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In episode 19, we are joined by Hans Nikol, who is VP, Head of IoT at Signify -the World Leader in Lighting!

Hans has over two decades of expertise within the realms of lighting technology, established as a major driver toward innovation within this space.

We explore the fascinating world of Connected Lighting, discover:

  • Hans’ background in lighting, and how Signify is leading the current Lighting Industry – 00:45 – 02:29
  • A road map in the emergence of modern Lighting – 02:29 – 05:30
  • The benefits of LED Lighting on energy consumption and the environment – 05:30-06:54
  • What is Light-Fidelity and will it replace Wi-Fi connectivity? – 06:54 – 08:52
  • How can Lighting take Smart Home adoption forward? – 08:52 – 10:17
  • Why Signify is leveraging Zigbee as a Network standard – 10:25 – 14:52 </li?
  • How is Connected Lighting making our planet more sustainable (Case study- Food waste) – 14:52 – 17:44
  • How is UV-C Lighting helping us improve health and safety and how can it help sanitisation post-pandemic? 17:44 – 24:40
  • What can we expect to see in the future for Connected Lighting? – 24:04- 26:57

Episode Transcript

Tom White
Welcome to the IoT podcast Show. Today I am joined by Hans Nikol. Hans is both the Vice President, Head of Open Innovation and the Head of IoT Platform at Signify, formerly known as Philips Lighting, Signify is a world leader in lighting. Hans has over two decades of experience within lighting technology, and is recognised as a real thought leader within this space. Hans, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Hans Nikol
Thank you very much for having me.

Tom White
You’re very welcome. For our listeners, then Hans, who maybe aren’t aware of Signify or of course, Philips Lighting. Could you just explain a little bit about your background within the business and your knowledge within lighting technology?

Hans Nikol
Sure. So first, you know, maybe my background, I’m a chemist, actually, by background. I joined Philips Lighting in 95. So quite a while back. And, you know, that was a world when lighting was actually the industry was quite different. There were three, you know, large lighting companies, General Electric, Philips, and Osram, you know, then by then owned by Siemens.

Hans Nikol
Today, there’s really only one large lighting company left, that’s us, and that company is global. So we really operate in all major geographies. All the other lighting companies from the past, you know, they have veered off to different directions, you know, if you if you follow them. And this is because the lighting industry in these last two, more than two decades has really undergone quite a dramatic change, I would say at least two major waves that battle that industry and, you know, really changed the direction forever, you could say.

Hans Nikol
The first wave that started in the early 2000s was LED lighting. And it took us probably till 2015, almost 2020 for it to have its full impact. And the second wave that we started maybe five to seven, eight years ago is connected lighting. And I’ll talk about that a little bit later.

Tom White
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you very much for the introduction. I think, just just when you talk about LED lighting there, you know, as a, if I take my sort of IoT professional cap off there’s still this convergence of people moving to LED lighting at home, right, isn’t there. There is still a lot of people that are switching bulbs are switching their actual lighting infrastructure. So it seems as though this approach is is a really wide scale approach, and can probably take some time for the average person to adopt. Would you say that was correct?

Hans Nikol
That’s correct. You know, when you, you know, when you started ESET, more than 20 years ago, it was a scientific curiosity. And obviously, for young researchers like myself, it was wonderful to get immersed into that, because the one hand, you know, we changed from really having a light bulb, the old incandescent bulb. There was, in essence a vacuum that was under a wire that we hit, that we heated up to quite high temperature to offset the semiconductor component. And that component goes covered with what we call a phosphor, so a material that makes out of blue light, white light, in essence.

Hans Nikol
And so that change already from, you know, an industry that was basically built on vacuum tubes more than 100 years ago from Edison, you’re really starting to a semiconductor industry, that’s really a fundamental impact. And just like you saw with silicon right, where we are today, the beneficiaries of having computers everywhere, it’s smartphones, so was lighting industry, you know, really rocked in its foundation by all these moving from tubes to semiconductor components.

