Undercover Hero

Posted On 13. May 2016 By In Internet of Things, Lightspeed, Trends & Vision

Artificial Light Can Do A “LoT” More Than You Might Know

When Thomas Alva Edison invented the lightbulb in 1879 he probably couldn’t imagine how important his innovation was. Light is everywhere. It’s the invention that drove the fast adoption and extension of the power grid and made electricity available for nearly everyone.   

For more than a century artificial light remained a pretty simple application which we got used to so much that we tend to forget it’s all around us – even in applications like remote controls in which infrared light is used for communication.

Since the introduction of the lightbulb the biggest break-through invention in the area of lighting has been the light emitting diode (LED). Early versions of the semiconductor based light source have been commonly known as small and colourful and seemed to have no potential for environmental lighting.

TI 30 Calculator

Seven-segment LED display digits of an original Texas Instruments TI-30 scientific calculator (circa 1979). (image: Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)  CC BY-SA 3.0)

The extensive advancements in LED technology over the past years however changed everything. It’s time for a new lighting revolution and with modern LED technology being used in an incredible amount of applications already we could literally speak of the “LoT – the Light of Things”.

Modern LED products are flexible, versatile and adjustable and enable a lot of new smart ideas like LED/OLED displays which are common in screens and touch interfaces, adaptive automotive head lights which can fade out oncoming cars, and optical wireless communications (OWC).

Audi Matrix LED headlights

The Audi Matrix LED headlights (image: Audi)

With light fixtures already installed nearly everywhere inside and outside of buildings lighting applications offer also the perfect infrastructure for the IoT. In order to realise smart building and smart city visions we will need to install a ton of sensors, beacons, and wireless communication nods. The ideal position for most of those connected objects is in a central position of a room, on a wall or the ceiling. Further, proximity to electricity to eliminate the need to exchange batteries is an advantage. Well, guess which application has already occupied those perfect spots… Yes, it’s lighting.

Conventional light bulbs emit warm light which includes all light spectrums very similar to fire. It’s great for indoor lighting as we are used to the warm light and respond to it by getting cozy and feeling safe. The downside is that light bulbs are terribly inefficient as they transform the electricity into 90% heat and only 10% light.

With LED technology light gets a well deserved upgrade which helps us to create a better environment. First of all LED technology is very efficient which contributes to the shift towards renewable energy sources. Secondly, with LEDs we are able to design luminaires which illuminate the environment with brighter and better targeted light beams which increases safety (e.g. in cars, production sites and buildings).

A third useful capability of light is OWC which is actually an attractive solution, especially in environment settings where radio communication encounters difficulties. The researchers of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute HHI are working on modern transmission techniques that enable data-rates up to 1,25 Gbit/s. LED-lamps, normally used for lighting purposes, simultaneously transmit data, even when mobile terminals are not aligned with the access point. Benefits lie in the unregulated spectrum (optical frequencies) with worldwide availability, simple shielding by opaque surfaces (improved privacy), and absence of electromagnetic interference (EMI) with radio systems.

Fourthly and most importantly we can adjust LED light in order to influence human well-being and to build completely new applications. Research in human centric lighting proves that our body responds to different light temperatures, dimensions, directions as well as luminosity. Based on this knowledge it is possible to build lighting applications which can improve human performance, sentiments and emotions, heal depressions and support aging vision.

A great example is the impact of adjustable light on learning performance investigated throughout an experiment in schools. In the morning the class rooms have been illuminated with light at 12.000 Kelvin and 650 Lux in order to support the production of the hormone Cortisol which activates the body. The students have been exposed to light with 6.000 Kelvin and 1.000 Lux during the middle of the day and to warm light around 2.700 Kelvin and 300 Lux in the afternoon which supports the production of Melatonin, a hormone that calms us down.

The results have been impressive: The students made 45% less mistakes, the reading speed increased by 30% and restlessness was reduced by 75%. Similar overwhelming results have been achieved during experiments in offices and in nursing homes.

LED technology further enables us to influence other living things like animals and plants. With modern horticultural LED lighting it is possible to stimulate plant growth by up to 40%.

The long-lifetime, robustness, scalable size, and negligible amount of excess heat of LEDs further makes it feasible to integrate them into objects like tables and shelves as well as devices which need to be sealed or waterproof.

To put it in a nutshell, if the IoT is the technology superhero of the future then lighting might be its most exciting superpower. To stay on top of the most recent technologies and products as well as to get support with lighting applications checkout our Lightspeed website here and feel free to contact us here.

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Regional Application Manager. Driven by the unlimited goals we can achieve with modern technology and great engineering. My updates are inspired by trends, challenges and applications I identify in the semiconductor market together with our customers and suppliers.

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