You’re listening to New Horizons, the podcast channel for ICT Insights Magazine. Please join us as we talk to innovators and thought leaders from around the world.
New Horizons: Well, hi everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Today, our special guest is David Mitchell, who’s the CEO of Lumican, a startup based out of Canada who’s doing some really innovative things in LED lighting. David, what can you tell us about Lumican?
David Mitchell: Good morning, and thanks for inviting me.
Lumican started about seven years ago as a distributor of LED products.
We came across several niche opportunities and problems in the market, and one of those major problems that LED couldn’t overcome was exterior lighting specific to pathway, roadway lighting.
During this time, we opened up an R&D facility to essentially create LEDs that could match the lighting that the world has been used to in color temperature, but far advanced with the controls.
So, we took the bull by the horns and decided that we should help cities and municipalities not only become a smart city but remain a warm city when it comes to color temperature with, of course, all the great things that the Internet and controls have to offer.
New Horizons: And what role did IoT play in your design decisions when you’re coming up with this? Was it a key design criterion for you to incorporate IoT?
David Mitchell: Absolutely. So, typically, lighting and controls haven’t been best friends. They didn’t talk very well together, and so it was kind of a challenge.
With the adoption of LED and it being a fantastic platform to integrate controls, the IoT of things plays a big role for smart cities.
And so, when I say smart cities, it goes beyond just being able to turn the light off during the day to save energy.
It’s about being able to count cars. It’s about counting herds or migration of animals, birds.
There’s so many things that we can do with IoT and lighting. You have this head at the top of the pole, which is essentially its brain, and we can wire it to do anything we need to.
New Horizons: That’s pretty impressive, and you’re doing a lot of work in light pollution, reducing that. Why is that a problem, and how are you addressing it?
David Mitchell: Light pollution has been a growing issue, regardless of LED.
Because of the cost of LED and the simplicity of LED, people are actually over-lighting many of their properties or their buildings, offices, parks, et cetera.
Lighting needs are very different, and so what most cities have been doing is putting in a one-light-fits-all scenario.
And so what we do is we take our lamp and we have what’s called a modular shield, and we shield the light in 20 different ways to create what we call scenes, and this allows a single bungalow, a home, or a row of them to not have any light pass through their window in their neighborhood.
The next block over may have a park and it may need some lights shedding from the back of the pole, which we call backlight, and so we’re able to remove that shield and put it at a different angle.
And so this modular shield approach is quite satisfying — [we are] quite satisfied with the results that we’re getting because the needs of a city are very different from block to block.
So, our goal is to stay ahead of the technology with an underlying goal of reversing light pollution so that people can enjoy their cities being lit up, but not overlit.
The other part that’s key to what we do is the removal of blue spectrum, the blue light, which is a natural state of an LED diode.
You’re familiar with looking at your phone too long — can be an issue.
So, companies like Huawei have the ability to turn the brightness down and actually do a nighttime viewing.
Well, we do the same thing with lighting.
We have a phosphor or a layer to remove the blue light so that it’s not harmful to people, because we’re finding out now from PhDs all over the world that blue light is actually not good for you long term and can affect circadian rhythm, and many, many other health and safety concerns, and so we’ve spent a lot of time in R&D to remove that blue light.
New Horizons: What would be the energy savings using LED lighting over traditional lighting solutions that we run into in our daily life?
David Mitchell: Energy savings with LED is massive.
We’re talking about a 60 to 80 percent drop in wattages and consumption across the board. So, a city like Chicago or Pittsburgh are places that we have some of our lighting, they can expect to have energy savings of $20 million a year just by converting from a 400-watt street light to an 80-watt street light, and that’s before you get into the control side of it.
Again, controls and lighting haven’t been friends, and so what you have is lights that typically run all night long traditionally, but now we can dim them down to 30 percent when there’s no one around.
We can have occupancy sensors, we can have motion sensors, we can have light sensors or pedestrian sensors so that we can dim the light down even further. So, the energy savings become even more than 80 percent, which seems kind of unreal, but it’s absolutely the reason why everything is converting to LED.
The price of LED has come down considerably, and where there used to be an ROI of five years, even the last three years, it’s dropped down to a three-year ROI and now you’re seeing ROIs of less than three years — in some cases, two years, a year and a half. So, it’s incredibly fast.