Hans Nikol
And you know, today you know, in the beginning it took quite a while to educate the market that such a component would have such a benefit. But, I would say from probably 2008 onwards, you know, the journey was just a straight line to back then it was penetration was literally 0% in 2008. And today I think our last quarter we reported way above 80% of what we ship is LED lighting, so, the market penetration is completely there. And, you know, funny enough, back then in 2008, our CEO of at that time really predicted in about 10 years, we will go from zero to literally 80% shipments and that really happened, fascinating to see.

Tom White
Yeah, absolutely. Which is that, which is a great thing in terms of energy consumption of various benefits that it has. Right? You touched on it in the original answer. But I think for most of our listeners, and what I’m keen to really understand, it’s just the concept of connected lighting and what that means, Signify being a world leader in this, could you just explain it in as simplest terms, what that actually means for the average consumer?

Hans Nikol
Before I do that if you you don’t mind, because you touched on energy consumption, this will be actually a good for, I think, also our listeners to understand, you know, obviously, having the benefit of LED lighting also came with a huge benefit for a global reduction of energy consumption. And the numbers are really staggering.

Hans Nikol
I mean, before led was there in 2008 or so 19% of the world energy, electricity consumption, you know, was for lighting. In 2018, I believe that’s the last time we did a bit an estimate, we already back to 13%. And it’s projected by 2030, we are down to 8%. So from 19, to eight, this is hundreds and hundreds of coal power plants that don’t have to be fired up anymore. Because you know, all of a sudden, that component in the market consumes a lot less energy. So I think I have to say, personally, if you ask me, what I’m really proud of is that, you know, this industry could contribute so much to reducing, you know, the carbon footprint.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s, it is staggering, isn’t it. And if you think about it, you know, that the changes is fundamental in it. And it’s quite heartwarming to know that 80% of the shipments, as you mentioned, are now LED based, which is significant compared to where it would have been a decade ago. So, just on that note, then so so a lot of what you’re doing these days, are based around connected lighting, and and also sort of light-fidelity, could you just explain what that means? hands?

Hans Nikol
Yes. So I said, you know, LED is basically beyond us. Now, connected lighting, and new applications of light, is now basically the next journey we are on. So one of these applications, indeed, light fidelity that you mentioned, is really an absolutely fascinating one, because what it means is you can really communicate with light. And, you know, our CEO has really put a stake in the ground to say that Signify should be a company to explore that vision of having lighting really communicate, you know, to people in the end of the day.

Hans Nikol
So what is it all about? Well, you know, you have light usually on the ceiling, in a good distance, you know, and so it is also a good means of using it as a communication network. So and you need indeed, as you mentioned before, you first need to connect these lights. And then what you can do is you can, you know, overlay a frequency that can be picked up by a receiver. And then between the frequency of the light that emits and the receiver, let’s say, your smartphone, you know, you can start communicating.

Hans Nikol
And it’s fascinating in a way, because of course, today, that’s Wi Fi and theres 4g and 5g using RF frequencies, but lighting has a much broader spectrum, in principle, right to be used. So we believe moving forward that, you know, life fi or light fidelity has a role to play. It won’t substitute, obviously, the existing communication protocols, but it might augment them in a very good way.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s a lot of talk around that at the moment, and clearly quite pioneering, isn’t it in terms of the capabilities? What does it mean, for the average consumer, the person at home? What, what does this potential technology mean for them? How can they use that to further enrich their lives, because at the moment, a lot of people that have smart homes, they use various connected devices that they’re able to talk to and control their lights, etc. But how can they take that forward perhaps?

Hans Nikol
Well, if we stay on the, on this Li-Fi side, you know, what we see is, first, we believe, you know, the communication will start in special applications. Like is almost always the case. You know, one of the clear advantages of Li-Fi is security. So if you imagine today, you know, if you’re in your home with Wi Fi, or in an apartment building, you know, your neighbour can still see your Wi Fi, you know, network in his neighbouring apartment.

Hans Nikol
Now, if you haven’t secured it, well with a password or by other means, then you know, there’s no easy way of tapping it. And while you know, maybe for private use, that is a nuisance. Certainly for professional applications is often you know, a lifeline to be ever secure network and Li-Fi because you know, light is really shielded by the walls. You know, you really secure it physically extremely well. So we believe that that feature is one that, you know, will be quite beneficial initially, maybe for professional users, but eventually also for consumers.

