Sensity's networked LEDs enable smart applications

Sensity's networked LEDs enable smart applications

At first glance, Sensity Systems seems like just another smart LED lighting vendor, promising improved energy efficiency and reduced maintenance costs.

But inside each of its highly efficient LED luminaires is a powerful combination of sensors and embedded networking technology -- one that could act as the foundation for a range of other applications, from smart parking insights and traffic control to digital video surveillance and other real-time location services.

"Lighting is the Trojan horse," said Hugh Martin, chairman and CEO of Sensity (formerly known as Xeralux). "What really is important is the network, the applications that are making use of the information being collected. It is extremely important that we have a launch vehicle, lighting, but we are focused on the development of a Big Data infrastructure in the cloud, so that people can develop other applications."

The three-year-old company already counts approximately 200 customers that have bought into this idea, including the likes of health care provider Kaiser Permanente, high-tech giant Hewlett-Packard and real-estate management powerhouse Shorenstein.

Yes, these companies are keen to reduce their energy consumption and operating costs related to lighting – both indoors and outdoors. Sensity estimates that converting to its networked LEDs reduce energy costs by 80 percent relatively quickly. But they are just as interested in the other applications that can be layered on top of Sensity's technology.

"They are putting things together in a way that no one else is doing," said Stan Roualdes, executive vice president of property management and construction services for Shorenstein, which manages 23.5 million square feet of commercial property across the United States.

Shorenstein originally deployed a test project in Santa Clara, Calif., in order to control lights in its parking lots more independently, and Roualdes described the retrofit as a process that took just a weekend to pull off.

Now, Sensity's technology allows its engineers there to change the setting for lights on an individual basis or for specific zones, accounting for things such as motion or ambient lighting. The level of "selectability" is unprecedented, he said. Now, the company is exploring the potential for improved parking lot security applications and smart parking systems, and it is considering the technology for other locations, Roualdes said.

"Initially, this was all about lighting for us," he said. "But because of the networking that is built in, we are experimenting with cameras, for security, to let us know how many parking spaces are available. There are so many applications that they can have."

A "light sensory network"

Sensity positions its technology as what Martin calls a "light sensory network"; it goes by the formal name of NetSense.

To enable the platform, Sensity LED fixtures are equipped with high-bandwidth, low-latency networking features along with optical, audio, seismic and environmental sensors. That makes them capable of collecting data about temperature, humidity, ambient lighting, motion, radiation, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, rainfall, wind, particulate matter and other conditions. Each light has an IP address: that means each one can report information to the NetSense Cloud for analysis. It also means they can be controlled individually, as required by specific applications.

Although he won't be specific about pricing, citing all the factors that will affect an individual deployment, Martin said the incremental cost of Sensity's technology compared with competitive lighting retrofit approaches is negligible. Instead, the company will rely on its potential as a value-added platform to close deals.

He noted: "The question that really launched the company is this: If you were going to install all those power supplies up in the air and the labor was already covered by the economics of the LED retrofit, what else could you do while you're up in the air with a screwdriver? We're going to combine the vision of the smart city or Internet of Things with this emerging phenomenon of LED conversions."

Sensity is making its technology available for integration into other LED outdoor or warehouse luminaires through a partnership with electronics manufacturer Plexus.

"With our lighting manufacturing partner program, lighting companies will be able to quickly and easily adapt their product line to offer this technology and ensure their customers can use this technology, regardless of their choice of fixture style," Martin said.

Let there be light, and then some

Here are some applications that could ride on top of a Sensity light sensory network:

  • Public safety and security (facial detection, object detection, loitering or personal injuries)
  • Video surveillance and analytics (for predicting crowd patterns)
  • Smart parking management (helping customers find available spots, which can help cut down on urban or shopping mall traffic)
  • Asset management, potentially in a retail setting
  • Retail analytics (for distribution or for keeping a watch for potential spoilage)
  • Intelligent transportation systems (license plate detection or emergency assistance)
  • Environmental data monitoring

Of these, the mostly commonly requested solutions are security, parking management and asset management, Martin said. "It really comes down to the collective creativity of the software world to think about what you might be able to do if you had access to a network like this."

The country of El Salvador certainly sees plenty of room for innovation. As part of its national energy and security strategy, the El Salvadoran government has committed to gradually deploying light sensory networks across the entire country. (The deal includes plans for Sensity to open a manufacturing location there.)

The technology will be deployed at public schools, along highways and at the international airport. The city of Nuevo Cuscatlan will be the first to deploy it.

"Applications designed to improve public security, including video surveillance, dimmable lights and better tracking of goods coming in and out of the country, will make our nation a safer place," said Franzi Hato Hasbun, El Salvador's secretary of Strategic Affairs and Minister of Education, when announcing the relationship.

Images via Sensity.