The current SSL Summit series is wrapped
around discussions on the future of lighting, and what is needed to take the
industry there as effectively as possible. It’s time to stretch the box a bit,
and ask ourselves not just what we’ve done with lighting, but what we can
do with it. Obviously, LED lighting will be a huge key to the expanded future,
as we’ve long argued that solid state lighting allows us to do things with light
that were never possible before. Even back in 2004, at our Blue 2004 conference
held in Taiwan, Cree CEO Chuck Swoboda, in the now infamous "somebody might
have a problem" talk, contended that the majority of opportunities for
LEDs, in lighting and more generally, would come from applications we hadn’t
even imagined yet. I’m a believer that in the intervening 7 years, we’ve been
focused pretty exclusively on the path to commercialization that is allowing
LED lighting to effectively challenge most incumbent technologies in many of
the current applications. Likely few would argue that we’re only two to three
years from that being ‘a majority of the applications’ for which LEDs are a
cost effective choice based on any reasonable life-cycle analysis. But what
happens beyond that?
Light Data Mining (or Optical Data Mining)… you heard the phrase here
Our SSL Summit NYC Co-chair, Dr. Robert Karlicek, Director of RPI’s Smart Lighting
Engineering Research Center, gave a brilliant kick-off chat on just some of
the possibilities that are out there. One core concept is that there is already
a lot of information contained in the light that surrounds us, and all we need
to do is learn to read it. In one brilliant example, he showed a slide where
a playing card is faced towards the non-glossy cover of a book entitled "How
to Read Your Opponents Cards". It’s about Bridge, and is rather humorously
included. While there is no visible reflection of the playing card, careful
analysis of the light pattern emanating from the book can reveal that the card
is the king of hearts. The data is already in the light, and "simply"
needs to be harvested. The implications are huge.
So what can do we do with the information in the light? For something quite
relatable, Bob suggested the concept of self-adjusting lighting, which can easily
include self-commissioning systems. In such a system, when the lighting is turned
on, a relatively sparse set of sensors can detect the optical characteristics
of the room and make adjustments in less than the blink of an eye. What will
those sensors be able to determine? Pretty much everything. How far surfaces
are from the light sources, what type of surfaces they are (floor, desks, walls,
people), along with how much ambient light is coming into the room and from
where. If that isn’t enough, how about what’s in the air? Dust, contaminants,
pathogens (who has a cold, and who has the flu), whatever. Work has been underway
for a while to use light to measure blood-sugar levels (for noninvasive diabetes
testing), and every hospital uses optical sensors to keep track of patients
blood oxygen levels. Light is currently used for retinal scanning to identify
persons for security purposes. Probably no reason a number of those "tests"
can’t be more remotely ascertained. In the past, it was our coworkers that would
tell us we didn’t look like wer’e feeling healthy today. Now it can be our office
lighting (or maybe it can start in the parking garage, even prior to our feeling
any symptoms of the cold, and before we manage to infect everyone else)!
As the lighting systems crunch all the data, decisions can be made regarding
the intensity, hue and distribution of the lighting needed for "optimal
functionality" of the space and its inhabitants. Of course you need coordination
among the different lighting elements to achieve this, which would mean a lot
of wires (or wireless bandwidth). Wrong-O. The lights themselves can communicate
to each other through the light. LEDs are fundamentally the same thing as optical
communications components, and with a few limitations (more likely just challenges)
they can communicate at incredible speeds. Current optical technologies allow
communications beyond 40-Gigabits/sec (the equivalent of moving all the data
from a 5GB file in one second). Nothing like that is needed to facilitate configuring
the lighting system, so the basic technological capability is already there.
The data interchange is certainly not limited to handling lighting functions
either. There will be lots of available bandwidth packed in those photon streams,
so why not control the HVAC system, or use the desk lamp to synch your PDA to
the server. By definition, light is a line-of-sight technology, which eliminates
some of the spectrum-crowding challenges that face our RF-driven future.
Tuning the environment is not going to be limited to just the illumination
task, either. Plenty of studies have been underway for some time regarding the
healing properties of light, as well as their effect on mood physiology. Before
we had the ability to conveniently tweak the wavelengths of the light around
us, it’s been a bit cumbersome to even undertake the testing. LEDs have opened
up the door to precise control of the light delivered to the subject, as well
as to be doing something about it when we make the discoveries. If 525 nanometer
light is discovered to be the magic bullet to cure a particular kind of cancer,
we now have the capability to produce 525nm LEDs with lots of output for the
treatments. The ability to implement is a big motivator to seeking the knowledge.
Now we can tackle circadian rhythm, seasonal disorders, light-related mental
and physical triggers and on and on. Imagine, feeling better as soon as you
walk into the office! Better yet, start in the car (continuing what started
in the home) with cognitive improvement sessions. No Alzheimer’s or senile dementia
in this future.
And that’s just one avenue that can come from the future of lighting. A completely
separate line of discussion comes when we consider that lighting can also be
a display/information technology. We’ve mentioned more than once how OLEDs offer
incredible promise as a display technology, replacing our wall paint with OLED
"windows to the world". No longer will an interior wall be limited
to an interior view. Want to see what’s outside? Flip the selector (well okay,
you’ll talk to it… fine). Family movie night? Engage the media wall, Hal.
Doing some data mining of your own? A wall-sized touch screen monitor it is.
A little down time looking "out" at your Hawaiian beach-front sunset.
"Engage, Mr. LaForge".
How will this all be enabled? It’s simple, really. Continued performance and
economic improvements in the core technologies, including materials, sensors
(a big-big factor), and systems interconnection. From there, it will take a
generation of multidisciplinary designers who can bring together the art, science,
information and integration "visions" to create the new application
solutions. Simple. Not easy, but simple, and just some of what the SSL
Summit’s continuing dialog will bring forth.