Intelligent lighting connectivity

May 3, 2022
Industry insider Mark Duffy sheds light on the Zhaga Consortium and its mission for intelligent lighting with connectivity via IoT for smart cities and smart buildings.

Thomas Edison’s old-school light bulb illuminated the 20th century, everyone knows that, but have you pondered the import of its familiar base coupled with its corresponding socket?

Meet Mark Duffy. Duffy’s involvement in the lighting industry began during the Reagan administration. After earning a PhD in physics, he went to work for GE and then later for GE Current. His resume boasts too many impressive efforts to list—23 patents, for instance—but suffice it to say, the man knows lighting.

“By creating that standardized interface (on Edison’s lightbulb), you can see all sorts of things that have grown out of that, and all sorts of different lamp types. By having that common interface, all these companies that make this great stuff, it all fits together,” says Duffy.

Duffy’s current endeavor, MD35 Consulting, specializes in lighting standards development for its clients. He also serves as chair for the Zhaga Consortium’s General Assembly, which works to institute an industry-wide, standardized interface for intelligent lighting systems. “Smart standards. Smarter lighting.” That’s the tagline, and the consortium’s stated purpose is to “enable new markets for connected and serviceable lighting through #interoperability,” or, put another way, to standardize the interfaces of LED luminaires and a bevy of corresponding components.

“That will enable multi-vendor ecosystems of interoperable products,” Duffy reiterates. “Because you have all these companies coming together and agreeing on these interfaces, while they have design freedom to do all sorts of marvelous things with their products, the beauty is they will be interoperable.”

Within this ecosystem, participants need to trust “that if it fits, it is going to function,” says Duffy, and all of this supports sustainable lighting for smart cities and buildings.

“With smart cities, it kind of begins with the luminaire,” says Duffy. “Power on and off, maybe dimming, but then if you want to add to that luminaire, you can add networking. You can add a connection to the IoT (Internet of Things) using this interface. At that point, now you have citywide communication, and you can get energy usage and monitoring and reporting and that sort of thing, which are of great interest to municipalities. Then you can go on, and you can even add sensors, like environmental sensing, maybe weather, air quality, smoke...If there’s a fire in the city, the smoke sensor might say, ‘Hey, it’s located here.’”

Noise detection sensors can now use triangulation to determine, for instance, if there’s an active shooter in the city. “It’ll tell you exactly when, where, and how many,” Duffy explains, “so the authorities can know where to go and how to most safely address the situation.” Surveillance cameras could have many uses, too, including parking space assistance. “I could see an application where somebody would be able to take their smartphone and say, ‘Parking space near the theater,’ and then it would say, ‘Here are the open spaces.’ They could even maybe reserve one, and it would go off grid while you navigate to your space.

“So, you are connected to the IoT, that is the big attractor. But, because you are in this ecosystem of support with all the companies of Zhaga working together to ensure interoperability, you have upgradeability, or what I call sustainability,” says Duffy. The ability to make future upgrades without replacing the whole system and freedom from vendor lock essentially “future proofs” the installation.

“As an architect, you want to not only create a lighting system for your client that can do all the things your client wants, but you want to create one that also preserves the opportunity to upgrade it with less disruption,” he says.

This same sustainability, interoperability, repairability, and upgradeability also apply to smart buildings, including multifamily housing, commercial hospitality, elderly facilities, and even high-end smart homes, explains Duffy. By adding networking and sensors to the luminaire, energy monitoring becomes easier, as does illumination control with different spectra and different scenes, and “things like presence sensing, daylight harvesting, security, emergency response, and hazard detection.”

This article appeared in the May 2022 issue of Architectural SSL magazine.

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About the Author

Jeff Pitts


Dave Burk @SOM / courtesy of Lutron Electronics
A connected lighting and shading system from Lutron allows Skidmore, Owings & Merrill staff to leverage the abundant natural light in the New York office of the architecture, engineering, and planning firm.

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