Smart lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT) have enabled extensive, complex connected lighting installations. However, alongside the ability to improve on traditional systems, smart lighting systems have led to new challenges.

One of these is security. Smart lighting installations are, at their core, nothing but IT networks. Connected lighting solutions have a number of security vulnerabilities, because letting an unknown device into a network is a potentially vulnerable operation. When joining the network, such a device learns the network’s security keys, so appropriate authentication measures need to be deployed to prevent these keys from leaking. Effective authentication mechanisms also prevent hackers from sneaking into the system when a new device joins the network.

Simplifying smart lighting networks 1

The primary challenge for lighting designers and installers, however, lies in co-ordinating and commissioning wireless networks. This is partly due to the technical complexity of wireless lighting control technologies in general, but also to multiple limitations that different wireless protocols impose.

Regardless of the wireless technology used, the commissioning process can be broken down into three major stages: network formation, device identification/mapping, and logic configuration. While lighting designers generally do not get involved in the technical aspects, many find it helpful to understand each of the stages.

The network formation, for example, is a typical IT procedure. This can get tricky when a 10-storey office building with thousands of network nodes, including luminaires, sensors, switches, gateways, etc, are commissioned. Once a wireless network is formed, all its nodes need to be physically identified and mapped on a floor plan. Only then is it possible to set up desired interactions and scenarios.

The next step is to specify all the interactions between all devices within a network. Relevant switches must be assigned to appropriate luminaires, the sensory infrastructure needs to be configured to trigger desired events and scenarios appropriately, and all operational parameters must be adjusted so the system operates as desired, or as required by building energy codes.

Commissioning connected lighting systems is quite a complex process with multiple challenges, and multiple competencies are needed to handle it properly. Like the entire smart lighting environment, the wireless commissioning experience is likely to vary strongly between different systems and technologies.

The Bluetooth Mesh standard is one that is being promoted by some within the industry as a way of simplifying the process. Bluetooth Mesh introduces information-centric networking (ICN), providing a fully decentralised architecture with no single points of failure. It is capable of handling even the dense connected lighting networks found in commercial buildings and simplifies the maintenance of smart lighting networks.

Bluetooth Mesh allows addresses to be assigned to information, not to specific devices during the final stage of the commissioning process, enabling more intelligent insight into the function and status of every device on the network. Occupancy status for a particular room will then have its own address, as will the ambient light level in that room. Luminaires would therefore be subscribed to these addresses, not to individual sensor devices, making device replacement far simpler.

Still a relatively new standard, Bluetooth Mesh’s effectiveness will rely on the design and capabilities of dedicated software tools intended for commissioning. However, many experts are pointing to the technology as a solid backbone for redefining the wireless commissioning experience.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.