Interviews + Opinion, Products + Technology

Weighing Into The Lighting Innovation Debate

A debate has recently emerged between industry thought leaders, about whether or not innovation has significantly slowed in the lighting industry. On one side, industry thought-leaders Mark Lien and Randy Reid argue innovation has slowed in this video interview during Light+Building. On the other side, thought-leader Carrie Meadows at LEDs Magazine argues that innovation hasn’t slowed, but rather needs to be redefined, in her opinion piece, here.

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I strongly agree with Ms. Meadows. Massive LED chip performance gains have ended, so innovation has simply changed directions…….in many directions. Rather than repeat Ms. Meadows arguments, here are some examples of how innovation has shifted from chip performance to lamp and luminaire performance, form factors, and convergence features:

Which side of this debate do you fall on? Have I neglected to list other important lighting innovation directions? Comment below.

  • Mark Lien October 25, 2022, 12:08 PM

    Hi David-Thanks for prompting further discussion about lighting innovation. Your perspective has always proven valuable. To clarify, I said there was innovation in design with luminaires finally utilizing the unique nature of LEDs rather than just using the previous luminaire forms. There was also innovation from fusion with other trades, the convergence you noted, but the innovation comes from fusing an advancing technology with lighting not progress from the lighting technology. There is also incremental improvement, which has been the business model for shareholder-based lighting companies for decades.

    You cite nine innovations. Three of these are part of the trend toward miniaturization. It is a sequential process for digital technologies that after prices fall, products get smaller. This looks good for sustainability but also using less material can be a profitable move. It will allow LEDs to become part of other products and ultimately integrate into the electrical infrastructure of our built environment. These changes are incremental.

    The iPhone 14 is an incremental improvement over 13 but Apple also has very innovative projects in their pipeline with combination AR/VR glasses and a rumored Apple EV in their labs. Our industry has incremental progress but no similar significant innovation in the pipeline and very little lighting research occurring. Graphene and quantum dots have been in my presentations for over twelve years and are slowly being used as new materials in our industry. Carbon fiber is another interesting new material for luminaires in corrosive environments. These advancements come from other industries that have application for lighting too. The inventors of graphene won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 but lighting was not their focus.

    We agree that there is innovation in controls but not from the lighting technology. Our industry has talked about controls but not led. Controls submissions to the IES Progress Report for ‘significant advancement to the art & science of lighting’ have averaged 14 per year for the past decade with fewer than half of those being accepted into the report. Most of the control innovation is coming from other industries that want to control the lighting along with other disparate devices.

    Amber LEDs are not new nor are LED filaments. When I first showed LED filament lamps to the engineers at OSRAM a decade ago they thought it a gimmick with limited application. Multi-channel tunable lamps and luminaires are progressing incrementally. We do not have EV chargers in street lighting poles. Our poles have been hijacked and are now digital platforms. Adding an EV charger to them is a nice incremental advancement but not an advancement in lighting technology nor did the lighting have anything to do with it other than sharing a location that powers both.

    So we agree that our industry has innovation. My point is that it comes from design and fusion with other progressive materials and trades. There have been innovative products shown at Lightfair that never were produced due to their perceived inability to return their investment quickly enough to satisfy shareholders. Our risk averse industry has survived on incremental advancements that provide a short-term market advantage without investing in future technologies that could expand our industry and influence others. Now that LEDs are commoditized and profits have fallen, is it too late?

    Thanks for sparking the conversation David and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

  • Steven Rosen October 31, 2022, 8:56 AM


    In, ahem, light, of a global desire for a sustainable and toxin-free world–one of the biggest challenges facing the lighting industry is innovating component and luminaire design/construction so that the products we use have a more positive cradle-to-grave scenario.

    To quote the universal declaration of materials rights:
    “Earth is the only rightful owner of all raw materials and all matter and there is only one ‘permanent member’ who has a real right of veto: Nature.”

