Exclusive Interview With Menko de Roos at Light+Building
This week at Light+Building your humble Editor had a chance to talk in depth with Menko de Roos, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, about the exciting times at Xicato and his challenges for the near future.
We started my visit with a tour of the ‘Shack on the Square‘. As soon as you walk in the door you immediately know that you are visiting a company with a difference. Clothed in white lab coats, the staff are welcoming, knowledgeable, friendly, open, and don’t take themselves too seriously. Although the atmosphere is fun Menko is quick to point out that lighting is a serious business. “Many lighting designers and end users jumped right in and started using LEDs for lots of applications. But there were many problems and a lot of rubbish products out there. That’s why we have always said that we will not compromise on three things; consistency, quality and reliability. We give our customers a 5-Year Colour Consistency and Lumen Maintenance Warranty. We don’t launch any products that can’t stand up to that.”
As we moved through the space, Menko removed an LED module from his labcoat. “You’re familiar with our XSM right? This is a great product” he said. “But now look at this!” He produced the new XIM module and the look of pride on his face was delightful. His passion and enthusiasm for lighting are self-evident. “We’ve made the module even smaller, smarter, more efficient and with great colour consistency.”
Internet of Lights
Much has been made in the press recently about the Internet of Things but Menko believes that integrating communications, control, sensors, software and a light source into a single module will enable the ‘Internet of Lights’. Here again, the hand slipped inside the pocket of his labcoat and out came the smallest array of sensors I have ever seen. There was a temperature sensor about the size of this full stop. And a camera that was not much bigger. Once only in the domain of NASA and spy agencies, these tiny sensors, when integrated into the LED’s, can form communities of lights. According to Menko “these LED’s and sensors can share information and respond to end users needs and preferences. Because we have shrunk the size of the LED, we’ve made room to add other things. Because of this, you don’t need a conventional driver anymore. All you need is a 48volt constant voltage power supply. The rest, the DC to DC convertor, processor, dimmer etc., is on the chip.”
To demonstrate this, Menko showed me some boxes with grass inside. Here you can see real time how LED temperature, light output and power can change as the module manages its own performance based on the criteria you set. For example, as the LED temperature rises during a very hot day, the power can automatically reduce to keep the LED within specification, thus ensuring colour consistency and lifetime.
With an ambient light sensor and occupancy sensor also on board, it’s easy to see how intelligent the module really could be. “Instead of having rows of luminaires situated by the window dim en masse during daylight hours, you could take clouds and shadows into account; eliminating bright spots and discomfort glare and keeping a uniform light level across the whole work surface.” Similarly, seasonal changes could alter light level, colour appearance and uniformity. As Menko pointed out, “individuals can override the system based on their own needs and preferences. Even different areas on the same desk can have different lighting depending on the task and the user.”
“Why 48volt?” I ask. “Because it is so common already” he replied.” There are lots of things like track systems already out there that use 48volt that we can connect to. Just imagine. Instead of a warehouse full of different drivers for different needs, you just need standard 48volt power supplies. No more redundancy! No more returns! You don’t have to worry anymore if you have the right driver and will it be future-proof.”
“Speaking of the future, what are your thoughts on silicon optics?” I asked him. “Far too expensive” he replied. “Glass is also expensive but there you get the benefits of economy of scale. You don’t get that with silicon.”
Above the bar, the centerpiece of the tent is a six meter chandelier crafted by Mike Stone Lighting that features three rows of illuminated, liquid filled flasks which replicate the spectral power distribution of the company’s lights. “Everything we do is about colour. Good colour. We want customers to achieve their vision, their design, without having to compromise. I think we are doing a good job in getting our message across.”
When I ask “what will be your biggest challenge this year?” he replied “The tough challenge this year: raising market expectations of what a light source can and should be”. I think he has a good point. Lighting has the potential to become so much more than we currently have. The inclusion of sensors should be able to automate, customize and simplify the lit environment. But sensors simply provide data. They can only provide intelligence if they can be used to change or affect something that will improve our visual world. And that takes education; both for lighting solutions providers and the users of those products. “We are getting a lot of positive response to what we are showing here and people do get it” he told me. “But it will take a lot more thought and planning when you design a new office building for example, so that you can specify what should happen when certain events or changes happen.”
“Where will your biggest growth come from?” Perhaps predictably, Menko replied “biggest growth will come from the realization that a light source can be much more than a simple functional provider of light and that it can be part of a connected, more valuable and manageable solution. The internet of lights.”
“So what could get in your way?” I ask him. He looked at me with a smile and said “other companies that are too slow. Like the driver companies. I don’t want to be in the driver business. But they don’t want to develop these smaller drivers with us.”
Perhaps they just want to protect their current business or wait and see if Menko’s ideas really take off. But from where your humble Editor was standing, it made a lot of sense.
Written by Julie Allen