New Horizons: I’ve noticed that you were installing 500 lights in a national park in Canada. Could you talk to us a little bit about that?
David Mitchell: Absolutely. So, that’s been an ongoing project for the last six months.
We’re now in the second phase, and we’ve tested color temperature along with shielding and the needs of the city.
So, for a place like Jasper, it’s not just about the nice warm ski village city, it’s also about the many animals and wildlife that pass through that area.
White and blue light is very bad for most of the species that pass through that area — your elk and your owls and all of your wildlife that runs through that park, and we’re talking about a very large ecosystem.
There are as many bears as there are people.
So, putting the right light is very important to them, otherwise they’re drawn to it like an insect to a light, and that is another ecosystem that also is affected by white and blue light.
Our solution also helps with the, I wouldn’t say the reduction of insects, but I guess the normalcy of what insects should be attracted to.
If you increase the white light where you have a lot of light pollution, then what happens is you get more of those types of insects drawing to that light, then it becomes a feeding area more so than usual for the species like bats and birds.
It’s quite interesting how light affects all of these ecosystems, and it’s fun to be part of that science.
New Horizons: Now, are you also involved with environmental agencies?
David Mitchell: We are. We work a little bit with environmental agencies, but more so with parks, we work with Parks Canada — we’ve recently been working with the Grand Canyon.
We’ve also worked with, of course, International Dark Sky Association, who’s very passionate about protecting the night sky.
And astrotourism is a growing business, where people actually go places where they can see more stars than where they would see at home.
So, it’s shielding the light and the proper type of light is key for that for that particular market.
New Horizons: And what kind of cities around the world have you been working with?
David Mitchell: Right now, we have almost 20 pilots around the world.
Most of them are in the U.S. For example, in Flagstaff and many other places; in Montreal, in Quebec, Canada, where we’ll be featuring our new products and they’re also a big observatory city.
For them, it’s critical that they use our type of light, as low-pressure sodium and other types of lighting that have been available for the last 50 years aren’t even being produced anymore.
So, there’s a big concern, because the type of LED that’s available on the shelf is unable to perform at the levels that observatories in places like Flagstaff and Quebec can utilize.
We also work with Artificial Light at Night, which is a fantastic group of people from across the world who study artificial light and its effects.
We’re learning so much and taking that learning and applying it to our lighting so that synchronous fireflies, which just happens to be one of the things we stumbled across, where an ecologist came to us and said, “You know, we have this really rare synchronous firefly that is only in certain parts of the world, and it’s dying because of the type of spectrum that the new LED is producing.”
To be attached to those kinds of projects is just fantastic for us. Being able to save a species of a firefly is actually quite rewarding.
The other big thing that is getting a lot of attention is turtles.
Turtles, of course, are like a national treasure, and so when they come up onto the beaches and on the East Coast, the new LED light is actually a duplicate or a triplicate moon for them.
They do everything by where the moon is, and so those poor little guys, whenever they climb up to lay their eggs, they think that there’s 20 moons and they don’t know which way to go.
So, they get confused and they don’t lay eggs, and it’s incredible what we’ve learned.
New Horizons: Well, now does Lumican have any new tech developments on the horizon? If you do, what can we expect to see?
David Mitchell: What we continue to do is work on or develop our new heat sync, and then we’re adding other technologies to the efficiency of LED.
So, a diode only has, consider it like a lemon — you can only squeeze so much out of the lemon, and when the juice is gone, the lemon isn’t any good.
A diode is similar. So, we’re now working with other technologies to blend with the diodes to push the efficacy of the diodes.
And so what that means in the world of lighting; If you are able to get a hundred lumens per watt, you’re doing pretty good.
So, we found some proprietary technologies that we’re now patenting so we can push that diode to push past 300 lumens per watt.
That’s where you’re replacing a 400-watt street light with a 20-watt streetlight, which is incredible.
New Horizons: Wow. So, really upping the efficiency. That is groundbreaking. That’s pretty amazing.
David Mitchell: It is, it is.
New Horizons: You mentioned before that you were able to provide better power management and energy management by the addition of some sensors to your lighting solution. Is that something that’s built in, so when you buy one of your lights, you have the ability to plug in different sensors to it?
David Mitchell: Yeah, so everything is control-ready.
Air pollution is a big issue in many cities.
