media-driven vs data-driven environments

The future is dim for preset-scene lighting controls

We are entering a future where architectural design and its associated technology systems are increasingly focused on experience management as the primary end-goal of many projects.  New technology systems, such as digital lighting, digital media, and IoT-based communications systems are driving this digital transformation of physical space.

No longer can traditional architectural technology systems remain as discrete, specialty trades.  This is especially true for architectural lighting, where outdated preset-scene control systems will transform into comprehensive experience management systems and will take two primary styles of technical solutions:

  1. Media-driven systems
  2. Data-driven systems

Such a transformation will have profound influences on how bricks and mortar spaces are conceived and designed by architects, interior designers, brand designers, etc.

The Old World

For decades, traditional preset-scene lighting control systems have dominated the options available for architectural projects.  Dimmers or relay switches controlling “dumb” lamps were set at certain levels and recorded as stagnant scenes.  The occupants of a space had to select from various scenes that were (supposedly) designed and (supposedly) commissioned into a building to anticipate common scenarios:  Little blank buttons ganged together in clusters of 5, 10 or 15 provided an obscure and unfriendly interface for manually selecting from these preset scenes.  It should be readily apparent how unprepared such systems are for the digital transformation of architectural experiences.

Image result for lutron keypad
Completely unintuitive and user-hostile lighting control, but hey…you can get them in a wide range of stylish finishes!

The New World

The world of architectural construction is changing in two dramatic ways that render the crudeness of preset-scene systems incapable of responding:

1. Branded Experiences

The intention of many built environments (e.g., retail, hospitality, corporate lobbies, etc.) is first and foremost to create a branded experience.  And it is impossible in our modern age to conceive of branded experiences without a strong digital presence in content and interactivity.  Architectural spaces are becoming portals to the virtual world.  So the technical challenge in these spaces is to control a range of digital media – pixels of various sorts, from 4K screens to projection mapping to simple digitally-controlled light fixtures.

So while traditional architectural lighting controls are wholly unsuited for distributing, playing and managing modern digital media, the digital signage world has filled the gap with cloud-connected, low-cost systems expressly for distributing and playing media files on an range of equipment.  BrightSign is a good example of how this new category combines cloud media management + distributed, IP-connected hardware.

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BrightSign makes it easy to manage and distribute vast quantities of media content over countless physical signage locations via standard IP connections. Lighting controls are grossly behind on these capabilities.

To put a finer point on the vast chasm between modern media distribution systems versus old-school lighting controls:  A modern 4K digital media player, priced for only a few hundred dollars, has effectively 24 million channels of lighting control (3 channels for every RGB pixel in a 4K screen) – and that is just one single screen location, with these systems capable of handling hundreds.  Try pricing a traditional architectural lighting system with 24 million channels!

2. Environmental Optimization

For environments that are not primarily branded experiences (e.g., commercial offices, institutional facilities, industrial sites, etc.), environmental optimization based on live data becomes the imperative.  And stagnant, pre-configured scenes are simply not precise enough to satisfy modern demands for climate control, energy efficiency, and creating functionally-efficient spaces for the occupants.  We now have networks of thousands of IoT-connected sensors generating massive live-data streams.  Plus, numerous other live data streams such as weather, operational conditions, stock market fluctuations, social media engagement, etc. can provide live input to our environments.  We need systems that take these live data streams and logically translate them across a range of environmental parameters.  Such translation must be smooth, continuous, and employ learning loops (e.g. “A.I.”) to ensure that as a building ages, the live systems remain optimized.

SkandalTech is a startup demonstrating a system built entirely on a live control engine.  There are no pre-configured scenes at all in the SkandalTech’s Poet system.  You connect data inputs to a logic engine, set maximum and minimum parameters, which in turn drive algorithm-generated visual effects mapped out to whatever you define as pixels.  So far SkandalTech is targeting the innovative area of ambient communications, but the applications to a broad range of environments demanding live and continuous responsiveness to incoming data streams are readily apparent.

SkandalTech’s vision of live-control for architectural lighting and media systems.

The Hybrids

Of course the world is more complex than a simple binary between either branded experience or environmental optimization.  Let’s consider examples of hybrid conditions that use both data streams and media content that surely will become quite common:

Hybrid 1: Optimized Anonymous Experiences

There is clearly going to be an overlap where sensor-derived data streams
self-optimize media-rich environments to create more relevant experiences.

