The future of lighting: Get ready for light switch free houses, pro-active lighting, and more natural colour

The chances are you have energy efficient lights in your house. If you consider yourself cutting edge you might have LED bulbs, but for most people, the idea that their lightbulb could help protect them, entertain them, lift their mood or even be controlled by a smartphone, is the stuff of pipe dreams.

Of course that's not the case. A number of companies already offer smart lighting and you are probably already using it in your office without even knowing it as the lights around us are more intelligent than you think.

According to industry experts, we are just at the start of the journey when it comes to seeing what our lights can do for us.

"We've moved forward considerably over the last 10 years. That said, people are only just looking at the benefits of intelligent lights," Jeremy Patterson, GM of Honeywell's EMEA Home Comfort & Energy Systems division explains to Pocket-lint.

Honeywell might not be known for lights, but the company has been offering lighting systems commercially for a number of years, as well as an offering for the home called Astral.

It's a view that's also held by George Yianni, Head of Technology at Philips Lighting: "We are pretty early on in the growth of the smart lightbulb industry and how people use lighting in the home," the architect of Philips Hue, Philips' intelligent lighting system tells Pocket-lint.

"We are focusing on exciting experiences with a broad range of lighting products including colours, whites, and different ways of interacting with the products."

Philips, who've been offering the Hue system for almost two years have grown the experience considerably in that time, moving from a three bulb starter kit to adding more lights and an intelligent switch alongside software updates.

"We are trying to look at ways of making lighting do more than just illumination," says Yianni.

It's that notion of lights doing more than just lighting a room that is driving many to embrace the idea, rather than just the exciting notion of turning off your lights from the sofa via an app.

"People see connected lighting at the moment, as a quirky way to create ambiance," Patterson adds. "But there are plenty of serious and useful ways for consumers to use lighting systems in the home to benefit them in everyday life."

One of those "serious" areas is security. By using intelligent lights you never have to come home to a dark house again. Many of the services available today already offer basic geofencing (the idea of a perimeter around your house that acts as a switch), but the options are only likely to get more granular going forward.

"Lighting as security is a great use case. Although there are plugs with timers that let people pretend they are at home when they are away, it could be more easily done with intelligent lighting. One of best ways to get rid of an intruder is to turn all the lights on," says Honeywell's Patterson.

Honeywell, who already uses geofencing in its intelligent heating option, also believes some of the future lies in geofencing your home to pre-determine actions for when you step through the door.

"If my home knows when I am on my way, it is easy to geofence the system to turn on your lights as you get home," explains Patterson.

But security doesn't have to be just about alerting you to an intruder. Yianni from Philips outlines to us one use many Hue customers already use in conjunction with the rule website If This Then That (ifttt.com): "Lighting is ubiquitous, it is part of the environment so  we can use your lights to tell you that there is something that needs your attention. One of the most popular ways of doing this is by having a light at your door to tell you if it is going to rain today."

READ: IFTTT explained

Both Patterson and Yianni agree that security isn't the only future path for intelligent lights in the home.

"There isn't any one killer app entry point for lighting at the moment. Security is certainly a strong one, as is customising the lighting in their home," says Patterson. 

It is that customising idea that Philips has taken on board the most. Its lights can display up to 16-million colours and are changeable at the tap of a colour wheel.

"When we started with Hue it was about using light in a richer way than just providing light. By making the light bulb more advanced you can make it more flexible," explains Yianni.

It's a subject that when you get Yianni started, he isn't keen to stop happily, describing just some of the innovations we can expect to see from Philips in the future: "For starters there will be a lot more options of how you interact with your lights. The Hue Tap (the company's intelligent light switch) is just the start. You will see an expansion of things like new sensor inputs. You will see a lot of tools to configure how your lighting responds to you. You'll have more a pro-active reaction."

But the lights are likely to change as well.

"We are continuing to expand the option of the bulbs. There will also be different play with structures in the light. Light and nature is never static, it is always changing, and we want to do something that recreates that. Clouds, time of day, trees and shadows are all things we are playing with at the moment."

Honeywell also sees a more pro-active lighting system in our homes in the future.

"In the future, lights will be much more reactive to inputs from sensors and outside data. Lighting is hard because you don't get the same impact on saving as you do with heating, but you do get benefits from trigger alerts. The stuff that has been going on in the commercial space, like light paths that follow you for example, will continue to come to the home. Whether that's lights that automatically turn off when you aren't in the room or something else, we will have to see, but lighting in the future will be about enhancing people's comfort, that's for sure."

With the future set, one of the big questions is how will it be controlled. Services like ifttt.com do have a large part to play, but more closer to home, the big debate is whether it should be the bulb or the switch that is the main control point.

It is here that Philips and Honeywell are at odds with each other with Honeywell opting to have the switch as the lead and Philips the bulb. The benefits and disadvantages for both are numerous. A switch means a cheaper roll out, but you are limited to the wiring already in your house. A bulb means each and every bulb needs to be specialised to the system and what you are trying to achieve.

For the moment, both see the benefit of playing the field. Honeywell's man enlightens us: "There is still a very relevant place for switches on the wall. You have the option to put that connectivity in multiple places."

Philips approach is bulb first, switch later: "I believe that both make sense. If you put the intelligence in the switch you are reliant on the wiring in your house. If you want one switch to work all the lights into a room or the house, you will have to have wireless bulbs. But we acknowledge that if you have a big light fitting in your house, replacing them all with Philips Hue lights would be expensive, so using an intelligent switch in that instance would be a better option."

READ: Philips Hue complete system review

Remember though, people are social engineered to return to the light switch on the wall, and as Patterson tells us "conditioned to accept poor lighting."

The greatest challenge when talking to both men isn't getting people to pay for the system (both agree the price will come down) or about people understanding that their homes will see more sensors to make them work. It is that for intelligent lighting to work, people need to become aware of what they can do and find a specific use case that benefits them.

"Once you have the ability to change your lights, it will become the norm. It is not just about accepting on/off or dimming," comments Patterson. "People tend to not change what isn't broken. It isn't far away that the lighting system however, will be a part of another system and that you have a controller to operate it in one place.

Yianni thinks along a similar line: "I think that a light bulb that can be controlled from a smartphone is not a huge market. We have to get people to see and understand that this is an alternative to painting your home, or getting a guard dog, for it to be widely adopted."

The final words from Patterson at Honeywell about the future of what we can expect sum things up nicely. "If we are successful in achieving the goal of making everything easier and better, it could mean a disappearance of light switches and other elements on the wall altogether, probably not entirely, but you will see a significant reduction."

Yes, in the future the asking someone to "turn off the lights" could mean something very different to what it means now.

READ: Five smart lighting solutions