The backbone of the IoT

1st June 2016
Joe Bush

The Internet of Things is the next industrial revolution, and Tridonic is convinced that lighting will play a decisive role. With this in mind the company has developed the toolbox, net4more, which will not only connect luminaires with each other, but deliver a value add that goes far beyond lighting.

Sometime this year the number of connected devices will overtake the number of people on the planet for the first time. According to calculations by Gartner, the US market research company, last year around five billion devices were able to communicate via the internet - whether smartphones or tablets, smart electricity meters, cars or factory machines.

In 2016 the figure is expected to rise to between seven and eight billion. That’s more than the 7.4 billion people currently living in the world. Analysts are already talking about 24 to 35 billion connected devices by 2020. The IoT is expanding at a rapid pace of more than 40% per year. Market researchers from BI Intelligence expect total expenditure on hardware, application development and system integration to reach $6,000bn in the next five years.

The IoT is booming because of the large number of applications and the added value for users. Smartphones are used to shop online, check-in for a flight or find your way round an unfamiliar city. Electricity meters automatically send energy consumption data - traffic lights, washing machines, cars and trains all give early warnings that they need servicing, and PC boards in factories tell assembly robots which components they should pick.

Quantity brings complexity
The problem is already obvious - just look at any modern office - in addition to smoke detectors and thermostats there are often numerous presence sensors from different manufacturers for the different building services. One ensures that the light is only switched on if there is someone in the room. Another is part of the security system, a third turns down the heating and air conditioning when the last person leaves the room, and perhaps a fourth is there to control the window blinds.

Simplification is what is needed. How can the level of complexity best be reduced, how can communication among the devices be harmonised? Are there no existing infrastructure systems to which the Internet of Things can simply be ‘docked’? In fact, there are. Wherever there are people, whether indoors or out on the streets, there is artificial light. In many of these luminaires there is still plenty of space for one of either a digital sensor or microchip - after all, digital electronics is necessary for modern LEDs.

What’s more, since the luminaires need electricity, the power supply is already integrated. No one need worry any longer about cabling the individual sensors or changing batteries, which they would otherwise have to do every year or two, which in large buildings means a lot of work.

What’s more, luminaires are mostly installed on walls or ceilings and therefore in the best places for including sensors. Communication with them and connection to the access points for the internet can be either wireless or via the data cabling that is already in place.

The internet of light
In short, the existing infrastructure for light is the ideal basis for the Internet of Things. Or to put it another way, the ‘Internet of Light’ is the most powerful instrument for developing the Internet of Things into the useful tool that it can be in the future. For example, a single presence sensor integrated out of sight in a luminaire is sufficient for detecting whether an office is occupied or not. This data is then stored in the cloud - in other words on an internet or intranet server - evaluated and forwarded to the HVAC systems, window blinds, security management system and of course to the lighting control system.

The IoT, indoors and outdoors
It can also be used for room management i.e. to determine how well meeting rooms, offices or communal areas are used. Building operators can use this data to optimise the usage of the building and make considerable savings in costs. If there are presence sensors in a large number of luminaires then the data can be evaluated in much finer detail, for example, to optimise the lighting and air conditioning for each individual desk in an office. This principle also applies outside the office environment. For example, presence sensors in car park lights or street lights can indicate where there is a free parking space, pass this information to a satnav and ensure that the free space is indicated by some visual means, such as a green light.

Above: how lighting can drive value for a connected future

Indoor navigation will also be possible by using ‘beacons’ - small Bluetooth transmitters - in the luminaires. With the aid of these radio transmitters anyone with an appropriate smartphone app will be able to pinpoint their location to within a few metres - ideal for finding your way round shopping centres, hospitals or airports, or even just for finding a particular product in a large DIY store. Unlike with previous systems the beacons would no longer have to be installed separately or set-up individually because of a lack of a network, nor would batteries have to be regularly replaced.

These examples are just an indication of the enormous potential if the Internet of Things is organised via an Internet of Light. Tridonic recognised this potential at an early stage and has applied its experience in electronics, sensor technology, software and LED luminaire control to develop a future-proof hardware and software platform, the net4more toolbox, which consists of LED drivers, communication modules, sensors, routers, software and applications.

Future plans and benefits
In the autumn of 2016 a technological introduction phase will start in which the net4more system will be used in pilot projects - for example in office buildings. For this purpose a partner network is being established which will enable partners to link their own hardware, such as sensors and communication elements, and their own application software with net4more. From spring 2017 net4more will then be available to everyone.

The crucial benefits that distinguish the net4more system from competitor products is its open platform, flexibility and scalability. net4more was designed right from the start for interoperability and open hardware and software interfaces. For example, the software architecture is based on the open standard of the IPv6 Internet Protocol - wireless communication uses a low power version with IPv6 which operates like a low energy version of WiFi with networking capability, and the application and communication layers also use the usual open standards. What’s more, net4more is the first system that enables both wired and wireless communication - and it is also scalable for any size of building or area.

All this makes net4more particularly future-proof, which is extremely important for areas of application which have to operate reliably for many years - for example in office buildings and factories. It also offers customers the option of integrating their own solutions, whether hardware elements or apps for data analysis or control in net4more, or using net4more for those solutions. Basic solutions such as a cloud platforms, and apps for configuration and operation are already included in net4more, but customers and partners can add their own solutions and services.
net4more opens up a straight and efficient path to the Internet of Light with a large number of services that go beyond light. Tridonic is therefore focusing strongly on the convergence of new technologies, smaller and smaller communication modules and sensors, LED luminaires, apps and mobile internet. This reduces complexity and costs and enables a variety of additional services to be provided in the coming Internet of Things.

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