In the classic sci-fi movie Minority Report, Tom Cruise walks through a retail center and facial recognition systems identify him and serve up customized marketing content on massive floor-to-ceiling screens.  While what was science fiction in 2002 is now technical reality, the creepiness factor of “big brother” will not find acceptance anytime soon.  Still, there is a tremendous amount of optimization that can be had anonymously, without identifying or tracking a specific person. 

Combining aspects of media management with aspects of live, parametrically-optimized systems, optimized anonymous experience solutions will find widespread use.  Stereo-vision cameras monitor a space and can detect humans, their stance, their gaze, and can even estimate the person’s sex and approximate age.  Parametric delimited content management systems then know what response is most appropriate.

Beyond just serving up media content for marketing purposes, there are many ways spaces can be optimized for the occupants, anonymously considering their numbers, estimated demographics, and locations within spaces.  One quick example: If a group of elderly folks visit a museum, the lighting can be momentarily raised on the art pieces the group is near.

Advertima is a tech startup that is a good example of such technology.  They monitor overall traffic flow, gaze/focus, linger time, and after estimating the individual and average sex and age of the occupants, they serve up media content targeted to those demographics.  And to be clear, unlike the concept from Minority Report, this is all done anonymously, with no personally identifiable information required nor collected.

Advertima’s computer-vision based system can precisely track and approximately categorize the demographics of occupants of a space, turning this data into meaningful analytics.

Hybrid 2: Personal Experience Management

Another hybrid will fuse CRM database systems (customer relationship management) with architectural systems to create highly tailored and personalized guest experience management concepts.  Hospitality operators will be the first to embrace such concepts as many already maintain databases of guest preferences.

These types of control systems encompass all of the systems of a typical hospitality experience – from HVAC controls to room service to media content to lighting – under one unified guest interface, typically delivered as an app on a familiar, easy-to-use device. 

The key concept here is that the UX interface is intuitively designed around guest needs and common actions first, and all other technical systems are merely supporting actors.  For example, a guest may speak a voice command or select via the app to set a wake up time:  The experience manager will ask if they would like a wake up lighting experience to precede the alarm, and maybe they would like to order breakfast via room service , too?  The guest no longer has to think about lighting or worse lighting controls with 15 tiny little arcane buttons.  Sophisticated lighting scenes are seamlessly and coherently integrated into the experience script of the hotel brand.

Contrasting anonymous optimization systems, these systems will soon be highly personalized and can be linked to the CRM system of the hospitality operator (i.e. bonus points rewards cards), to accumulate and remember guest preferences across properties and rooms.

An excellent example is DigiValet, a startup with an intriguing solution for controlling luxury guest rooms and which is making great strides in incorporating advanced wellness lighting, branded lighting scenes, and of course, media management into their solution.

DigiValet’s elegant hospitality experience management system. Hotel guests pick from high-concept actions like “set wake up time” or “order Champagne” and DigiValet intelligently sets all the other room systems to respond, from lighting scenarios to shades to A/V to media content. Even a Bluetooth-connected coffee maker will automatically start.

And beyond hospitality, there are many other scenarios where such highly personalized experience management will take root, with lighting just another system subsumed beneath. Healthcare facilities seem a prime candidate.

Consequences for Design

Designers must move beyond document-based design and specification workflows.  In the early stages of concept design, storyboarding must be routinely included to sketch out key dynamic scenarios in spaces.  As design progresses, live-rendered virtual models (using tools such as the Unreal Engine) will be required to visualize, simulate and develop the functionality of the final space programming.  The final programming will be transferred via the BIM/cloud model directly to the hardware onsite, reducing on-site commissioning. If done correctly this ensures the designer’s vision is not broken during construction setup.

Designing The Future

Spaces need to be conceived from the earliest concept sketches as live, responsive environments, not lumps of steel, concrete and glass bathed in some stagnant conception of lighting.  Architects and interior designers need to understand the powerful potential of these new systems for branded experience control or optimized environmental control and start conceiving of new programmatic goals that fully exploit their potential.

Want More?

Is your organization feeling the pressure to digitally transform your physical spaces? Feel free to email me at brad {{at}} to talk more about these concepts and how we can help you successfully execute them.