Tom White
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Fantastic. I’d love to see the developments that in the future. One of the key technologies that is in use in IoT in general, and a lot of devices use it is ZigBee. And obviously, that the whole mesh networking side of ZigBee, and what what it can what it can do? Can you talk a little bit about the use of ZigBee, within some of the products that Signify is developing and why as a standard it is used in house?

Hans Nikol
I think that’s a great question in so far that, you know, it really points to the beginning of the journey, when we saw, you know, LED lighting is, is going its way, and now we think about connectivity, then the question becomes what protocol can I use. You know, at the time, and we could again, go back to 2012, maybe 2011, certainly, there was Wi Fi, but by itself, you know, those chips at the time they would use a lot of energy. So, you know, it kind of defeats the purpose, you save all this energy with LED lighting, and then you know, you use it up again, by making it connected with Wi Fi. So we were looking again, that’s at the time, at a protocol that was a lot more, you know, frugal in its resources, and ZigBee turned out to be an excellent protocol for that.

Hans Nikol
So on the one hand, it said it was not Wi Fi, meaning, you know, you could deploy a ZigBee network next to Wi-Fi without much interference. And obviously, it was a lot more frugal in its resources. And energy consumption again, at the time, in the meantime, iPhone also has, of course, moved on to be a lot more energy efficient. But so that’s where we started this journey, and really equip, you know, consumer lighting, and also professional lighting with ZigBee chips. And not only is the protocol itself, pretty well maintained. Also, you mentioned, mesh networking means you know, every lightning node, let’s say your home will, you know, basically be used to proliferate the network to its neighbours.

Hans Nikol
So that means with a few nodes, or a few light bulbs in your home, you know, you have a really stable ZigBee network, I think this is probably well, best embodied if you use a Philips Hue, which I think many of our listeners, I would assume know, which is I think, today, probably one of the most prominent connected lighting products in the market that uses ZigBee network. And, you know, if I have a lot of hue myself at home, about if you put it in your hallway or in your kitchen, and then you know, you need a bridge, because ZigBee is then basically produced by that hue bridge, and you really create a very stable network.

Hans Nikol
So that is I have to say, you know, whenever I switch the light on or use my app, or you know, you can calculate now with Alexa, it just works, I have to say, that’s the nice thing, because you know, it is really a separate entity that’s just devoted and dedicated to lighting. So I think this is a great feature, that is certainly very good, would assume beneficial for a home user. But you can also imagine, we also rolled it out in professional office environments, you know, in hotels, and so on, where you know, it’s even more mandatory, right, that the light goes on when you want it to go on, or, you know, you dim when it has to dim at this very moment. So stability, and let’s say the independence of external influences is a strong feature of ZigBee mesh network.

Tom White
Yeah, absolutely. I think I think you’re right, you know, we’ve got to the point now, where without being able to communicate with you know, devices like Alexa and other competing products, that would really wouldn’t be taking a backward step and mesh networking, it’s got to the point with adaptive WiFi, that you know, really there shouldn’t be dead spots in the house anymore.

Tom White
And that combined with adoption of high speed fibre internet to many homes, and seeing speeds now readily accessible, you know, 900 megabits and more to the to the consumer, which five years ago would be very different to getting difficult to get as a business let alone on a leased line or something coming into the premises. It’s really evolved where this is because of course, with a mesh, you may lose slight throughput as you as you connect more nodes and what have you. But that combination of having that highest speed coming in to the house, combined with all these devices connected, I think I think it’s absolutely fantastic.

Tom White
We spoke a little bit earlier about energy usage, and I know we had a short conversation before we started filming about some some previous podcasts and, and really waste, right? And how and how certain companies are producing IoT solutions to eliminate waste, and I think this is something that you wanted to touch on, right, specifically, with, with how this technology and how the involvement here could help. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Hans Nikol
Yeah, so obviously, again, you know, the starting point is, you know, that we can avoid, first of all, a lot of electricity consumption. Yes, our company has really taken on, also that we, as a company become carbon neutral. And since last September, actually one of the very few companies completely carbon neutral already. But obviously, it’s one thing you know, as a company to be carbon neutral. But also the other one is we want to make impact with our products. And I think that’s indeed what you and I talked about before.

