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Bluetooth Mesh Smart Lighting Control System

Bluetooth Mesh Smart Lighting Control System

Context

Our client’s strategic direction is to become the most capable Lighting-as-a-Service (LaaS) provider of end-to-end Smart Building Management solutions globally. Their offering is reliable lighting control solutions based on the global Bluetooth Mesh standard.

 

These include lighting control firmware for lighting components and intuitive tools for commissioning and managing wireless lighting control systems.

 

It benefits the following lighting ecosystem players:

  • building owners and facility managers (transparency of lighting systems performance and efficiency)
  • component manufacturer (enabling new go to market strategy and revenue streams by “smartening” products)

 

Today, our client is a medium-size, stock noted US-based firm that is a key player in providing IoT enabling solutions in the lighting industry. However, it was not like this at the beginning of their transformation journey in 2015.

 

Our client started as a 20 employees startup that has been building a platform to manage lighting systems in commercial buildings. Their main goal was to create an ecosystem and wireless control technology for managing building automation and extend service offerings for various types of buildings.

 

The “ideal” solution was to enable smart building devices to communicate directly with each other in a distributed manner, excluding a central control point and being available on smartphones. It targeted professional lighting applications that were both suitable for retrofits and new construction.

 

The end-user benefits:

  • Monitor, visualize, and forecast the energy consumption,
  • Low-maintenance emergency lighting testing,
  • Flexible controls easy to reconfigure and readjust.

 

Being at a very early stage with secured investment funding, the client has meet three major roadblocks:

  • Limited capabilities in building, coordination and management of development teams,
  • Limited capacity in development, optimizing and pivoting of IoT solutions,
  • Limited resources to validate multiple approaches.

Process

To tackle the key mentioned challenges needCode started with building a lean firmware team that crafted the 1st Proof of Concept (PoC), however we encountered many obstacles on the way – our client competitors informed us that they are facing the same roadblocks, which resulted in emerging of a BLE Mesh Working within BLE SIG aiming at developing a new, global Bluetooth standard. Leveraging needCode’s commitment, our client took the lead in the group.

 

The development stages that we went through:

Peer-to-peer solution

Our client has been pursuing proprietary solutions initially, however after trying to commercialize the solution at multiple trade shows.

 

Customer feedback showed that the 1st solution was more of a gadget than an end-to-end Smart Building Automation solution.

 

The client decided to involve needCode in firmware development, while the internal team was responsible for hardware and mobile applications. The 1st iteration has been around creating functional devices which directly connected to a smartphone could control a lighting fixture, entry gate or a roller blind.

 

The project team cooperated with lighting manufacturers, jointly creating 1st prototypes. needCode focus was to make sure that the firmware is ready on a short notice for multiple industry-related fairs and customer demos.

 

Proprietary solutions

After finalizing the peer-to-peer solution, we jointly decided with our client to pivot to a proprietary, decentralized solution. This required further involvement from needCode’s side, and our CEO became the lead of the client’s firmware department.

 

The team was tasked to find new solutions that could replace ZigBee. We decided to use Bluetooth Low Energy non-standard, allowing multiple devices to communicate concurrently.

 

Our key prerequisite was that the solution needs to operate without a central coordinator and enable easy access via smartphones, creating a smart ecosystem instead of smart individual devices.

 

Looking at different available solutions and creating scenarios, we delved into Bluetooth Low Energy specification and developed the 1st Minimal Viable Product (MVP).

 

Together with the client internal team we developed a Proof of Concept (PoC), which allowed us to run the originally intended solution, which after initial commissioning allowed the switch to control four lighting fixtures without a central network hub. Despite the fact, we achieved functional requirements, there were many areas, such as security and privacy, that still required a lot of design and improvements.

 

All the planned requirements were implemented, however during the commercialization of the proprietary solutions the market was not willing to accept them due to the risk associated with the lack of a worldwide interoperability between manufacturers – it was decided to pivot to creating a global and centralized solution.

