Case Studies

Lighting as Ubiquitous Digital Platform

by Rob Preston

February 2017

For evidence that GE is truly committed to its “digital industrial” vision, look no further than Current by GE, an energy services company it set up in October 2015 that combines GE’s LED lighting, solar, and other energy products, with the Predix software platform at the center.


GE Digital

Headquarters: San Ramon, California

Industry: Digital industrial systems, services

Revenue: Approximately US$6 billion

Employees: More than 10,000

William Ruh


Length of tenure: Two years

Education: BS and MS in computer science, California State University, Fullerton

Personal quote/mantra: “If you don’t figure out how to get more productivity and efficiency in your products, someone else will. In the end, every major company has to be a software company because if you don’t own this asset, you stand to be disrupted.”


Instead of just selling customers LED lighting fixtures to replace their inefficient incandescents and fluorescents, for example, Current will also up-sell a package of hardware and software tools that helps customers further reduce their energy costs.

GE Digital

Launch the Slideshow

As a straight replacement for incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, LED lighting can cut a commercial or industrial company’s energy usage by as much as 50 percent, quickly paying for itself. The next step for customers is to add sensors to the LED lighting—which, because it’s a digital platform, comes with its own processing and storage capabilities, notes Current’s chief technology officer, David Bartlett.

As such, the sensors embedded in the lighting—which is interconnected across a building, campus, or municipal environment via wireless or wired networks—can gather data on environmental conditions and movement. Analyzing that data can thus cut customers’ energy costs by an additional 10 to 20 percent by doing things such as harvesting daylight or adjusting the lighting based on occupancy—much more precisely than with motion detection, Bartlett says. One study estimates that commercial/industrial environments have been overlit by three to four times in the last 30 or 40 years, he says.

Current’s LED lighting sensors can connect to any energy-using equipment—sometimes through partnerships with other companies, or through Current’s recent acquisition of Daintree Networks—to feed data on heat, airflow, noise, and other conditions. The sensors can even record video and audio. Sensor-laden LED streetlights, for instance, can not only help cities cut their energy costs, but the visual data they collect can also help city managers ease traffic congestion and plow the snow faster, as well as help residents find the nearest parking spots.

“There’s a lot more real-time decision-making here,” Bartlett says. “That’s where Predix becomes so important, because that was built for this level and amount of data collection and analytics, with the right security.” Bartlett compares the multifunction LED lighting platform to the smartphone, which is as much a camera, email terminal, calendar, recorder, and alarm clock as it is a voice communication device. “It’s to the point where I don’t even think of it as lighting first and foremost,” he says. “I think of it as a digitalization medium that oh, by the way, also provides light.”

Current’s customers include Walgreens, McDonald’s, Hilton Worldwide, JPMorgan Chase, Simon Property Group, and Intel.

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Photography by Shutterstock