The Fourth Industrial Revolution


I can hear some of you saying: “What is Philip on about now?”

Well, through time, generations have lived through various periods such as the Ice Age, the Stone Age, the Iron Age, various civil revolutions and of course the First Industrial Revolution, the Second Industrial Revolution, the Third Industrial Revolution and NOW – the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

You may be asking: “What on earth does this have to do with lighting?”  I ask for your patience and I will reveal all as you will see later on.

How do we classify each of the industrial revolutions?  Let’s take a brief look at each.


It began in Britain in the late 1700s.  Before the advent of the First Industrial Revolution, most manufacturing was done on a small scale often in people’s homes or small cottage businesses where hand tools or very simple basic machines were used, garments were hand sewn along with knitted jerseys or other hand-made products.

It was all thanks to James Watt, a Scott who designed the steam engine.  It was the most significant invention that launched the First Industrial Revolution making it possible for the invention of the first trains, steamboats and steam to power large machines in factories thus mass production began. Other inventions – the machine known as the cotton ginny was invented by Eli Whitney to remove the cotton seeds from the cotton fibre.

What followed was urbanisation, social changes and more inventions to meet this new type of manufacturing and the many demands posed by it.

In Britain it is generally accepted to have lasted from 1780 until around 1850, spreading to other parts of the world as well.

SECOND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION (also known as the Technological Revolution)

Most academics and historians accept that it lasted from about 1870 until 1914, the start of World War 1. It was characterised by the appearance of the fruits of inventions such as the telegraph system for communications, the expansion of rail networks, the development of new road networks, steel hulled steam ships including the famous Titanic, gas, water supplies, sewer systems and of course electricity and for us, the all-important inventions of Edison’s light bulb which worked but did not last that long and the better light bulb invented by Joseph Swann.  Edison and Swann joined forces to form what became known as the Edison and Swann Electric Light Company shortened to Ediswans.  So, you see, even that far back “Lighting” was a player in an industrial revolution.  Of course, it meant that factories and production processes became electrified too.

I encourage you to read more on each industrial revolution.  It is not my aim to write a new work on this subject.  I am trying to take you into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but it is so important to see the role that lighting has played since the Second Industrial Revolution.  You will then understand how lighting will be so central to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


In 1980, business computing became available to smaller businesses with computers such as the Olivetti BCS-2030 which used 2 10” floppy drives became common place, yes, we had one in our business.  The software was purpose written because there were no off-the-shelf software packages at that time.  Remember, before these machines became available, the only computers were the giant computers which took up large rooms or halls – it was also at this time that the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and the SABS standards required a blinding 500 lux for computer work.

In 1982 we purchased one of the very first Apple personal computers which even then was very basic with limited capability but at least it was small and could stand on a normal desk whereas the Olivetti was a large stand-alone computer with screen and printer built-in.

The Third Industrial Revolution can be easily defined as the Information Age or Information Revolution.

On 1 January 1991, the world wide web was made available to the public.  On 1 January 1993, e-mail was born, on 3 May 1995 the first DVD was distributed, on 1 January 1998 the Google search engine arrived followed by WiFi on 1 January 1999.

In January 2001 the digital satellite radio was created followed by Facebook in January 2004 and Youtube in 2005.

Another feature of the Third Industrial Revolution was the surge in the demand for fossil fuels and oil hit the record price of US$147 per barrel.  This led to look at alternative fuels and in October 2008 the first biofuels were offered.

The information technology world has continued to surge ahead.  Smartphones and other smart devices are now part of our everyday life.  Whilst they are in fact intrusive, dangerous in the wrong hands or when used for the wrong purpose, it would be hard to think how we ever did without them.  Of course, we need to keep them in check and develop a personal discipline to use them purposefully at the appropriate times.  They have brought with them the demand for instant gratification, instant answers to messages and so on.


It is defined as a range of technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and the biological world together impacting all disciplines, economies and industries.  Klaus Schwabb, a German engineer and economist who is also the founder of the World Economic Forum, likens it to the “Second Machine Age” in terms of the effects of digitisation.  It includes significant emerging technological breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, quantum computing and nanotechnology.

It will be characterised by other disruptive businesses.  Think about businesses that have suddenly been established and grown into vast macro businesses such as Air B & B which has taken the travel business into a new era with accommodation available at incredibly more affordable rates than previously were available.  These establishments are available throughout the world.  They have become disruptive in another way as well in that they have caused property prices to rise.

Think about Uber – the hail taxi service, Taxify and others.  It has disrupted the traditional taxi business, it is cheaper and in many respects better.  It too, has been a disruptor and unfortunately has also caused conflict and violence in South Africa.

But wait, what about lighting?  Well, lighting fits right into the Fourth Industrial Revolution mould.

Physical – a plethora of exciting LED products to suit every application and need.

Biological – LED lighting and controls to suit Human-centric lighting which tunes into the biological functions and needs of every human and living organism on the planet.

Digital – Power over Ethernet (PoE), Visible Light Communication (VLC which includes LiFi), Indoor Positioning Systems (IPS), Lighting for Smart Cities (street lighting providing far more than the traditional street such as WiFi or even LiFi connectivity throughout towns and cities, lights that adapt to changing ambient light, ambient temperature, traffic density, etc for “Super Energy Efficiency”), Bluetooth connectivity to luminaires.


