An interesting concept is developing in the lighting industry: Companies are launching generic “operating systems” that manage the core functionality of lighting control across the current plethora of hardware and communications standards, including both old-school lighting-specific systems (like DALI), new-school Internet-based systems (like Zigbee, Power-over-Ethernet, etc.) and various other building management systems (like LON).
The lighting industry has lacked this so far because most of the previous lighting control systems have been built on proprietary hardware. But now, enough industry standards for communications and hardware exist that this concept of a “lighting OS” is beginning to make sense.
For example, a PC is a collection of parts (processor, memory, disk drives, USB, etc.), each with its own industry standards for inter-operation. However, when you plug all those parts together, you still need an operating system to mediate the exchange of information from each component throughout the system. Using the same hardware components, you can run Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome, etc. And then other companies can build unique applications that run on those operating systems.
The big question for the future: Will any of these “lighting OS’s” build enough critical mass to become “industry standard” like Microsoft’s Windows OS or Apple’s Mac OS? If this concept of developing a “lighting OS” works, I imagine that specifiers will be able to pick a disparate collection of “connected” lighting hardware (running a range of communications standards), but by specifying a base OS, they can be assured the systems will work together. Specifiers can pick different interface “skins” and “app packages” from different lighting companies, but the fundamental system will be glued together by the OS.
One example of this trend is the Swiss company Mivune. According to their introduction:
mivune OS, the operating system for modern buildings, ensures direct communication between the various technical building services.
The multibus-compatible, platform-independent operating system is open to all customer-specific demands. It can be configurated and controlled in realtime via a web browser without any problems. The connection on the application level is also performed via open web standards. Individual services and applications can be created with the aid of these programming interfaces. The intelligence distributed on the computer (automation level) and the actuators or sensors (field level) enables fast response times and also guarantees a high functional and operating safety. Furthermore, it makes the system scalable, i.e. it can be used in multi-controller mode. The operating system is also open for the import from other systems, e.g. CAD plans. Alongside the pure data model and tailor-made software components, mivune also offers supplementary products that can be further developed in a customer-specific manner. This includes a control app, diverse visualizations as well as a widget-based configuration interface.
Mivune is not an “open standard” anymore then Window’s is an open standard. It is a proprietary OS, but one that is very extensible, open to customization and secondary applications, and built on industry standards for hardware and communications. It looks like Mivune’s first major customer was Zumtobel, who apparently used Mivune’s OS to build its new Litecom system.
I have no idea how well Mivune actually works, but in concept it would be a huge boon to the lighting industry for other major players to settle on one or two common operating systems. It would be nice to imagine a truly open system like Linux taking shape, but the industry simply has too many middlemen in the way who benefit from the lack of industry standards. A common OS would provide a foundation to generate tremendous 2nd-level innovations for the lighting industry. But with no foundation, the industry will never soar — it remain stuck in the trenches fighting “OS wars”.