the next evolution of lighting: embedded lighting


Introduction – The Next Evolution

Part I – Connected Lighting

Part II – Embedded Lighting

Miniaturization is a big deal.

The lighting industry seems to chronically undervalue the importance of simply shrinking the size of components, to either reduce the overall volume of a lighting component or minimize one critical dimension (such as an extremely flat driver).  Miniaturization drives innovation in unexpected ways.

For example, the reduction in size that occurred with mid-power LEDs has led to an explosion of skinny lines of light, edge-lit planes of light, and even micro-spotlights.  This change alone is driving innovation in ultra-shallow surface-mount applications, such as integrated shelf lighting and surface mounted “downlights”.

The next big area of innovation will be miniaturization of power supplies and drivers.  Eventually, the industry will use techniques like VHF capacitors and multi-die driver packages to reduce the entire power conversion, driver and communications functions into a single, miniature SMT package.

How small can you make a track spot or downlight…perhaps the size of a thimble?

Tesla vs. Edison:  The Revenge of DC

DC power grids provide an enormous opportunity for simplifying lighting systems, eliminating wasteful power conversion hardware throughout a lighting system.  They also provide direct methods for connecting lighting systems to off-grid power generation and storage systems.

But DC power can also simplify fixture design:  If the fixture has only low-power, low-voltage connections, the safety requirements stemming around high voltage and high power should be reduced or eliminated, right?  Plus LED systems pushing 200 lm/w effectively eliminate the problem of excess heat and fire hazard in most fixture types.  The new world of low power and non-existent thermal issues opens up opportunities for the radical redesign of traditional fixture paradigms and material selections.   That is if the safety standards catch up with the technology.

Digital Fabrication

Modeling lighting systems via BIM will make it much easier to custom-design fixtures based on parametric variables.  Manufacturers need to consider the fundamental flexibility of digital production tools – 2D laser cutters, punch presses, 3D machining, and additive 3D printing – when designing their product lines.  In the year 2020 it will become possible (if not routine) to produce an entire fixture via flexible digital processes.

Light as a Material

Architects want to treat light as a material.  Today’s designers want to treat architectural lighting more like an embedded material than as a series of discrete objects.  There is tremendous potential for this fusion of light + material, but custom integration of embedded lighting traditionally have been difficult to specify, risky to budget, and costly to install, limiting the broader adoption of such “embedded” lighting.

LED and OLED lighting now makes it easier than ever to fuse light into building materials, opening up a creative new area of exploration for architects and interior designers.

Imagine when you can cheaply embed matrices of miniaturized drivers into fields of LEDs on flexible substrates.  You can apply these luminous sheets directly on building material substrates that can be cut in field while maintaining consistent drive currents.  LEDs might even be treated like a coating someday.

Philips Lumiblade Materials

On-site Manufacturing

Leading architects are demanding more complex shapes, assemblies, and surface constructs; old-school lighting “fixtures” are increasingly difficult to use in these applications.

Combining miniaturized parts, portable digital fabrication, and luminous materials leads to another intriguing opportunity:  Manufacturing lighting products at a construction site.  Most other building materials can be tailored to in-field conditions – so why can’t lighting evolve beyond its “objectified” legacy and create systems that open up application possibilities while making a contractor’s life easier?

Next up, in Part III – Sustainable Lighting, we’ll consider the evolution of lighting into a Circular Economy-driven paradigm.