You see, lighting is right up there.  Now let’s look a little closer at each of the categories mentioned above.

Power over Ethernet (PoE)

Have you ever thought about powering the lights any other way than with electricity?  Well, there is another way.  We now make use of twisted pairs of the data cables used in a typical computer network architecture to power the lights.  It is now so easy, costs about 20% of the installation cost using traditional electrical reticulation.  Cat 5 to Cat 11 cable can be used, typical Cisco Power Distribution Gateways are used.  In fact, the same twisted pairs that carry the data can be used to power the luminaires because power frequency is 50Hz and lower whereas data frequency is 100MHz so the power to the luminaires will not interfere with data flow.

Then, combine Visible Light Communication (VLC), either WiFi or LiFi into the luminaire and suddenly every single luminaire within the lighting design becomes a data connectivity access point.  Wow!!!!! How cool is that!

The disruptive effect is that electricians will not be used for the installations because IT staff or any Joe Soap like you and I can safely install the lights using data plug ‘n play safely without risk of electrocution.

Data Facts

The demand for data over the last five years has grown at a rate of 60% per annum.  It is staggering but true.  Overseas where WiFi is freely available through wide parts of cities, the number of users simultaneously accessing the routers results in slow response rates.  Quite simply, by the year 2020/2021, we will run out of wireless bandwidth.  Demand for wireless or RF bandwidth will be available RF Bandwidth1,200.

Visible Light Communication

VLC and specifically LiFi provides the only solution – the visible light spectrum is 2,600 times bigger than the wireless or RF spectrum.   Data transfer speeds will be from 1Gbps to 100Gbps – yes that is correct – you’re used to WiFi on fibre at about 100mbps and you think that’s great – so wait for it, LiFi is real today with installations in the Paris Metro stations, Societe Generale (French Bank) in Paris, Torre Europa in Madrid, Spain.  The latest USB LiFi connectivity device, luminaire driver device to convert luminaires to LiFi devices and onboard LiFi chips for laptops are being launched at Lux Live in London, UK, between 15 and 17 November 2017.10.28

Indoor Positioning System (IPS)

Imagine that you have downloaded the application on your smartphone for your favourite supermarket of departmental store.

Firstly, being inherently lazy to get into your car, you decide to compile your shopping list using the smartphone app, you then simply send it through to the store as an online purchase.  They prepare the order and even offer you alternatives for “Out-of-Stock” items.  They deliver it to your door the same day.

My apologies to you, I was mistaken, you are not inherently lazy and simply love shopping in store using the app.  You compile your shopping list before leaving home.  You arrive at the shop and simply turn your “selfie” screen camera on.  The lights identify that you have arrived, link you to your loyalty points, plot your routes for the easiest and quickest way to complete your shopping according to the shopping list on your smartphone.  As you move through the store being guided to within 30cm of each item on your list, special offers are sent to your phone via the app, alternatives for “out-of-stock” items are offered to you without you having to search for them yourself.  Once you have completed your shopping, you move towards a special lane where the app checks that you have purchased all of the items on your shopping list, it updates your loyalty points and automatically takes the correct amount from your bank account after applying the discounts for using the app instead of staff.  Futuristic?  No 100% real.  It is in use in many places internationally, just not here yet, but Woolworths and Macro are gearing up for it already.  Others will follow.

The system that is used is a combination of the IPS with WiFi or Bluetooth using beacons throughout the shop.  It works on a triangulation system in the same way that the GPS works except that the GPS uses satellites and of course does not work indoors.

Lighting for Smart Cities

In South Africa we lag quite far behind the rest of the world believing that we should “Wait and see” what happens in time.  Of course, all that happens is that time passes us by and technology continues to develop.  On this basis, if South Africans always waited, they would never adopt the technologies.

Smart Cities too, are a reality elsewhere in the world.  Street lighting becomes more than just a light.  It becomes a data access point, it integrates with a city’s overall traffic and street light plan with energy efficiency as a key element.  Street lights can be dimmed down by varying degrees at different times of the night depending on weather conditions, traffic densities and traffic speeds with the brightness being increased again when the city starts to move again in the early morning.

The street light can also incorporate CCTV cameras, be integrated with a city’s water and electricity management plan to limit supplies of water or energy over peak periods or such as in the case of drought in Cape Town at the moment.  The Street light poles can fulfil, other functions such as illuminated route markers and illuminated advertising.

Human-centric Lighting (HCL)

HCL is an entire huge subject on its own.  It was also never my intention today to write a manual, but suffice to say that this form of lighting is becoming increasingly in demand on a grand scale.  A significant feature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that we should focus far more on the needs of individuals at every level of society, for healthier living, to find more natural cures for illnesses such as cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression and other 20th/21st Century illnesses.  This includes providing the best possible working environments.  Lighting and control systems are in the spotlight and are on centre stage when it comes to HCL.


I have only scratched the surface of each of the exciting new lighting technologies that we are using and hope that in this very short document, I have been able to excite you as never before.

One of the focus areas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR is for the leaders in various fields to encourage continuous learning and to create enabling environments through teaching and learning.

I am personally so excited and in fact, feel rejuvenated by the realisation of the important role that I have to play in this new revolution!



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