Over the past decades, light has diagnosed disease, enabled digital communication through fiber optics, and generated power through solar panels. Most recently, advances in solid-state lighting have transformed the most commonplace source of light: the lightbulb. The latest LED technology not only makes lighting more sustainable but also allows unprecedented control of light quality, colour, and intensity, as well as the inclusion of data and computation that was unimaginable with incandescent or fluorescent lighting. New technologies are moving these lightbulbs from passive providers of illumination to a central and vital part of our future homes and offices.
On Wednesday May 3, the Impact Centre’s Smart Sustainable Lighting Network hosted the Beyond Lighting Conference at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. The day included talks by leading academics and industry representatives who are on the forefront of understanding and transforming the function of visible light from simple illumination into new areas of human health, agriculture and digital communication.
Light and human biology:
Dr. Marie Dumont from the University of Montréal delivered the conference keynote on the influence of light on health and sleep. She highlighted our changing understanding of how our eyes interact with light, from the rods and cones that enable vision to the melanopsin ganglion cells that are responsible for an expanding number of light’s non-visible effects.
One aspect that has received increased attention is light’s impact on sleep. Work performed by Dr. Dumont and her colleagues has found that exposure to light as well as darkness is vital to regulating our circadian rhythm and resetting our internal clock. Regulated exposure can help reduce sleeplessness and improve alertness. This discovery is leading the charge to provide colour-tuned lighting on airline flights, computer screens, mobile devices and even overhead fixtures.
Light and horticulture:
Photosynthesis allows plants to grow, but we are only beginning to understand how light impacts plant development and growth. Talks by both academic and industry speakers provided an overview of the issue from both a scientific and industry perspective.
Greenhouse horticulture allows for year-round production of fruits and vegetables only available in specific seasons. It reduces the distance food must travel in order to reach grocery stores and can provide new opportunities for remote communities without regular access to fresh produce. The conference speakers envision greenhouses where crops are exposed to custom lighting programs that improve growth and nutrient content while reducing the impact of pests or disease. This will require new industry standards and a lot more research, but could revolutionize the way we grow food.
Light as the backbone for the connected building:
A common theme throughout the conference was the integration of luminaires into the nerve system of the connected building. Luminaires are everywhere in our buildings. Combined with inexpensive sensors and connected to information technology systems through wireless or Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, these lights become nodes in a building-wide information system. Not only can the lights themselves respond to sunlight conditions or occupancy, but that information can be sent back to other applications, enabling exciting new opportunities for building managers and businesses.
About the SSLNet
The Smart Sustainable Lighting Network (SSLNet) at the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre is Canada’s largest and most active lighting network working on applications of next-generation lighting technology.
The network brings together researchers, industries, end‐users and agencies, and fosters constant dialogues, knowledge sharing and facilitate collaborative projects.