Commentary | Nov 16, 2015

Lighting Beyond Illumination by Dr. Heinz Seyringer, zumtobel group

Currently, lighting is at the same point the mobile phones were when the first additional features beyond the actual phone service were introduced. There are many new possibilities arising but nobody knows which of them will be the killer apps of tomorrow.

When the first cameras were added to mobile phones, nobody would have assumed that there would come a day when more pictures were taken with mobile phones than with actual cameras or when the text-messaging service was introduced, probably nobody would have assumed that the text message-based service Twitter would become so successful.

In lighting we are now just introducing the basis for such additional services. There are technologies which most people know by now or have at least heard about, like human centric lighting, which is using light to improve the performance and well-being of people. But while in the beginning the implementation was very rudimentary (cold white for activating and warm white for calming down) it has now been discovered that light can directly influence our hormones via the retinal ganglion cells in the eye and if we go beyond the visible spectrum we could improve vitamin D production which would give significant health benefits especially in the winter because that is when we don’t get enough UV-light from the sun to keep our vitamin D production at the required levels.

With semantic lighting, light could project information on the tables or walls and floors around you to let you know how to fold a map or make a cup of tea with the ideal temperature and brewing time. Or in combination with the appropriate sensors, the lighting could let you know that the plate of soup in front of you is still too hot to eat by projecting a warning sign directly on the surface of your soup and letting you know as soon as the soup is cold enough to eat.

While the global positioning system doesn’t work indoors, with the proper technology, luminaires could take over the role of the satellites and allow for an indoor positioning system. This could allow you to find your next meeting room easily, the products in the supermarket or send you the relevant discounts if you are near a certain product group in the supermarket. Furthermore, light has the potential to be used as a medium for communication in many other aspects with the advantage of having a potentially much higher transmission capacity than classical WLAN (in fact the internet wouldn’t be possible anymore without the high transmission capacities of the fiber optic backbone).

Also, on the interface side there would be a lot of new possibilities: besides the classic light switches and touch screens for controlling the lighting, there might be voice interfaces that you know from cars and mobile assistants like “OK Google” or Siri. Another alternative could be gesture control allowing you to point at the areas you would like to have illuminated or swipe to change the intensity or color temperature of the lighting.

Most of these technologies have still their intrinsic problems ranging from technical problems up to acceptance problems by the user. And since it is hard to estimate which problems can be overcome and which will stay around, it is hard to estimate in which direction the new killer apps will go. However, if we take a look at the evolution of mobile phones, we can be pretty sure that in the not too distant future illumination will only be one of many features of a lighting system and probably not even the most important one anymore.

Heinz Seyringer

Heinz Seyringer Heinz Seyringer studied physics and mathematics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) with a specialization on quantum electronics and got a PhD in semiconductor physics. In 2000 he was one of the founding members of Photeon Technologies where he was also general manager until he joined the Zumtobel Group in 2009 where he is responsible for the research collaborations. He is also on the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) board of directors, on the board of stakeholders at Photonics21, on the steering committee of the Smartlighting Conference and chairman of Photonics Austria.

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