Hans Nikol
And one, I think, good example is, if you take, for example, to food production, right, just off, take vegetables, you know, that you buy the groceries every day, you know, from the where they are produced to until you know, they land on your table, the average waist is 40%. That is really, if you look at, you know, different reports, you know, you always find that kind of number back, and that’s a tremendous amount of waste, right, from where you grow to where you eat it.

Hans Nikol
And, you know, one of the trends is certainly to produce also, food closer to home, basically, sometimes even in the supermarkets. You know, we call this like vertical farming, there are many startups in that area, and we connect to a lot of them, there’s a lot of activity, actually, in the UK, which is quite exciting. And, you know, lighting, again, has a strong contribution there, because assume you grow vegetables in, in a warehouse, or you know, directly almost in the supermarket, you need lighting.

Hans Nikol
And we have a large division on what we call horticulture lighting, where we bring the right light to the vegetables to grow under almost ideal conditions. And, you know, while that in itself is, you know, already, because that lighting is also very energy savvy, is a nice thing that, you know, we avoid indirectly then by doing so all this waste of transport.

Tom White
Yeah, I mean, it’s fantastic. Some of the initiatives that you’ve talked about some companies in the UK, we know of some we work with some who are involved with vertical farming. And the sheer amount that can be produced without requiring so much land is is really phenomenal. But of course, a lot of this hinges upon the correct lighting the correct, you know, photosynthesis that needs to be taken place during, you know, the crop cycle, right.

Tom White
So, yeah, it’s very interesting, something I wanted to touch on as well. Is obviously the pandemic which has been quite a driver for new technologies in general. And it’s really kind of changed everything and how people perceive technology, use technology, and how we interact with it. And one of the things that I’m curious about is UV-C lighting actually, and how that can be deployed and what that can be done post pandemic as well, in terms of, you know, both within a health and safety point of view, but other use cases. And I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that Hans?

Hans Nikol
No, sure. First, let me say, obviously, we discussed just before this podcast, right, that the pandemic has, I think it does all extremely hard, right. And I have to say, I’m also in essence, proud that, you know, we as a company, we tried to first put the, you know, the life of our employees as number one priority, and the security and safety. But obviously beyond that, also try to contribute right to, you know, reduce the impact and the spread of the pandemic. And as you say, indeed, you know, UV lighting for disinfection is a powerful contributor to simply reduce, you know, viral, spread in, you know, places where we all congregate or, you know, get together.

Hans Nikol
And so, we looked at this space, obviously, since early last year, and see, you know, where could we make an impact, and one is, you know, where you could basically say, I directly illuminate surfaces to disinfect, but then usually, because it’s UVC, light, you know, people must not be present. So, you can do this with the absence of people. And there are quite a number of products that we support, like robots, etc, that will, you know, go into cleaning cycles, let’s say in hospitals or in hotels or, you know, many places when people are not present. And then, you know, you simply disinfect, you know, spaces or the surfaces.

Hans Nikol
And the other part is, you know, can we find a solution when people are present. And so there’s one that we currently, you know, start installing, which is called upper air disinfection, where you You have basically what we call a luminaire, on the ceiling that, you know, radiates UV-C light. And you know, by air convection, the air that might contain a virus, you know, moves up and is disinfected in a very short time, and then, you know, falls down again. And then you basically over time with actually a fairly short time you get to clean air, we have actually shown in a test with Boston University that, you know the COVID, the real COVID virus can be disinfected in seconds, actually, by UV-C light of a certain dose.

Hans Nikol
Now, if you translate that as said, you know, into real applications, that means, you know, that if you have a robot disinfecting surfaces, or what I mentioned, without the air, you know, you can disinfect a room, you know, to a very high level, within minutes, sometimes 15 minutes or so, if you have a room, you know, this is quite substantial.

