Resources | Commentary | Aug 13, 2019

What the Heck Is Future Proof?

Commentary from LpR 72: The first time the question about future proofing LED systems came up seriously, was at LightFair 2018 when Siegfried Luger interviewed Patrick Durand. Since then, it has been the buzzword throughout the industry. Discussions concerning future proofing are often limited to wireless communications, IoT and some type of AI. But isn't there more?

The term future proof usually implies that any necessary measure from replacing in part or as a whole to upgrading or adding new features should be possible with minimum (financial) effort. But future proofness may concern different properties of the product or system depending on the stakeholder. Users, installers and owners may all have different views. The requirements are also different for different applications. So, let's walk through some of the different aspects.

Today's discussion about future-proofness, in fact, targets only a small fraction of all indoor installations because they often don't take advantage of LEDs controllability. This segment is very important for the industry as it is the high-priced part of their business that, if triggered correctly, promises growth and has the potential to free the industry from the current dilemma of not being as profitable as required. But how about users, installers and owners?

In many applications, the clients either don't recognize a (monetary) advantage or value. Additionally, while the industry frantically tries to convince the consumer of their smart concepts, there is still a lot of skepticism - justified or not. While people unquestioningly use Facebook and other social media as well as the Google and Siri systems that can compromise privacy and data safety, questions arise when it comes to smart lighting & IoT. Is it necessary to provide all my data to a cloud system? Isn't it sufficient to process just my local data in-house? Who else can access to my data and how will it be used? Is my data safe? Is my system safe or can it be hacked? Can my sensors be used for surveillance in the style of "Big Brother"? How is future-proofness to be seen in this light?

In outdoor applications, especially public (street) lighting, the situation seems to be different. Remote monitoring of the lighting equipment is not really new. The "customer" is already used to it. For them, some new features are added and the technology behind the scene is changed. Upgrading to a smarter system with a change to LEDs seems to be a no-brainer. While the question of whether the potential of these new systems is fully utilized by the operator arises, it is important to ask: Which attributes make such systems future-proof?  

At the other end of the scale, the availability of a replacement in case of a failure may be considered future proof. Solutions like using Zhaga compliant components seem to be the simple answer. Unfortunately, this isn't so! What happens when an LED module in an environment has to be replaced after 10,000 hours because it fails? The replacement might be more efficient, or not exactly hit the color point of the original LEDs, etc.  But if we assume we are lucky enough to find an identical module or another acceptable solution with almost identical dimming curves, is the problem solved? No. In the beginning it works well, but what happens after a year or two? The degradation of the new module is certainly going to be different from the further degradation of the older module(s). Is this truly future-proof?

But it could be even worse. At LpS 2018, DI Markus Heckmann from Osram showed in his lecture "Influence of Converter Topology on the System Interactions" that the characteristics of LEDs from generation to generation my change in a way that some driver topologies that worked perfectly with the original LEDs may not be able to drive the updates correctly. This isn't future-proof, is it?

Finally, another often ignored aspect: LEDs are considered non-toxic, but LEDs, in fact, contain precious materials that are crucial for many products. Unfortunately, LEDs and LED products are, in many cases, landfilled. Especially as these materials are becoming scarce, this isn't sustainable and rarely environmentally friendly, and hence also cannot be described as future-proof. A coordinated recycling program for LEDs is therefore urgently needed. I believe we should consider all aspects and think about future-proofness in a bigger context!

Arno Grabher-Meyer

Arno Grabher-Meyer originally studied biology at the University of Innsbruck. He was involved in several scientific documentation projects for the Alpenzoo (Alpine Zoo) and a documentary film for the BBC with David Attenborough. He worked as a freelance photographer for the Inatura (Museum for Nature, Humans and Technology) in Dornbirn.
He earned his engineering degree through continued education and in 2005 went to work for Luger Research e.U. Here Arno worked on several LED lighting research projects in conjunction with the Austrian Competence Center Light.
His job as Chief Editor started in 2006 when Luger Research initiated LED professional.  Part of this multi-faceted job is being responsible for the editorial content of the magazine and online news.