So, we’re actually able to work with other companies that specifically work with controls and being able to capture things like smog levels and air quality and things of that nature.
Pretty much today, if you can think it, we can put it into a light head. Everything is control-ready.
It’s just a matter of writing the software in the hardware to make it happen.
New Horizons: What are the biggest challenges that you feel tech and innovation are set to impact or solve in a beneficial way to the rest of us?
David Mitchell: I guess the biggest challenge — it’s about education. I have to dive in and really understand it.
You have to dig ditches for a while, and then you have to build buildings, and then you’ve got to build skyscrapers, and then you’ve got to try to do things like Elon is doing and send us all to Mars.
New Horizons: There you go.
David Mitchell: It sounds crazy, but until that technology gets adopted, it’s quite a process.
There’s a lot of education that we do so that we can change the minds of those who have had, you know, the same type of lighting for so long.
Or they’ve done their own research from an engineering standpoint and say, “Well, whatever’s available on the market, or whatever is available on the Internet — that’s what I’ll put in, because that’s what everyone else is buying.”
And that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right thing.
New Horizons: True. And how far out would you say is the tipping point for Lumican?
David Mitchell: Well, things are trending. Astrotourism is trending.
People want to see stars.
Now, that’s not the reason why we build the lights that we do.
It’s one of many, and it does help those folks in those industries.
So, being part of multiple industries like astrotourism, ecological movements that are important for humanitarians and ecologists allows us to get there a little bit faster.
As far as the actual tipping point, it’s really hard to say.
I’m hopeful that in the next three years, people really understand what it is that we’re doing. I’m sure there’ll be others that will come to the table to do what we’re doing, but hopefully, we’ll stay ahead of the curve as a leader.
New Horizons: All right, well, it sounds very promising, and I have one final question for you. Beyond the work that you with Lumican, what is inspiring you in the world at large?
David Mitchell: On the technology side, the Internet of Things and controls is amazing.
It’s changing so fast. It's incredible. LEDs, of course, or the new computer chip integrated with everything that you can do.
AI is a big piece of what I’m now looking at.
The world has shifted, and so we too would also like to work with a company or develop something in-house that will turn our light brain into some sort of performing function using AI.
I think AI is incredible from a technology standpoint, and I think we’re just scratching the surface.
New Horizons: I would agree. I think we’re in the very beginning stages of this, and it’s a pretty exciting place to be. Well, David, thank you very much for joining us today. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
David Mitchell: I think we all have to be more aware in the world of everything we do.
And so, as much as I want to sell light and do sell lights, I think as a message, less light is actually better for us, and it’s amazing what we can do as human beings and we can adjust.
You would think my message would be, you know, let’s light things up more. I would say, let’s light things up less.
New Horizons: That’s a very insightful thing to say. It’s something that most people wouldn’t expect a CEO of a lighting company to say.
Well, again, David, thank you for joining us today. Would you be interested in coming back on the program when you have some work in AI or a great installation you’d like to talk about?
David Mitchell: Yes, absolutely. I would really like that.
New Horizons: Well, we’d be happy you have you on, and please be sure to reach out to us. We’ve been talking to David Mitchell, who’s the CEO of Lumican. Please join again for the next broadcast.
Thanks for listening to this episode of New Horizons. Please be sure to click on the link below to read a full transcript of this interview. For more information on Huawei’s products and solutions, please visit e.huawei.com. Be sure to tune in again soon for more great guest interviews and stories. And as always, thanks for listening.
David Mitchell is the founder and CEO of Lumican Corporation, an innovator of ecologically friendly lighting. He grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and earned his B.S. in computer engineering at Carleton University. His work with LEDs began seven years ago, and he is now considered a leader in disrupting the industry.
Based in Canada, Lumican has offices in Edmonton and Calgary, with a satellite office in Houston, Texas. The company’s team of 20 engineers creates custom LEDs that reduce power consumption and retain the classic look and feel of a warm and inviting city.
Mitchell developed his business acumen with experience in 32 countries. His personal mandate is to execute at the highest level and advocate remote hiring and joint ventures around the globe.
Mitchell’s executive and entrepreneurial contributions include an electronics company in Brea, California; Sungjin C&C, a DVR hardware manufacturer in Seoul, Korea; and LiveCastMedia Inc., a multimedia and SEO company that serves Fortune 100 and 500 companies.
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