35 minutes | Jan 18th 2018

Episode 13: Designing A Smart Lighting Plan: Voice Control, Presence Detection, & Light Switches

The most influential companies in lighting are reimagining one of the most fundamental features of our homes: the light switch. Will the smart home of the future understand our lighting needs without us needing to flip a switch? In the fourth episode of a 7-part series on the future of the smart home, Andrew explores whether there’s a place for light switches in the future of smart lighting and why the winner of the space is far from obvious. Interviewees Episode Excerpt Is The Light Switch Doomed? What are the benefits of having your home's lights on the network? The most obvious use case is that, when you’re away from home, you can turn your lights on or off. But you can also imagine how a really smart system knows that, when you get into bed, it should turn off the lights in the rest of your house. Or you can imagine how, in a security context, if a sensor on the outside of your house notices suspicious movement, it might turn on the lights to mimic your presence. In the case of smart lighting, the fight for supremacy won’t simply be a function of user interface or distribution. Instead, the winner in smart lighting actually might be based on which company possesses the right vision determining how your entire lighting system is set up. Today, you walk into a room, and if you want the lights on, you’ll flick a switch on the wall. What is the ideal way that this should work in a smart home? Would you find it easier to take out your phone, open an app, and turn on the light from there? Maybe not, if you’re walking into the room and you have to dig your phone out of your pocket. More likely, if you’re sitting on the couch and too lazy to get up, that could be a particularly useful instance where you might want to tell your Amazon Echo: “Alexa, turn on the lights.” What if the room just knew you were in it and turned on the lights for you? Could we ever get to a place where there would be no light switch in the wall and the home would simply understand our intentions before we articulated them? Neil Orchowski & Lutron If you want to retrofit your lights by connecting them to the network, it would seem logical to do this by replacing the box that contains your light switch to include some receiver and transmitter within the switch so that you can control the switch remotely. The market leader in light switches and dimmers in the United States is a company called Lutron. Neil Orchowski is Lutron’s Product Development Manager for Strategic Alliances. Caséta Wireless is the name of their lighting control product line. When I spoke with Neil, I wanted to understand all the different components of Caséta Wireless and what the integration with an existing lighting system would look like. Neil Orchowski: “Caséta consists of a few basic building blocks. . . . We have dimmers, we have switches, they all communicate wirelessly through what Lutron calls our ‘Clear Connect wireless technology.’ That would be like WiFi or Bluetooth or Zigbee or Z-Wave.” Zigbee and Z-Wave are wireless communication protocols that are similar to WiFi and Bluetooth, except that these transmitters and receivers require very little power. Neil Orchowski: “From there, you start your smart home with Caséta with what we call our Pico Wireless Control, which is a wireless remote control that happens to also mount to the wall inside that same wall plate that you might use for your dimmer. If you want to add a three-way location for controlling your lights from anywhere else in the room or in the home, you add this Pico to the wall, put a wall plate around it, and now you've created a smart three-way application that didn't require a calling an electrician, pulling wires, cutting drywall, etc. For some people, that's smart.” Me: “The way that works is, if I did not have a third switch somewhere else, it's essentially a relay. . . . Is that right?