This week brings the eleventh annual Solid-State Lighting R&D Workshop, an industry-wide conclave that helps to shape priorities for the Department of Energy’s SSL research program. I was honored to be invited to kick off the festivities with a talk on how “downstream” innovations – in sensing, networking, and control – are helping to accelerate LED adoption by making lighting more intelligent.

It’s been interesting to watch the focus of the DoE’s program evolve over time. Five years ago, when Digital Lumens was in its very earliest stages, everyone was talking about the LED price/performance curve – how do we make LEDs brighter and cheaper in order to compete with incumbent technologies? Today, the conversation is starting to shift in a profound way, and a quick glance at the DoE’s own data shows why.

Talk after talk, the common refrain is “we are getting close to the practical limits.” We have made so much progress in efficiency and cost that what’s left is a matter of squeezing a few percent here and a few percent there. So what comes next? How do we continue to push the LED revolution forward?

A broad consensus is emerging here that intelligent, connected lighting will be the next big area of innovation. As we continue to approach the practical limits of device efficiency and cost, it is software, built on top of commodity hardware,that will drive the next wave of lighting market disruption. Whether it’s new business models built to deliver light as a service, biophilic lighting that can help improve our quality of sleep, or simply the radical energy efficiency that next-generation intelligent systems can deliver, it is clear that the near future of LED lighting is about a lot more than just making photons.