The Current Problem With Value Creation in the IoT Smart Lighting Industry

Lighting is more than a basic necessity; it has the power to improve our well-being and health. But the IoT industry needs more than sensors to make smart lighting, well, smart.
Published: November 13, 2015

The media has extensively covered new ecosystems that use sensor technology and other innovations to make our lives easier and our homes smarter, via the Internet of Things (IoT). But it has only sparingly addressed the need for expert guidance needed to best utilize such tools to design meaningful experiences. To achieve the optimal value of such innovations, the average homeowner requires experts, which are expensive to obtain. To resolve this issue, innovators need to create simple, intuitive mobile interfaces that allow users to easily manage smart homes without exhaustive technical guidance.

As a lighting design professional, I currently see a lack of value creation through IoT-enabled lighting. Providing a remote color-changing light switch on your smartphone is not enough. The opportunity is to create dynamic smart lighting scenes that enhance people’s activities, experiences and well-being. Lighting and architectural design aspects need to be incorporated in software and hardware to create that additional intelligence.

Lighting is very complex and often difficult for untrained individuals to manage. Yet, light not only has the power to illuminate spaces, but also creates an atmosphere, influences emotions and even impacts the human body. Lighting is one of these intangible things that has a major impact on quality of life, but most people have no idea how to control it in a way that maximizes these benefits.

Currently, most IoT software interfaces that work in conjunction with smart lighting only offer a remote light switch for a lamp, and possibly some additional features, such as a timer or scheduling. These software interfaces address basic utilitarian lighting needs, but do not add value to an end user’s life with personalized mood settings designed to benefit that individual’s well-being.

Many users are overwhelmed by the complicated technical setup process required for connected lighting systems, and therefore miss out on truly understanding what smart lighting has the power to do. End users may spend countless hours using trial and error to figure out how to set up a lighting scene. They play with different dimming options and color settings for each light within a space in an attempt to find the right combination. Manipulating lighting values and settings in a manner that creates light scenes, which produce meaningful experiences, requires years of expertise and training.

As a result, smart lighting adoption has not spread as widely as many predicted. Geoffrey Fowler wrote about the problem with smart home adoption in a Wall Street Journal article, noting, “Most of us aren’t lighting design pros. […] The current state of affairs cannot hold. […] But I’m also hoping Apple, Google or someone else will solve this problem with software.”

Most manufacturers market and sell smart home devices as basic tools, not considering that many users are not knowledgeable on how to best use such tools. They leave it to the consumers to figure out what to do with them, and then are surprised that there is not wide adoption. They measure the usefulness of tools in terms of how much hardware is integrated across how many segments. Instead, the hardware manufacturer or software engineers should approach the ecosystem in terms of how the user experience should be improved to create added value for consumers, and how expert knowledge can be translated into the software.

To properly employ these devices, users require ample learning time to decipher product functionality and best practices for integrating smart technology in the home. All of these details can be addressed during the software creation process.

Instead of expounding upon complex technical advancements that the average user has trouble understanding and appreciating, the IoT community should focus instead on creating value for users. Attention should be diverted from techies, toward designers who can differentiate what creates most value to users. In addition, apps should no longer be considered a bonus for a piece of hardware; the value is actually reverse.

I strongly believe that smart lighting should be developed through the collaboration of three key players that need to work together to create one market offering: the hardware manufacturer, the software developer and the lighting designer. Together, these partners can create meaningful experiences that set up environments according to users’ needs and activities, thus enhancing their lifestyles and overall well-being.

Beatrice Witzgall is an award-winning lighting designer and architect with more than 20 years of experience on hospitality, residential, commercial, institutional and superyacht projects. In 2014, she founded LumiFi, launching a smart lighting platform that incorporates lighting intelligence into new software. Her patent-pending algorithm marries lighting controls with the Internet of Things by analyzing the parameters for each light and assigning different attributes to create automatic, meaningful lighting experiences.