It seems the lighting and the electrical press have a never-ending appetite to talk about wireless connectivity. Perhaps contrary to the flow, I ask the question as to whether voice-activated lighting control is simply a gimmick for the techie geek of the family or a genuine tool for us as designers to embrace and offer to our clients?
Certainly, automation is a growing market which cannot be ignored – as the wall of gizmos will testify in every Maplin store this Christmas – but is it ready for the professional? Currently, as an indication, it’s not a product we have access to at a trade price as it is more of an off the shelf retail product.
Philips Hue weighed in as the first serious contender and others have followed. Most publicised is Amazon’s Alexa voice control system that can incorporate lighting. Even Ikea have their own smart lighting system – I witnessed a man who was keenly picking up product according to the plan he had scribbled down on a piece of paper, a system which promised to harness the wonder of light control remotely.
So if it cannot be ignored and given your clients expect you to be savvy on all things new – here is what you need to know.
Q. What do these systems do?
A. Allow an individual lamp/light fitting to be controlled through a phone/tablet, a handheld controller or by means of voice-activated commands.
Q. Are they really techy and difficult to set up?
A. No – not really, as long as there is a strong wifi signal in the space, and a dedicated router (installed out of sight) to send commands to the chosen array of compatible light fittings. In effect, each lamp or light fittings is IP addressable, meaning it can be located on the internet and told what to do.
Q. Can they be a real option for a pro solution?
A. I hesitate to use the word complete but yes with reservations. A new project is increasingly demanding of new automation, remote control of heating and hot water, thermostats, CCTV, fire alarms, smart power outlets, switches, front doors, speakers, fans, air conditioners etc. Each new gadget has their own system of control so the client can end up with multiple apps on their phones to control them all. Lighting control needs to operate in concert with other functionality – so we have to specify something up to the task.
What if we can centralise all these systems into one – the Apple Homekit is sweeping in with a hub that is inviting manufacturers to become compatible so it can all be controlled from one app – a serious advance to enable a slick solution.
Q. Do we lose light switches?
A. We can offer a traditional bronze dolly switch to you and make it ‘smart’ – using a light switch manufacturer’s own app – but we have the compatibility of light fittings to consider and the system to investigate thoroughly.
How about this… Choose any switch you like from us and simply use it as a switch to turn a circuit of lights off and on. Then install a wifi controlled network that talks to each lamp and light fitting on that circuit – so the compatibility is guaranteed and the dimming and choice of colour etc. is done through the tablet – and you can still turn them off and on from the wall which to me is essential – you get the best of both.
Q. Are there enough light fittings that can be controlled?
A. There is a pro lighting manufacturer who has created a compatible network of good light fittings and the remote control – it’s a rapidly growing market. E27 GLS lamps and colour changing LED strips are out there – but is there a pro high CRI white 2700K white LED strip out there ready to be installed by the kilometre? – I’m not aware of one. Currently, that step still calls for a traditional digitally control scene setting dimmer rack.
So – like so many things that are in transition – it is a jungle of choices out there. If you want a clear path to a solution, talk to us and we will guide you through the tangle of technology and terminology.