Bluetooth SIG and Mesh Standard

As we continuously monitor market trends and solutions, we noticed that other players in the industry such as Cambridge Silicon Radio and Nordic Semiconductors faced similar challenges while offering comparable solutions.

 

After a couple of months from this discovery, the Bluetooth Mesh Working Group within the Bluetooth Special Interest Group organization has been formed.

 

The group included Robin Heydon (author of the first book about Bluetooth Low Energy, in which he described how BLE works: Bluetooth Low Energy: The Developer’s Handbook); and Robert Hughes, who initially led the Bluetooth Mesh working group and is today chairman of the Bluetooth Board of Directors.

 

The group operated, apart from a few weekly calls, by meeting on-site with a six-week cadence around the world for face-to-face discussion and evaluating specification by testing implemented solutions.

 

We tried to test if what we had developed works between different manufacturing brands and whether the group understands the standards in the same way.

 

needCode was involved not only in implementation of frequently changing specifications, but also in assisting to overcome technical challenges in solution design.

 

The collaboration with both semiconductors and lighting industry leaders results in publication of well suited networking standard that met rigorous functional and security requirements.

 

Deep understanding of BLE Mesh standard and following any recent updates during the final phase of adoption resulted in the world’s first certified BLE Mesh stack for our customer. This enables our client to offer the latest and groundbreaking lighting management system complemented by mobile and cloud applications.

 

This success guarantees our client new revenue streams and investor goodwill, securing additional funding for development of the firm.

 

At this point of time, we were team consisted of:

  • 1x Team Leader (CEO),
  • 5 x Software Embedded Engineers,
  • 2 x Test Engineers,

while our customer grew to 80 employees.

Payoffs

The key achievements during our client engagement were:

  • Solid foundations for the rapidly growing internal development R&D structures,
  • Development of Bluetooth Mesh based solution, focusing on intelligent lighting for various building types,
  • Certified client software on the first day after the publication of the BLE Mesh standard that resulted in being first to market pioneers of BLE Mesh for our client,
  • Co-authored of following standards, adopted by Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors:

https://www.bluetooth.com/specifications/specs/mesh-profile-1-0
https://www.bluetooth.com/specifications/specs/mesh-model-1-0/

Find out more about BLE MESH

BLE Mesh as the best choice for commercial and residential buildings

 

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) became interesting for commercial and residential buildings for several reasons:

 

Wire-like performance: Advanced networking mechanism and extensive configuration options gives BLE Mesh solution enterprise-level of reliability.

 

Ubiquity: BLE is available in most modern smartphones, tablets, and other devices. This ubiquity allows for easy integration and control using existing devices, eliminating the need for additional specialized equipment.

 

Cost-Effective: BLE technology is cost-effective to implement. Many devices, such as sensors and beacons, are available at affordable prices, making it economically viable for widespread deployment in both commercial and residential settings.

 

Interoperability: BLE is known for its interoperability. Devices from different manufacturers can communicate seamlessly using standard Bluetooth profiles. This makes it easier for users to choose devices from various vendors without worrying about compatibility issues.

 

Scalability: BLE Mesh allows for the creation of large-scale networks where devices can communicate with each other, extending the coverage range without additional effort. This is especially beneficial in buildings where there may be a need for communication over longer distances or through obstacles.

 

Ease of Configuration: BLE devices are often designed for easy setup and configuration. This is important in building automation, where users may want to add or modify devices without requiring extensive technical knowledge.

 

Security Features: BLE ensures security features, such as encryption and authentication, which are crucial for ensuring the privacy and integrity of data in smart buildings. Security is a top priority in commercial and residential settings where sensitive information may be transmitted and stored.

 

Firmware Updates Over the Air (FOTA): BLE Mesh supports over-the-air firmware updates, allowing devices to be updated remotely. This feature is essential for maintaining the security and functionality of devices in smart buildings without requiring physical access.

 

In summary, BLE Mesh’s reliability, scalability, ubiquity, cost-effectiveness, interoperability, ease of configuration, security features, and support for over-the-air updates make it an attractive choice for building automation in both commercial and residential environments.

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