This past summer, LEDs Magazine held its first virtualSapphire Awards recognition ceremony. Due to complications of venue and travelrestrictions, the usual Awards Gala could not be co-located with an in-person Strategiesin Light conference and exhibition. So the team took to the digital world and revealedthe 2021 Sapphire Awards honorees across a swath of technology and applicationscategories, as well as naming the coveted Illumineer of the Year, in an onlinepresentation on Aug. 24, 2021.
As in years past, the LEDs Magazine team faced a number ofcompelling developments and innovators to consider for the Illumineer honors.In the end, the timeliness, safety-minded software and controls, and germicidalultraviolet (GUV) capabilities behind the Nexos Intelligent Disinfection systemmanaged to grab both the UV LEDs and Systems category recognition andIllumineer honors for Igor CEO Dwight Stewart, who headed a product developmentteam including Andrew Pospisal, Jaryd Sunstrom, Rod Buttermore, David Hoxeng,Chris Jenson, Collin Bakkie, and Kim Johnson. What Igor called a “turnkey rapiddeployment kit” in its Sapphire Awards submission provides a connected systemof sensors, detectors, software, UV-C-equipped luminaires, and visual operation-warningillumination to enable rapid deployment and secure operation of GUV in indoorspaces.
Former chief editor Maury Wright recently interviewed Stewart to geta sense of the Nexos product development cycle; how Igor plans to leverage itsPower over Ethernet (PoE) expertise in support of low-voltage building networks;and just what is behind that company name.
LEDs Magazine: Hi, Dwight. It will soon be a full decadesince you founded Igor. What was your original mission in starting the company?You clearly had some background in Internet of Things (IoT) concepts, but wereyou focused from the start on a specific application vision?
Dwight Stewart: I started Igor to solve a problem that I hadin my past company, which was a building automation platform that took datafrom building controls, existing building controls, and would gamify that datato encourage behavioral change to reduce energy consumption within a building.We were successful, but a lot of times the data from these building controlsystems was bad, and even if we had data that was actionable, it was too hardto do anything besides behavioral change.
At my last company, sometimes our data showed that twodifferent things were happening — let’s say, heating and cooling at thesame time —which seems obviously wrong. But a lot of times, the cost was too high to makethose changes in the building control system to ensure it provided an accuratedata feed. We needed building controls that were easier to change in order toget data that was good and actionable.
I created Igor to make it simple to cut through all the wayto the end device and get the end device onto the network, skipping the largesystems that are difficult to maintain, correct, and manage. That allows forgood data to quickly get to where it needs to go, because you have connected thoseend devices digitally.
The first application was lighting because it’s ubiquitous,so I saw this opportunity to create this IoT platform and infrastructure withinbuildings. Now that you have connected lighting, let’s say, every 10 squarefeet, you can add on from there. Imagine now having USB connections and otherconnections where, if you ever wanted to add a new sensor to monitor somethingelse, it’s just a matter of going to the place you want it, finding a nearbylight, and connecting that sensor. The device now becomes digitally connected andin the network, and you’re good to go.
LEDs: I came to know Igor as a proponent of Power overEthernet (PoE) technology for connected lighting. Was PoE always a focus, ordid it simply emerge as what you saw as a convenient path toward connectedlighting and smart buildings?
DS: It was always the focus. I was approached by Cisco withthis idea of using Power over Ethernet for lighting and for the Internet ofThings, and I love the idea and pursued it. It is such a natural way to havemultiple different kinds of devices sharing the same infrastructure and thesame PoE cable, which doesn’t have to be proprietary to any protocol.You can have multiple things running on the same line, which allows forstreamlining infrastructure, security, and consolidation.
LEDs: Going forward, how dedicated will Igor be to PoEtechnology? Have you or will you support other connectivity options?
DS: We see Power over Ethernet as the best backbonetechnology for cybersecurity, power, and connectivity, and for being deviceagnostic. But the last mile could be wireless. It could connect with all kindsof different non-IP [Internet Protocol] devices using different protocols. Wedo that today.
LEDs: Igor’s recognition as a Sapphire winner and yourselection as Illumineer of the Year were related to GUV technology, prompted inpart by the global pandemic. Tell me a little abouthow you became involved with UV technology. Had you contemplated a productoffering in the UV space before the pandemic?
DS: Not really — this was in direct response to thepandemic. There had been some conversations about disinfectant solutions thatwe never really took time to consider, in the context of flu outbreaks innursing homes or for special healthcare use cases. But with the pandemic, therewere many immediate issues and we saw this one as something on which we couldact quickly to help provide a potential solution to the industry.
LEDs: We at the magazine saw a lot of what I might call “half-baked”concepts for UV-C disinfection products over the course of the pandemic. Manyappeared downright dangerous. What impressed our staff, and I think theSapphire judges, was the attention to safety detail behind the Igor offering.How did the safety aspects of your technology evolve?
DS: We saw that, too, and we were not okay with that. We havealways put safety front and center in our solutions. We won two separateSapphire Awards in past years for our UL 924 emergency lighting drivers for PoE(see 2019 and 2020). For us, to put safety atthe forefront of our technology is built into our DNA as a company.
