Lighting the Future: Where Human Centric Lighting Could Take Us

28 December 2015

All technology makers have an eye on the future. While companies rake in revenue from current product portfolios, the sense of staying ahead of the curve means thinking about innovations, future offerings and beating the competitors to market.

The evolution of light from candles to tungsten to fluorescent to LED bulb. Analysts expect Human-centric Lighting will be added to the list in the near future.The evolution of light from candles to tungsten to fluorescent to LED bulb. Analysts expect Human-centric Lighting will be added to the list in the near future.

In the lighting industry, product evolution is advancing again, moving from regular LEDs to human-centric lighting. HCL, an LED-based lighting technology that aims to match light characteristics with human circadian rhythms, is a potential sweet spot where manufacturers are setting their sights and investing in what they hope will be a bright future.

And, they’re doing so with good reason.

IHS forecasts the global HCL market is expected to grow from $34 million in 2015 to $805 million in 2020. Of course, HCL may well be a very recent concept, as noted in IHS Technology’s recent Insight report. There are no industry-wide definitions or standards yet, and it’s difficult to predict what the market will look like five years from now. Still, that’s not stopping companies from diving into the space.

“All of the major manufacturers are offering HCL lighting systems and applications,” says Fabian Hoelzenbein, IHS Technology’s market analyst for lighting and LEDs, who co-authored the recent report with IHS Technology Market Analyst Mike Hornung. Hoelzenbein says that many companies were displaying their HCL products at the recent LuxLive trade show in London, indicating the increasing interest in the sector. “It’s hard to tell if it’s a fad or something that will stick, but because all of the major manufacturers are investing in it, I think it will be a growing trend,” he says, adding, “We’re expecting strong growth, but we’re starting from a small starting point. A year or two ago the market was non-existent. In a year or two, we should see more momentum in this area. Ask me then where the market is really heading.”

There are a few factors that could make HCL a serious next-generation contender. One is that the current LED space is maturing and the quality of products has become relatively equal across the lighting industry. That’s compelling manufacturers to look ahead for the next big thing, Hoelzenbein says.

Unlike OLEDs, which came with many hopeful promises but only won attention from a few key players and hasn’t really taken off yet as a viable commercial option, HCL appeals to companies and end-users in a different way. More widespread research lends credence to the idea that unsuitable artificial lighting causes adverse effects such as glare, headaches and sleep disturbance, and recent scientific findings have shown that there are many beneficial effects to be gained when proper lighting techniques are used, according the IHS report. That, coupled with the development of white-color and full-color tunable lamps and luminaires, has spurred more interest in HCL opportunities.

Finding the Sweet Spot on the Light Color Spectrum. (Source: IHS)Finding the Sweet Spot on the Light Color Spectrum. (Source: IHS)

Another driver is the Internet of Things. The push for machine-to-machine connectivity has put smart lighting in the center of the discussion about being a conductor in bridging different applications. As an extension of that, the proposed benefits of HCL–increased alertness and concentration with bluer light, greater relaxation with yellower light and alignment with natural human rhythms–could help users bundle up lighting with some soft metric gains, such as increased productivity and improved employee wellness and patient healing. Although smart lighting and HCL are currently seen as separate systems, IHS predicts that as these two markets grow, the systems will merge, and HCL will become part of the wider smart lighting market.

HCL also brings with the possibility of impacting many industries and applications, with the most noteworthy listed in the infobox below.

Likely Applications for Human Centric Lighting (Source: IHS)Likely Applications for Human Centric Lighting (Source: IHS)

Although there are few real-world examples to draw from, the educational and healthcare sectors are pioneers in HCL implementations. A school in Norway, for instance, has installed an HCL system based on RGB tunable LED luminaires. It has 285 luminaires to illuminate 57,000 square feet of floor-space, and the system runs on a DALI / KNX solution that combines automatic and manual control. Higher (bluer) color temperatures are automatically activated in the morning when classes begin, and lower (yellower) temperatures are active during breaks. Additionally, teachers can modify the light temperature to suit specific classes or tasks (Read more here: https://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/5794/lighting-up-learning).

Similarly, a hospital in Germany installed an HCL system in its geriatric unit. It uses white tunable LED luminaires mixing 3,000K and 6,500K light sources; approximately 70 luminaires illuminate the hallways, patient rooms and therapy rooms, according to the IHS report. The system, controlled with a DALI solution, uses sensors to synchronize the light temperature to the temperature of natural daylight throughout the day. Overall light levels, which take into account the decreasing light sensitivity of the aging human eye, are between 200-660 lux for hallway areas and 600-700 lux in patient rooms.

“The initial results from labs studies are positive, and that’s why people are latching onto the idea,” says Hoelzenbein. “We’ll see how the results come in as more real-world projects are implemented."

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