Understanding smart lights

The ecosystem analysis mentioned smart lights as a useful scope for testing and prototyping. This chapter analyzes what functionality the smart lights have and what value they add. Then an overview is made of how lights are controlled digitally, traditionally and in between. Insights are gained and suggestions are made for future lighting control prototypes and tests.

Smart light functionality

At this point there are well-known companies that sell brands of smart lights, Philips Hue and Ikea TRADFRI come to mind. What features do these lights have and how may they be part of a smart functionality?

Brightness, color temperature and full color spectrum

Because these lights are replacing traditional bulbs, the manufacturers have full control over the light they emit. This results in all bulbs being dimmable, some can change color temperature and some even can emit the entire color spectrum.

Remote control and grouping

These lights can be controlled independently of a switch on the wall. To achieve this, the lights are controlled wirelessly. This allows the user to control one specific light or group them together and control many at once. These choices can now be made in the user interface and not when wiring the wall.

Adapt to a changing context

This flexibility in control of individual lights, groups and light quality, makes smart lights very adaptable to a changing context. An example could be that all lights in a bedroom are used to create a wake-up light. A lamp could also be a mood light, but become a work light when a person works at the desk (figure 1). This requires advanced sensing or some other way to control the lights.

Figure 1:

Different qualities of light for different uses. Left a mood light, right a work light.

Lighting control

To gain an understanding of what users might expect of their lighting controls, an overview of the market was made. This overview includes digital control, conventional controls and smart controls. See appendix B for a complete overview.

Digital control

An example of digital control is the Philips Hue app, see figure 2. This app allows users to create groups, create lighting scenes, create lighting schedules and configure automatic behavior. The app is a place for daily control of lighting, as well as where all the features can be configured. Another “digital” way of controlling lights is through voice control.

Figure 2:

Philips Hue app with lights in a group, scenes and the color picker. (macstories.net)

Physical control

Conventional controls create problems for smart bulbs, as they disconnect the bulb when it is switched off. For this purpose many smart physical controls exist as well. The vary from conventional to drastically different and somewhere in between.

Concluding: suggestions

There are big differences between the features available with smart lights and how lights have traditionally been controlled. Smart lights create a lot of freedom and personalization, but traditional control has no way to address these freedoms. Smart lighting controllers have their own ways of dealing with these difficulties, but not all of them are user friendly. From these insights, several recommendations can be made for developing lighting controls.

Separating configuration and daily use

As the digital controls provide a place to configure the complex system, it can be worthwhile to keep physical controls separated from this. It allows the physical device to focus on implementing the many daily controls.

Physical feedback for muscle memory

The capacitive touch dimmers have no physical feedback, which makes it a lot harder to use the switches without looking. Physical feedback supports muscle memory being formed and makes first time user fairly familiar.

Visual feedback for immediate response

Sometimes smart systems have delays, but the controller should always provide immediate feedback. This might not be important when using basic controls, but becomes crucial when using more complex functions.

Standard wall socket placement

All the physical controls are similar in size and are placed in similar places. People are likely to expect a light switch of about 80x80mm next to the door at a height of about 120cm. Smart lighting controls should adhere to this standard. Some controls were wireless, which can be combined with this standard by placing a holder for the remote at this place.

Next chapter: Understanding enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts