Inside a laboratory at Hewlett-Packard‘s Palo Alto campus, the lighting system that keeps the researchers productive doesn’t look extraordinary. It’s designed that way. But beyond the glow emanating from the overhead light fixtures, a wireless communication system, sensors and monitoring software are hard at work to customize the brightness and the timing for when the lights should shine and when they should go dim or turn dark.

The system comes from Enlighted, a Silicon Valley startup whose technology is designed for commercial and government buildings. The company, founded in 2009, installed its first system in 2011 and now counts not only HP but also Google, LinkedIn, Turner Broadcasting System and the City of San Jose as its customers. Enlighted’s biggest project so far covers 15 buildings for Tarlton Properties and Menlo Park, Calif.

Intelligent lighting is increasingly grabbing the attention of building managers and owners who are looking for ways to use energy more efficiently, reduce their utility bills and improve the work environment for their employees. The use of sensors to dim or shut off lights when few or no one is around isn’t a new technology. What many companies such as Enlighted are developing is more sophisticated. Enlighted’ rivals include Daintree Networks, Redwood Systems and Digital Lumens.

The system at HP, for example, tracks the number of people in a given space. The sensors are grouped into zones of 10-foot by 10-foot so that Enlighted could customize the levels of lighting for each cubicle worker. This feature prevents the need for an employee to wave his arms or walk around to get the lights turned back on again if he sits far from the motion detection sensor that controls the lights. It also has yielded a perhaps unintended benefit for workers who get migraines from being exposed to bright lights.

The 595 sensors that occupy Building 3 could detect motion, temperatures and the brightness of the lights. They also take stock of the electricity consumed. Unlike some competitors, Enlighted has opted for the wireless route so that it doesn’t have to deal with the messy wiring work that also could requires more complex and costly designs. Data from the sensors flow wirelessly to a gateway, which then pipes the information to a server via Ethernet cables for analysis.

Before installing the system in 2011, the HP building had other lighting control systems, including the more basic technology that automatically shut off the lights at the end of the work day or allowed employees to manually turn them off if they were staying late, said John Vogler, who worked at HP’s building operations for 32 years and tested lighting technologies, including Enlighted’s. He left HP earlier this year and went to work for Enlighted a few months ago. Another lighting system that used to occupy the research building was more advanced: employees could use the web to turn on and off a whole row of lights. But the system turned out to be expensive to maintain, Vogler said.

“Enlighted is the game-changing technology. It’s wireless and a central control for each fixture,” he said.

The centralized control system allows the building manager to dial down the brightness of the light a tiny bit at a time to see if anyone would notice. Nobody does. But the tiny amount can add up to significant savings over time. The payback period for the Enlighted system in Building 3 is estimated to be about three years.

The company also has designed the lighting system so that it will continue to work even if the server is down.

The motion sensors can gauge how many people are in a given space, a feature that can help companies create disaster relief plans and respond to emergencies. Knowing how many people are in a room will help rescuers decide how much resources they will need to get people out. Enlighted is working on integrate its occupancy monitoring feature with an alarm or hazardous gas monitoring system and plans to complete that product development by May 2013.

Enlighted has raised $14 million in venture capital from investors including Kleiner Perkins, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Intel Capital.


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