Lighting that Learns

Ensto and Helvar have partnered to offer the first luminaire-based, continuously-learning lighting control to employ artificial intelligence.

To enter the office of Helvar in Espoo, Finland, is to enter a world of perfect lighting. Without a visitor ever noticing, lights brighten and dim according to human movement and the presence of natural light. Lighting temperature shifts to optimize mood, energy, alertness, and productivity.

Helvar’s office represents the convergence of all the “future” lighting technologies that are talked and written about. Yet Helvar carries it one step further: its lighting is able to continuously learn.

C&D: ‘connect and develop’

The lighting in Helvar’s office is powered by a variety of technologies. The most modern, ActiveAhead, deploys a wireless tech Bluetooth Low Energy Mesh. It is the first luminaire-based, self-learning lighting control to use artificial intelligence, featuring one of the smallest PIR- and light sensors on the market.

ActiveAhead was brought to the market quickly – in less than a year – and the key to getting there was Helvar’s partnership with Ensto. The driver- and sensor technologies are Helvar’s — and the luminaires are Ensto’s.

The partnership is what Ensto Group’s CEO Ari Virtanen calls “a case study in C&D.” The familiar term is R&D, but C&D – “connect and develop” – is about working together with customers to combine technologies to create meaningful products.

Why Ensto?

Lars Hellström, Helvar’s Marketing and Business Development Director, says the Ensto-Helvar partnership was a natural one for many reasons. “Our companies had a long-term relationship. Ensto has been a customer for decades, buying drivers and ballasts from Helvar. Ensto also had a factory warehouse in Lohja which was the ideal test facility for Helvar’s Active+ and ActiveAhead solutions.”

The close relationship made the product testing phase about far more than the product itself, says Hellström. “We learned how the solution was working, what luminaire density was necessary to optimize for footfall. But we also learned what questions to expect. We learned how to position the product, how to talk about it.”

Enabling smart buildings

The partners also learned how to retrieve and process data. While perfect, human-centric lighting may seem like the ultimate result, it is only the most visible benefit. Heat mapping of footfalls may be the technology’s most amazing future application, which can enable smart buildings of tomorrow.

Sensors placed in luminaires can generate massive amounts of data about how a building is used. Movement may be analyzed in offices, stairwells, parking garages or warehouses, creating not only comfort, but allowing a building owner to influence behavior and save money. “The air conditioning may adjust itself automatically,” says Hellström, “or the elevator can know you’re coming and you’d no longer need a call button. And this information is all conveyed at the speed of light itself.”

Show me the money

Since Active+ and ActiveAhead permit the same amount of lighting comfort to be delivered with varying energy levels, not all luminaires operate at full power, which is the traditional luminaire solution.

“The first big savings is switching to LED,” says Hellström. “Our test sites with Active+ have shown additional savings beyond the 50 percent easily achieved. If you add ActiveAhead lighting that learns, you will save even beyond this.”

Listening to Hellström one is tempted to conclude that lighting could generate its own cash flow. Although that’s not yet achievable, the lighting control clearly does pay for itself, though savings are not the most dramatic benefit of this technology.

2050, here we come!

What about the year 2050 when demographers predict five billion people, or 70 percent of the earth’s population, will live in cities? These new cities must be smart cities. And the smart buildings that will fill them will be lighted by Ensto and Helvar.

But it won’t just be smart buildings. Both companies are looking forward to finding other C&D projects. “Ensto is strong in many other areas,” says Hellström. “This story will continue.”

A C&D Partnership

Ensto and Helvar have partnered to produce two products, Active+ and ActiveAhead.

ActiveAhead is the first luminaire-based lighting control using AI. It networks continuously-learning luminaires. Its technology deploys a wireless tech Bluetooth Low Energy Mesh, a network topology that is a self-healing net. It’s ideal for buildings with dynamic footfall: hallways, stairwells, open-plan offices, and warehouses. Its benefits include dramatic improvement in lighting comfort and major cost savings.

Active+ is a standalone solution for single luminaires which requires no programming. Active+ learns for a period of 60 hours, making it most suitable for refurbishment use, since one luminaire can be replaced with another without adding control wiring.

Helvar in Brief

Founded in 1921, Helvar is a fifth-generation, family-owned Finnish company with a rich history in adapting to the times. Created originally as a trading company between Helsinki and Warsaw, it morphed into a supplier and manufacturer of radios, then televisions. The company then transferred winding coil technology to the lighting business arriving at magnetic ballasts. The development continued creating the world’s first dimmable electronic ballasts for fluorescent tubes. Entering the world of lighting control early on, Helvar was a founding member of DALI, Digital Addressable Lighting Interface. Helvar now views lighting intelligence as the future of the business. It employes 270 people and has 80 million euros in turnover.

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Author: Scott Diel