Wireless Controlled Lighting Systems: a sign of the times?

In the last post we looked at sensor lighting for homes, where the lighting is controlled by timing devices which come on or off automatically. The limitation with sensor or timer-related devices is the accurate of the delay or the sensor. For example, if you are deep in concentration at a task, you don’t want the lights to go off because they cannot sense you are in the room.

Imagine you were trying to repair a laptop or something requiring your focussed attention. At the most inopportune moment you’re left hiding a screwdriver in one hand, a pair of pliers in another, while trying to wiggle one leg in the hope of triggering a sensor.

Another lighting feature that is growing in importance is wireless controlled lighting. In this form of lighting, the lighting is controlled via wireless means, so you could adjust the lighting from a smartphone. As most people are often glued to the phone or have it close by, to the point that it is described as their third hand, or a leash, using this as a lighting control is not unnatural, it is a seamless extension of the device.

The primary push behind this sort of thinking – controlling lighting wirelessly – is undoubtedly lifestyle. In the modern age, turning on lights from a wall socket is seen as outdated and backward. In fact, many new build homes now come with wirelessly controlled lighting as the norm. Young first time buyers, all of whom will have grown up with a smart phone in their teenage years view this as a sign of status. The use of wirelessly controlled lighting may make a positive impression of a property and its asking price. Some home owners install it prior to sales, upgrading their old lighting systems, because the increase in the asking price a property could fetch would outweigh the lighting cost.

But wirelessly controlled isn’t just growing on the younger generation. Older citizens are installing it too, to save on the physical effort to adjust lighting, especially if they have mobility difficulties. Having to brighten or dim the lighting without having to get up may be a benefit to some.

There are other advantages too. If you are leaving on a long holiday but in your haste to get away you forgot to turn off a set of lights, those lights are going to announce to the world, especially those who see them lit continuously, that your property is vacant and ripe for a break-in. If you had wireless lighting you could turn them down on your journey. And while you are away, too, you could turn the lights on and on to give the impression of occupancy. Wireless lighting is a boon for security, not just a status symbol! Of course, it means you have to choose a really good password, as you won’t want someone else running your household controls for you.

Wireless lighting can be preset to adjustable levels, such as with the brightness on your television screen. It is a quick efficient way to adjust lighting controls without adjusting individual lights, and can bring about valuable time-saving.

Bill Gates has a remote controlled house where he could call in on the way home for it to prepare his bath, or to get the kettle boiling to prepare a cup of tea. Will the average house be like that? Probably not in the immediate future, but perhaps wireless technology will make its impact elsewhere. For now though, it seems that wireless controlled lighting systems will become more commonplace in the future and every household may eventually adopt one.

Sensor lighting systems and their limitations

A simple lighting system in the past consisted of an overhead lamp turned on and off by a wall switch. Nowadays you could easily into a room and find no switches at all. How do you turn on the light? Actually, by the time you consider that question, you may find that the light has already come on for you. And when you leave, the light will automatically go off a little while after you exit the room.

Increasingly sensors are being used as the primary trigger for lighting devices. These sensors were originally for security purposes, such as to trigger an intruder light in the porch, or to start a recording device. But as with all technological things, the lifespan of such things is lengthened when more uses are found for them, so it is no surprise that these systems, which consist of a motion detector, an electronic control unit, and a controllable switch (relay), have made their way into interior lighting.

How do these light sensors work? A motion detector detects movement, and sends a appropriate signal to the control unit to close the circuit, which would allow light to come on. If there is no activity after a period of time, the circuit is opened again until movement is detected.

The detection of an occupant in the initial entry to trigger the lighting easy, it is similar to entering the field of view of a PIR detector. But how do detectors know when a person has left the room, or is sitting still in the settee?

Imagine if someone has entered the room to read, fallen on the settee, and woken up in complete darkness!

Another problem that current sensor lighting systems cannot solve is that if the delay between the circuit reset is too long, then if you are entering a room for only ten seconds to retrieve an item, then light and energy are wasted while the circuit remains closed before it resets again.

The current technology is being enhanced in all areas, including cost reduction by maximising the efficiency and lifespan of parts, as well as the increased capability to detect occupancy by means other than movement, so that if you are still for a while, the unit is aware of your presence despite your lack of movement.

Some current products being trialled include heat sensing technology, but it may be awhile before improvements in technology lower the cost to a level acceptable enough to be implemented in household units. But even then, these heat sensing units may not even address the problem. What if you are ready to fall asleep and the unit refuses to let you turn the light off? Another kind of sensor being trialled is one that gradually lowers the lighting level in the room if it senses no movement. But it would require the use of dimmable bulbs, instead of energy saving ones.

Sensor controlled lighting was implemented so that lights would not be left on overnight and waste electricity. But there are still improvements to be made. But perhaps it may be fair to say that instead of relying on automation, everyone should just make the effort to make sure energy is not wasted. It appears that the more advanced the technology is, the more it has been designed to make us stop taking responsibility for ourselves.

Managing lighting in your later years

As we grew older, the back of our eyes receive less light. Furthermore, the size of the pupils decrease with age, and to compound the problem, inside your eyes, the lenses become thicker and absorb more light. The result is that we find it harder to see and often have to strain. If that were not enough of a problem, the lens in each eye also scatters the light, which adds a little veil of light over images on your retina. How does this affect us?

Firstly, it makes it harder for us to perceive contrast. This means that if we are reading newspapers, the difference between text and background is diminished with age. The sharpness of objects is a second way in which we are affected. Objects lose their distinctness, and we find it difficult to focus on them. Thirdly, the distinction between certain colours becomes reduced. Reds start to look like pinks, and the distinction between blues becomes minimised.

But all is not lost! There are changes in lighting you can do to manage the problems that come with age.

Firstly, choose lighting of higher lumens. Since the eyes receive less light, you have to increase the background lighting levels to the general areas. Choose light bulbs with high lumens so that areas are brightened. Remember to distribute light throughout a room so that darker areas within a room are minimised.

Secondly, remember to consider the glare levels. If you are increasing overall levels of light, the glare factor will also increase. Remember to avoid direct glare and reflection of the light from shiny surfaces into your eyes.

Thirdly, if you do a lot of reading, put extra light where you read, so that you can read without tiring your eyes or causing discomfort. Install more task lights around the house. A task light is a light for a specific task – for example, a desk lamp to help with reading, or extra cabinet lighting to help you search for what you need. It is a good idea to install task lights on the opposite side of your master hand. If you are right-handed, for example, place a desk lamp on the left side, so that there are no shadows that fall exactly where you need more light.

Your vision is affected as you grow older. But that doesn’t mean you need to accept the deterioration as the norm. With clever management of lighting, you can adapt your surroundings to maintain your quality of life.