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A total of 12 connected lighting systems were installed in functioning classrooms at The New School, Parsons School of Design, with each system lighting its own classroom to a common lighting and control specification. The 12 systems were all marketed as being easy to install and configure, and represent a range of control options and luminaire types, including linear pendants, troffers, and retrofit kits. A sampling of the observations to date:

Photo of a man looking at a phone and instruction manuals.

System architecture: Not surprisingly, systems with the least complex physical architecture proved easiest to install. The systems with more “parts and pieces” required significantly longer for installation of the control components. Moreover, during the evaluation, these systems tended to have more trouble operating to the NGLS specification in one or more areas. More-elaborate systems can do more, but often at the expense of being easy to set up and use.

Photo of a man holding a phone and looking up.

Operational complexity: Similarly, there was a clear relationship between system capabilities and ease of operation: the larger the set of control capabilities, the more complex the system was to operate. Initial startup methods ranged from completely preconfigured for out-of-the-box operation, to requiring onsite configuration of external daylighting and occupancy sensors. Systems that provided relatively fewer control capabilities and included default operational settings were generally easier for the installers to understand and configure. Specifiers need to find the appropriate balance between simplicity and functionality for each application.

Photo of a man looking at a phone.

Configuration tools: The entrants used three different approaches to system configuration: a dedicated handheld tool, a phone app, and a computer front end. Of these, the installers felt that the phone apps show the most promise, because they’re accessible and familiar. To be successful, phone apps must be well designed, intuitive, and readily available. Internet-enabled computer front-end tools appear to be more suitable for complex systems with more functionality that are intended for larger, integrated projects.

Photo of two wall control components.

Wall controls: There was very little consistency in the physical format and operation of the user interfaces, with each manufacturer taking a different approach. The wall controls could be categorized by the switches themselves (rock or multi-button) and by how they arrived on site (preconfigured or not). The variety of approaches made it difficult for users. For the easy-to-install market, it may make sense to get some industry consensus on the type and operation of typical wall controls.

Photo of a man reading an instruction manual.

Documentation: There was a wide variation in the format and content of the control-system installation documents, with a correspondingly wide variation in their clarity and usefulness. Many of them relied mainly on text, with wordy instructions and language that was sometimes unfamiliar to the contractors, who generally found that these documents weren’t as helpful as they could have been, and often didn’t read the detailed text thoroughly. Installation instructions that included clear drawings and diagrams were the most useful, and quick-start guides, screenshots, and videos were most successful for startup and configuration.