level of flexibility and control, Yu noted. He wouldn’t say if Daintree and Philips were working together on any such efforts.
LEDs keep getting cheaper and better every year. Still, they have yet to achieve the mystical breakthrough point for mass commercial adoption. Startup Redwood Systems has made LEDs a focus with its plan to both network and power them over Ethernet cables, though it’s also expanded to cover other lights, a testament to the mixed nature of the market.