Hans Nikol
Now, you mentioned also, obviously, you have the current pandemic, too many customers that we have talked, they already looked beyond and say, you know, while hopefully with vaccination, you may not get over it, but they say, if you have learned one thing, we need to secure our buildings, we need to secure our environment, and make it safe for potential future threats. So I think this is a portfolio that we believe, you know, will be there to stay.

Tom White
I mean, it’s, it’s really staggering, isn’t it? Because, you know, one of the last things I was going to talk to you about is the future of lighting industry. But I think we’re touching on this now, right? The fact that, you know, UV lighting can, combined with a smart building approach, and when we talk about smart buildings, everything from utilities, heating, lighting, of course, to air flow, and then that’s really interesting, the fact that you can use convection based systems to take air, pull it through a UV sanitization process, and reduce again, from a consumption point of view the renewables liquids and, and surface cleaners and what have you, which are, clearly have an associated cost. And, and do it in a clean and less cluttered way.

Tom White
And certainly, that must be something that businesses would be looking to do and try and implement for the well being and security of their staff moving forward. I mean, it’s not touching on the fact that, you know, there’s going to be more home working in the future and what have you. But I think it’s widely considered now that businesses will have a base, albeit people will come and go as they please. But it’s very interesting to know that technology, is there. And do you see that as something that’s going to be taken shape pretty soon and a lot more larger organisations would be looking for systems like this? is it happening today Hans?

Hans Nikol
Yeah, so one, maybe application that, you know, we all enjoy ready today is your drinking water? Because, and even the wastewater because that is already treated today, in many places with UV lighting, you know, to get the germs out. But you know, as you said, now moving to spaces, it’s obviously a slow process, because you can’t imagine you need a lot of certification by a government bodies, you know, standardisation.

Hans Nikol
So it’s that typical process, you know, to get it eventually to building codes. But, you know, we see quite some bold first customers that say, look, I want to go beyond that, and just, you know, get started. And, you know, we have a number of examples for supermarkets that say, you know, let’s just try it out, you know, see how it works and see the measurable effect. And so this is where we are now, and not only as Signify but, you know, obviously our, you know, other colleagues in the lighting industry and in the adjacent industries to really penetrate that market on all these angles basically, off, you know, where disinfection can be applied.

Tom White
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve said it before on this show, but it’s a phrase that I’ve used a lot, but we’ve been difficulty lies opportunity, right? And I don’t mean that just in a commercial sense, I mean, that in a true well being, health and safety perspective, you know for good. And I’m a big fan of tech for good in general in the fact that we can create solutions that enrich people’s lives and secure them against vulnerabilities be that may you know, a pandemic or other aspects. In your opinion Hans and of course, you know, I don’t want you to reveal too many trade secrets of course, I’m sure you can’t. But what can we expect to see in the future in terms of lighting technology? Aside, obviously, of UV tech used to to sanitise air, is there anything that’s on the horizon at the moment that perhaps can be really interesting for our listeners to hear about?

Hans Nikol
Well I would say, for me, frankly, next to what the examples we have talked is really, if you just forward and see what, you know, connected lighting can do into the future, you know, if you imagine that you have these powerful sensors that are powered by, it can be powered by connected lighting. And what they enable downstream, you know, the data that can be collected, and then can be combined with data from other sources. I think that is something where I personally see a lot of very beneficial innovation coming along, and we have just started.

Hans Nikol
So if you look at the penetration of, you know, where we are today, in any of these spaces, smart city, industry 4.0, you know, there’s so much to be gained by simply improving processes, you know, indoor, outdoor, by having sensors around. Obviously, we have to be, you know, have to have high standards on security, which we do. But, you know, the best is yet to come.

Tom White
Yeah, absolutely. Hans, it’s been a real pleasure to have you on the show today. Thank you ever so much. I know your time is super precious. And it’s been really insightful.

Tom White
I’m really keen to see what happens in the future of lightning technology and certain products that may come out from the technology that you guys are developing at the moment in the researching. So perhaps in the future, you know, in a year or twos time, it would be lovely to get you back on the show and start to talk about where things are at that point. But thank you so much for your time.

Hans Nikol
Thank you for having me. And thank you for your time as well.

Tom White
You’re welcome.

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