We live in a world where many of the objects we interact with every day are rapidly becoming “smart.”  But what does that word really mean? How will it impact the built environment and influence the way it is designed?

Let’s define what “smart” means: smart devices are devices that have the ability to interact with other devices via a networked connection – wired or wireless. They often contain sensors that allow them to gather information about the environment around them, share that information with other devices or cloud-based servers, and take actions based on that information. The ever-expanding ecosystem of these devices is what is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

In our daily lives, we interact with an array of devices that are part of the Internet of Things, predicated on making our lives simpler; from the smart thermostat that knows when to turn the heat up before we get home by tracking daily patterns, to the speaker that listens for our commands for music and shopping, on to our wrist watches that track our movements and health.

These home devices only make up a small part of the ecosystem of smart devices, much larger is the array of networked devices that run the world around us. Smart devices are constantly gathering and sharing data that is used to manage the systems around us, such as traffic systems, energy systems, and manufacturing processes. Our daily lives are an ongoing series of contacts with these systems, which have developed to the point where we as people make decisions along with these systems. As we become part of the greater system, known as the Internet of Everything (IoE), the complex network of devices, people and decisions will define the next generation of the internet.

These systems are rapidly becoming important to the built environment as well, where the gathering and analysis of environmental and occupancy data can drive efficiencies in space utilization, energy management, wayfinding, and asset tracking.

Examples of IoT systems in the built environment include retail stores that provide guidance directly to the product you wish to purchase via smart phones apps that are utilizing Bluetooth beacons for wayfinding, hospitals that can manage the location of equipment and staff through RFID tags, or warehouses that manage the location and activity of forklifts as they move through the space. However, for these systems be effective, they must be granular in their distribution of smart devices and sensors to gather data within a building or site, and this is where the intersection of IoT and lighting occurs.

Lighting is one of the main building-wide systems that will occur in every space of a building. For productivity and safety, every space will have a light fixture of some type. Combine this granularity in the building with the rapid evolution of lighting from legacy sources (fluorescent, incandescent), to solid state source LED sources, and the lighting system becomes a perfect host for the sensors that drive a building wide IoT system.

Through sensor-enabled luminaires distributed within a building, the owners and tenants are presented with the opportunity to gather and utilize a range of data streams that can be used in the management of the base building and individual tenant spaces. By utilizing enabled luminaires, the owner may also be able to eliminate the need for freestanding sensors, such as Bluetooth beacons, from the space.

However, not all IOT systems are capable of gathering the same array of data streams.  As such, the owner or tenant implementing an IoT plan should first research what data they would like to utilize and to what end. From there, the process of matching those data stream desires with the correct system to gather them begins, leading to the vetting of manufacturers, and the subsequent specification and integration of IoT sensors and equipment within the luminaires and space.

When properly envisioned, designed and executed, an IoT system can provide new insights into the operation, use and management of our built environments, both indoors and out, for the benefit of stakeholders, owners, tenants, employees, and visitors.