residential lighting dream system

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If I could start with a blank page and design my own residential lighting system from scratch, I would combine a Redwood Systems-style power-over-Ethernet centralized rack system to feed DC power and IP control all the way out to each fixture; a Nest-style intelligent light switch on the wall; and a Philips Hue-style mobile interface.  To toss a little sugar on top of the system, add in a wireless bridge to connect retrofit light bulbs or freely-positioned decorative lamps, and some NFC tagging for fluid, seamless personalization of scenes.

Essentially, the home of the near-future will simply skip any costly AC wiring or proprietary control systems dedicated to lighting:  Lighting will fundamentally be an Ethernet system, with one cheap, commodity wiring infrastructure handling power, control and media content.  Software will be the control system, supplementing highly intelligent individual devices.

The benefits of such a “dream team” system would be numerous:

Fixture Size/Cost

The cost of the fixtures would be greatly reduced, with no need for AC/DC conversion at the fixture.  The physical size of the fixtures, often critical for high-end residential installs, would also be greatly reduced, with the twin impact of reduced driver size and no need for a cumbersome wiring compartment.

Commodity Infrastructure

There would be no centralized, expensive and proprietary control “box”; control scripts, system statistics, media content, or any other data lives out on the cloud.  Standard, readily available POE rack gear is all that is needed (and Ethernet switches are already in most high-end homes already).

Intelligent Sensing and Control

I love how Nest’s and Redwood Systems’ wall switches both include motion sensing capabilities, almost as hidden features.  With smart software, the system can quickly learn usage patterns to turn out the lights when not needed…and have them already on when they are about to be needed.  And for users that want to tailor the system to their personal preferences, how about NFC tagging?  Since everyone I know carries their mobiles with them freakin’ everywhere, proximity interactions via devices starts to make sense.  Toss your phone on your desk, and the desk lamp is smart enough to fade up…but then fade off only after you left the room.

Death to Commissioning

The install process would be simple: Plug it all into the rack.  Bridge any wireless units.  Start using.  There would be no need for a laborious and expensive commissioning process just to get the damn lights turned on.  I used to love Lutron’s excellent customer service support, until I stopped and thought about it for a moment: What pain in the ass the entire process is…just make it all go away, period.  As for “scene setting” or other more complex scripts, let the customer set these at their own pace, using the familiar interface of their mobile device or computer.  Let good UX designers prevail, not firmware engineers.

Pixels are Free

Ethernet cabling doesn’t care if you are turning on/off an old fashioning light bulb or driving an HD video screen; it’s all just ones and zeros.  When it becomes cheap and painless in terms of the hidden system costs to add sophisticated color control, low-res animation or even pervasive high-res media content, the industry will start to see a next evolution of innovative lighting capabilities actually embraced in residential applications.

Embracing the Future

DC power from ever-cheaper PV solar panels will become prevalent in residential applications.  Funnel all that DC power right into the lights, skipping all the conversion loss.  Heck, even pull some of that CAT6 cable from the POE rack to some DC USB wall ports throughout the house to power the endless array of digital stuff you find everywhere…and throw away all those damn “wall worts”.