Sensors and lighting - where to from here?

For several years now lighting has not just lighting, it’s lighting and controls.  Controls in lighting have been around for many years however they really came into their own with the widespread adoption of LEDs in 2010, and controls are now an essential component of any lighting project.  Typically they are a signal from a remote source such as a switchboard or control module, or they are integrated into or close to the fixture itself.

In many ways LEDs were designed to work with controls.  Repeatedly switching on and off is not an issue.  Unlike traditional globes and tubes where there where energy and lifetime penalties for switching lights.


Whilst the lighting technology has changed significantly over the past 10 years, controls to a large extent have not changed.  The heart of the control is the sensor, and these have always been the weak link and are typically the major source of complaints when the lighting system does not operate as expected.  In some instances this is due to the selection of the incorrect sensor type, in some instances it is due to the sensor being in the wrong location whilst on other occasions the sensor is being pushed beyond its capability.

The sensors that we are all familiar with in the lighting industry are:

  • People detection sensors - passive infrared (PIR) or microwave style. Both of these have different attributes and should be carefully selected depending on the location and activity within the space.  In summary microwaves are a motion detector only whilst PIR can be used to detect motion and occupancy (albeit quite poorly).
  • Photoelectric (PE) sensors that detect the amount of light available. The sensors can be used to switch lighting on and off or dim lights if sufficient daylight is available.  Again these sensors work well in the right environment however have significant limitations, especially when integrated within fixtures.

From our experience if matched to the environment and activity both of these will work well.  For example the microwave sensor installed in the Chamaeleon III is perfect to detect movement in a fire stair, whilst the PIR is typically used in meeting rooms to trigger lights when people enter.  There are many features of each sensor that need to be taken into account and the advice of an experienced salesperson should be sought prior to selecting.  In some instances our advice has been not to install a sensor as they will not work effectively. 

R&D is being invested in new sensor technology including with a new range of infrared and optical sensors that are very effective.  They are however more expensive, and the density of sensors required within a lighting system means that the increase in cost has a significant impact on the lighting project.  We believe that the additional cost of these new type of sensors will only be justified when they deliver additional functionality and data into third-party systems.  These include people counting, heat mapping (determining location, paths of travel etc) and accurate presence detection all of which will incorporate artificial intelligence. 

Over the last 10 years the development has been around the light source and it is our belief that the near future will be further development of controls (typically sensors) that become the link between all other building systems that could eventually deliver the ‘Internet of things’ which has been a topical discussion point over the last few years.  When these benefits deliver more than simply switching on and off lights the additional cost will be justified through the additional features and analytics.



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