Technology is always changing, and as an electrician, it pays to stay up to date on how new technology could affect you and your work. One up-and-coming technology that you should be aware of is smart lighting. For those who have never dealt with it, the smart lights can be a bit confusing; some electricians may even worry about working on circuits with smart lights in them, thinking that the lighting is somehow wired into the circuit itself. To prevent confusion, here’s a quick primer on smart lighting and how it actually works.
What Are Smart Lights?
First of all, what’s so “smart” about smart lights? In this instance, the word “smart” indicates that they are able to connect wirelessly to a controller that can turn them on, off or perform other actions such as changing their intensity or in some cases, even hue. Some people confuse this with the lights being AI-enabled or having some other built-in computer functionality, but unless you’re dealing with lights that were specifically designed to have these features, that isn’t the case. In fact, almost all modern smart lights consist of just a bulb with a small controller chip in the base. Network-enabled light switches, adapter plugs, and similar devices can also be used to make a set of lights “smart.”
Depending on the type of light being used, there are a few different network types that a smart light could connect to. One of the most common is a home’s Wi-Fi network, allowing the lights to be controlled from anywhere on the network (or in some cases, even externally over the Internet.) In some cases, Bluetooth is an option as well. There are also a few other network types such as Z-Wave and ZigBee networks which are broadcast by a hub device within the home. Regardless of the network used, communications between the lights and their controller are normally encrypted to prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing them and taking control of the lights.
Hubs and Apps
Whether the lights are controlled by a hub or an app depends on the type of network that it connects to. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections are app controlled, while Z-Wave and ZigBee connections go through a hub (which in most cases, is itself controlled by an app.) Most smart lighting is moving toward Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controls, though some hub-based devices are still on the market; the need for an additional piece of hardware makes them less desirable for consumers, however. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth smart bulbs, the homeowner simply needs to screw in the bulb and then sync it to an app to have complete control over the light.
A popular feature of smart lighting is being able to use voice controls for the lights. This is not actually a feature of the lights themselves, however; instead, the app that controls the lights connects with a smart speaker, such as Google Home or the Amazon Echo, via the speaker’s interface app. Once this connection is made, the speaker is able to control the lights using the same commands that it would receive if it were being controlled by the app directly. Any additions to the network such as new bulbs will still need to be handled through the app, however; once the changes are made in the app, the smart speaker’s controls will automatically update.
With smart lighting, consumers have more options than simply turning the lights on and off. Smart lights can also dim and brighten the light even if the fixture is not wired with dimmer controls. Provided that the bulbs are compatible with it, the smart lights can also change the lighting to any of hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of colors on the spectrum by changing the values of red, green and blue LEDs within the bulb. This gives the owner control over the exact lighting that they want to have, and with app-programmable routines, they can even automate lighting changes throughout the day. Given that there are smart bulbs available to fit just about any light socket, the chances are good that you will encounter some of these smart lights at some point in the future.
Have you ever worked on a job where the customer had smart lights installed? What did you think of them?