UV-C can be dangerous if not deployed properly, and that isexactly the problem we want to solve. Our specialty is software controls anddevelopment, so we asked ourselves this: Could we create a solution that wouldmake high-quality UV-C fixtures safer, easier to deploy, manageable, and useful?We spent a great deal of time researching and understanding the technology andhow the application needs to be created so that it is safe. We consultedscientists, safety organizations, pushed our fixture partner for testing, andstarted with pilot situations to test real-life scenarios. For us, safety is justpart of our DNA as a company. What came from this development process was amulti-layer evolution in safety elements. UV-C light can’t be deployed untilall safety checks are done. [The system] must confirm that the door is shut, nomotion is detected, no person is sensed, that the room isn’t booked, and onlyafter completing its checks can it run. There is a purple light that goes on aswell which is a visible indicator of UV-C action — this cannot be separated fromthe UV-C light. The moment the door opens, a person is sensed, or other triggeroccurs, the light stops and cannot be started again without going through itssafety checks.
LEDs: Clearly Igor had been working in the area of buildingand lighting controls prior to COVID-19. Still, your Nexos system appeared likea clean-sheet UV-C-centric design and not some simple add-on technology to yourexisting portfolio. What forces drove and directed your development?
DS: This is what I think is so cool about the development ofNexos. We have designed Nexos to act like the foundation for a set of Legopieces. When there is a new use case, we can take some pieces we have, createsome new pieces, and build a unique solution to address that use case. In thiscase, we were able to take many of the pieces required for the intelligent disinfectantsolution and brought them together to create this new solution. We had motionsensors, door sensors, wall controls, and lighting already built —so now we had to rewrite the logic to ensure it had the safety factors. Therewere some new items to develop, but by having that base, we were able to deployit and commercialize it so rapidly.
LEDs: Getting back to the connected lighting and smartbuildings space in general, we continuously hear industry players lamentingthat the uptake in connectivity lags expectations. Yet I would argue that theadded energy efficiency alone delivers return on investment (ROI). What is yourview on connectivity adoption in buildings, and how is Igor doing given thatconnectivity underlies your existence?
DS: Lighting controls alone can deliver efficiency and ROI. Theadvantage of connected lighting is leveraging that infrastructure from manyapplications beyond lighting. We deploy things like indoor air quality, indoorpositioning, space utilization, access control, and more. By doing thesedifferent applications on the same infrastructure, you see significantdiminishing costs.
We are seeing accelerating connectivity adoption because weare now delivering business outcomes, not just building efficiency outcomes.And that is giving companies the ability to deliver their own business in amore automated way and a more effective way. It differentiates them as abusiness and that has become significant drivers to our acceleration.
LEDs: Are enhanced energy savings enough to drive adoptionof connectivity in buildings or will it require additional IoT applications?
DS: I think so. Connected technology today, even just bycombining LEDs with traditional lighting controls, can create such a strong ROIstory that it’s a no-brainer. Not only by going to PoE can you connect yourbuilding systems and remove the inefficiencies around AC/DC conversions, butyou can also make everything work together so your building feels and operateslike one connected being.
But to go from a connected lighting system to a trulyconnected building takes a broader understanding of energy. This is where therise in the conversation around DC micro or nano grids is incredibly important.With an increase in extreme weather and energy insecurities globally, you canuse this technology to run an entire building off a local, sustainable energysource like solar and provide superior experiences to occupants inside thebuilding. In fact, we will be a core technology in enabling the first net-zerohotel in the world. Sustainability is going to drive more connectivity and morelow-voltage technology in our built environment.
LEDs: Where in the overall scheme of things will PoE fall inoptions for connectivity?
DS: With PoE being a universal standard, you can use it foranything —which makes it the perfect infrastructure so that you don’t have to have separateproprietary infrastructures for every little application. You can juststandardize and make your life easier. You can use standard cybersecurity toolsto secure it. You can use standard labor to install it. You can consolidate somany different sensors, applications, power, and data onto one cablinginfrastructure — it is a huge benefit and the reason PoE is going to be aleader in the options for commercial-scale connectivity.
LEDs: And how do you view connected lighting in the smartbuildings landscape? Different building systems seem to have been in silos tosome extent. But that situation seems to be evolving. We recently published anarticle that laid the claim that everything should ultimately be BACnet based.How do you see the future of smart buildings?
DS: I think BACnet can handle quite a few use cases for datatransport, but there are other use cases, whether it’s video feed, serial data,Bluetooth data streams, or other types of high-velocity data where BACnet wouldnot make sense.
It doesn’t seem as though there is any particular protocolthat can handle all data and controls situations. That is the reason why somany different protocols exist in the world — because there are thesedifferent use cases where no one protocol does everything. So, with Power overEthernet and the right software, you can support multiple protocolssimultaneously over the same cable. That is by consolidating your physicalinfrastructure and choosing a physical infrastructure that can support multipleprotocols simultaneously over the same physical hardware.
It is the key because I believe there will never be onesingle protocol.
LEDs: I feel I should know the answer to this question, butif I have heard the answer I can’t recall. How did you choose the name Igor?
DS: I see this world as a whole bunch of objects that needto be digitally connected so that we can do interesting things with them, andthat’s like Frankenstein bringing something to life. We are bringing devicesand things digitally to life.
LEDs: Congratulations on winning our Sapphire Illumineer ofthe Year award. It was well deserved. I hope you and your team appreciate thehonor. You join a very distinguished list. What did the recognition mean toIgor?
DS: So much! We highly value this recognition from LEDsMagazine, such a respected leader in the industry. We are humbled andappreciative. We are constantly striving to do things that are worthy of rewardand recognition, so this means a lot. My whole team at Igor and I thank you!