A Farewell to Light Switches

A blank wall plate where a light switch used to be.

A blank wall plate where a light switch used to be.

At NPL the lighting systems are being upgraded so that most lights – and eventually all of them – will be LEDs. This has several advantages – most notably savings in electricity. But there is one aspect of the change that I am finding hard to cope with: the loss of light switches.

When the refurbishment is complete, the corridors and many offices will have no light switches. The decision to switch lights on or off will be made by a ‘building management computer’ (BMC) based on readings of sensors indicating whether people are in the area. Additionally the brightness of the lights can be changed so that (based on sensors indicating the ambient light level) the ceiling light can be set to supplement daylight rather than replace it.

Even in the places where light switches remain, they will no longer be actual switches controlling the electrical current through a light fitting. Instead the light ‘switch’ will signal to the BMC that a ‘user’ would like a pre-programmed combination of lights powered on or off.

Now I have to admit this change makes sense: it feels like progress and the new lights look smart. But I also have to admit that it makes me uncomfortable.

When there was a real switch on the wall, I was the ‘Master of the Lights’. When the switches are gone I will merely be a ‘user’ requesting illumination from the real ‘Master of All Lights’, the BMC.

I guess it is because I am an old fogey that I find this change discomfiting. And I dismiss my own concerns as being ‘just me: I am sure I will get used to this ‘Brave New World’ eventually. But the new BMC-based technology needs to work at least as well as the old technology, and ideally better, if it is become popular with users.

For example, the new technology might have ‘programming errors’ or the BMC might be ‘busy’ and wait for a short while before responding to a ‘user request’.  If these things happen (and it all seems OK so far) then the benefits of the system will accrue to the building owner but not the building users and the technology will inevitably become unpopular.

This simple change is a reminder that even relatively benign ‘new technology’ can make people feel uncomfortable for apparently irrational reasons. And if people feel uncomfortable about technologies they are less likely to adopt them.


2 Responses to “A Farewell to Light Switches”

  1. Edmond Hui Says:

    We have the same here. Try sitting still and thinking about life the universe and everything, as you physicists are supposed to. Just as you realise the flaw in string theory, the sensors will determine from your lack of movement that you aren’t there at all, and you’ll be plungd into darkness. We are here all trained by the BMS to subconsciously rock from side to side to prevent that happening, but occasionally still have to wave at the sensor on the wall to regain vision.

  2. H Stiles (@HStiles1) Says:

    No more ‘tipping points’?

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