Alf Helge Omre from Nordic Semiconductor
Mesh networking with Bluetooth has a bright future. By taking advantage of existing lighting systems you open the door to huge added value possibilities, both for your business and its customers.
While mesh networking is nothing new, it is only now starting to be adopted in industrial and commercial environments. Bluetooth Mesh offers a low power mesh network with the potential to deliver many and varied added value services.
Read More: Mesh networks in the smart home
A new type of mesh network
Bluetooth Mesh transforms Bluetooth from a typical point-to-point, star-based network into a true mesh networking topology. If you have a device within range of another device on such a network, the range of both devices is extended. Keep on adding nodes, and the range keeps extending.
It’s an exciting prospect for the smart home, as it enables users to combine Bluetooth-enabled devices from different vendors. But where it will offer tremendous value is in the sensor-dense environments of manufacturing plants and retail environments.
> Read more: Building a mesh network
Lighting is the perfect conduit
In a factory, airport or shopping mall, lighting is everywhere and most importantly, mains powered. For these reasons, I am sure the lighting industry will be the main ecosystem for measuring and transporting sensor data in commercial environments.
Once the network is in place, there are so many potential benefits for your business, both internal and external. Managing your infrastructure becomes easier, while customers can benefit too from the power of their smartphone communicating with the mesh network.
The most obvious benefits come with the lighting system itself. Using sensors connected to the Bluetooth mesh network, the lighting system could be programmed to dim lights when outside light is sufficient, or when there is no one present in a specific section of the building. To prevent the typical scenario of lights switching off in the middle of an important meeting, the network could monitor both movement and the presence of smartphones in the room.
Reducing infrastructure and maintenance costs
Modern office space is flexible and rooms are often reconfigured on the fly. While moving dividing walls and furniture is a hassle, reconfiguring lighting is a much more involved process generally requiring rewiring. With a mesh-enabled network, lighting could be configured remotely on a room-by-room basis. No electrician required!
Maintenance schedules can also benefit from a boost in efficiency thanks to predictive maintenance. To maintain a lighting system today is not done by one janitor changing light bulbs one at a time. It is more akin to a car’s annual service. By knowing the remaining time of a light, you could turn down the power to a specific light so it will last until the next service.
Lighting can help sell
Color temperature changes during an LEDs lifetime, and in some areas, such as high-end retail, color temperature is very important. Take diamonds, for example, which shine their brightest at a certain color temperature. A feedback loop in the lighting system can auto-adjust the color when the LED is aging.
While not of the same value, the same concept applies to fruit and vegetables in a supermarket, and with clothing. Have you ever bought an item of clothing that looked brilliant in the light of the shop, but not so good when you took it home?
A more comfortable, secure environment
Simple sensors measuring CO2 levels, humidity, temperature and so on can increase the responsiveness of your facilities management team, potentially fixing any issues before they are even noticed. Those same sensors could be used to detect movement, heat or smoke, and therefore act as a security alert or a fire alarm.
Read more: Develop IoT-products with ease
By placing asset tags on valuable items, the Bluetooth Mesh network can easily locate them, or notify security if a specific item is “on the move”.
A more interactive experience for customers
A Bluetooth Mesh network can be combined with beacon technology to add value to customers.
At their simplest, Bluetooth beacons are devices that broadcast a unique identifier that can be picked up by a receiver – usually a smartphone – which then performs some pre-defined action. The original beacons, such as the iBeacon from Apple, are one-way communicators and are therefore tied to a specific app.
Newer systems like Google’s Eddystone allow two-way communication, and much richer applications and interactions. It allows the real world to benefit from some of the advantages of the internet such as access to customers’ previous data.
Potential applications with these technologies are almost limitless, but some of the most popular include:
- Indoor mapping in shopping malls and airports
- “Go to your gate” messaging at airports
- Push messaging offering a free taste as people walk past a restaurant
- Discount offers based on previous purchases
Read more: Transforming retail with Bluetooth beacons
As a backbone for adding value to commercial environments, a Bluetooth-enabled mesh network built into an industrial lighting system is hard to beat. Every light fixture could even become a beacon, providing further benefits for retail environments.