Residential Lighting: What is the Engineering Research Center (ERC)?
Bob Karlicek: ERC is a National Science Foundation (NSF) program that has been in operation for more than 30 years. Its intention is to move technologies from universities to industry to accelerate commercialization.
RL: Tell us more about your specific ERC, Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA).
BK: What was initially started as a center working on advanced technology solutions and applications for LEDs in 2008 was quickly changed into focusing on advanced system applications for light-emitting systems. Simply, what else can you do with solid-state lighting beyond simple illumination?
In order to anticipate the needs of lighting companies and other business segments that can leverage capabilities of advanced lighting systems, the center moved to focusing on other applications for lighting systems in fields where you would never have expected lighting to play a role — things like occupancy sensing; fall detection; and visible light communication to help improve wireless access. Lighting companies are moving in this direction now because with the kinds of lifetimes LED lighting fixtures present, they’re realizing they have to find new services to sell.
RL: Which of your projects/research have potential for consumer adoption in the future?
BK: You’re actually starting to see some of it now with things like sunrise/sunset bulbs for circadian rhythm regulation; bulbs with wireless connectivity to interface with Amazon Echo or Siri; and systems that are designed to listen for sounds and turn on automatically for a greater sense of security. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to these technologies. In my experience, most of them want good lighting design, a product that’s easy to use and does what you expect. Most are happy with just on/off dim.
RL: What advice would you have for retailers who are still getting comfortable with this technology?
BK: Retailers will have to become much more savvy and comfortable with the rate of change in today’s market. They’ll need to go back to school or look for educational programs to keep themselves up to date. Education will be the only way to address this issue.
RL: What predictions do you have for the future?
BK: As we see lighting start to develop new capabilities, adoption will be largely in healthcare, eldercare and commercial. As these other markets start to flush out what works and what doesn’t, we’ll start to know what will trickle down to the residential market where cost is a bigger factor. We’re also going to see a greater push to lighting apparatus that have absolutely no replaceable parts. With the potential long-term reliability of systems today, I can see that writing them into your will may become a mode of the future.
Bob Karlicek is the Center Director of LESA and a professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.