The invention of artificial light revolutionized society. It brought people indoors and extended working hours, night life and education far beyond sunset. Life as it exists today would be impossible without light. Now, in the dawn of new technologies, combined with a greater understanding of how light influences human behavior, we could be set for the next era of illumination. We spoke to Annette Steinbusch, Chair of the Human Centric Lighting working group at LightingEurope to find out what the future could have in store.
“Humans have been on planet Earth for millions of years and evolved under patterns of natural light,” explains Steinbusch. And yet, in a relatively very short space of time – around 150 years – artificial light has decoupled us from the natural environment and natural light. It is this connection that Annette Steinbusch and the Human Centric Lighting group is working to change: “We want to raise awareness about the importance of light,” she tells us, “to stop people taking light for granted or treating it as a commodity.”
“Light can do much more than enable vision,” says Steinbusch, “it also facilitates powerful non-visual effects on humans. It can improve cognitive performance, energize people, increase alertness and make people relax.” These non-visual effects are influenced by changes in the intensity and color temperature of light; precisely the kind of variations that modern lighting is often lacking. Take an office environment for example. Here it is normal to pass an entire day under the same lighting. A similar situation is also commonly found in schools, hospitals and shops.
For many years, there has been no market-ready technology to support the existing knowledge and understanding about light influences on humans. A situation that is now changing. “Today, there are more ways to control lighting than ever before,” Steinbusch says, “with LEDs and apps, it is possible to tune lighting, vary intensity, change direction, adjust the color, the list goes on!” Put simply: artificial light can now more closely imitate the sun and bring back patterns closer to natural light.
The term Human Centric Lighting is used across Europe, regardless of language. “It evolved from a process to find a title that would encompass the health, well-being and performance perspective of light – as well as introduce the visual, biological and emotional benefits,” Steinbusch explains. Essentially it had to be distinguishable from normal lighting and be clear to all those working in the industry and related policy areas. “Having the same term in all European countries ensures we are all on the same page.”
Human Centric Lighting can be applied in diverse fields “from schools and hospitals, to offices, manufacturing sites and private homes.” In terms of health care for example, research has shown that providing illumination closer to natural lighting could play an important part of care and recovery, restoring sleep patterns or improving eating habits. In schools, both pupils and teachers could also benefit. While higher illumination levels have been found to increase concentration, lower lighting can create a calm environment for relaxation.
Elsewhere the potential of Human Centric Lighting has also been jumped on by athletes, particularly those who train in winter months in need of a boost or those that travel regularly and suffer from jet lag. Research is also being conducted regarding its application for space travel.
“It is difficult to predict how trends will fly in real life,” she tells us, yet there are certain factors she believes might drive the change. One of these is the younger generation. “Young people do everything with their smartphones,” she remarks, “they also want to control their environment a lot more and are less afraid of digital stuff.” In another age category, she suggests the rising age of retirement, combined with inevitable deterioration of eyesight over time, will also increase demand for better quality lighting in the workplace.
“If you look to the past, all big changes just took a generation for people to get used to them,” she considers. “Maybe Human Centric Lighting will be commonly and generally applied 25 years from now – unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball.”