    To be fair, lighting is a subset of the behemoth electronics industry. And what is good and right for we lighting people should be applied to anything that requires an electrical supply to operate. Nevertheless, until we turn our sights on developing lighting gear that does not ultimately poison our planet, we should not rest.

    • Suelynn Shiller November 4, 2022, 2:54 PM

      Thanks Steven! We appreciate your comments.

  • Peter Brown October 31, 2022, 9:05 AM

    Perhaps another way to look at this is putting innovation into two groups:
    Industry and marketplace.
    Industry innovation in essence stays in house; the other scales up and succeeds in the marketplace.
    Incremental innovation costs less to develop; and provides incremental profits. Disruptive innovation costs much more to develop (materials and time); profits are much greater.

  • Kevin WIllmorth November 4, 2022, 1:58 PM

    From the perspective of a cranky old guy….

    The lighting industry spends too much time trying to fit new technology and wonderful gadgetry into its sales pitches, and too little time solving issues of real need. It is, and has been for some time, an industry filled with engineers with product ideas, looking for a market.

    The next level of the the me-too copy cat and unimaginative duplicators, who only see the market through the eyes of what others are doing. There is no innovation there, unless someone else moves first. The number of first movers has diminished steadily over the last 20 years, so lots of copies of the same old stuff, and little real new product of added value to the market. Just how many mini-downlights, cove lights, linear slots, pedants, rings, and rails does this industry really need?

    Currently, the issue of brightness and glare from slim lines and little dots of light has become chronic and objectionable. Yet, most new products ares still pounding the lumen-per-watt drum, which favors glare bombs and minimal optical control. Smaller means brighter and more glaring, so the push for smaller is not necessary or even desirable, unless accompanied by optical innovation to resolve the brightness and contrast issues.

    Outdoor lighting zealots are now barking about the need for Amber street lighting – ignoring the fact that when that was the case with HPS and LPS, the public reaction was so bad, it spawned a white light conversion movement that the early LED producers jumped into with both feet. Now, they are being told to be the solution for the white light they provided as a solution for the new demand for amber mono-spectral street lighting? Yet, even then, the confusion between amber light, and wildlife amber (far more red), which is causing many to believe that an orange glowing LED is good for wildlife – when it is really no better than warm white, as it still generates plenty of light in the eyes of effected critters.

    The emergence of the IoT, and mess of controls platforms are not innovation, they are just manufacturers attempting to gather data from luminaires to sell (for fun and profit), and producers hoping to corner the market with proprietary infrastructure. The real need is for a uniform controls architecture that all controls systems comply with – but lighting cannot seem to have that conversation after 30 years, let alone in the SSL era.

    The movement toward imports for product is now biting the industry in the tail with supply side shortages and quality issues. Yet, there is little hope that this will change, as the profits from turn and burn imports and exploited labor is just too good, and the ability to exclude domestic provider from competing is too strong.

    The real innovation in lighting needed is to get past all the malarkey that is hovering around every marketing campaign, and start solving real demand and needs. Lots of noise around lighting qualities in terms of color, with almost no real change in the market itself, beyond the spec of 90CRI becoming the new baseline?

    White tuning is cute in applications where it makes sense and the users will appreciate it in some way. As a means for adjusting our biorhythms throughout the day, it’s snake oil. That takes a lot more than diddling with CCTs.

    So, bottom line? If we are going to explore innovation, let’s first explore deficiencies in the market, from optics, brightness, glare, controls integration with intuitive UI that is not driven by what phone you own, and substantially reducing the proliferation of outdoor lighting outright – through controls, reducing illuminance levels, greater optical control, and learning to just say no and leave parts of the earth unlighted for the health of us all.

    If this can be enabled by carbon nano-tech graphene with a layer of 3D printed production, wrapped in string lights made from rare earth materials mined in Peru, great. Otherwise, the tech we have now is actually good, it is just not being well deployed.

    • Suelynn Shiller November 4, 2022, 2:52 PM

      Thanks Kevin for your thoughtful comments and for being a LightNOW reader!


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