We’ve been thinking about lighting the wrong way for years, apparently. Desk lamps with shades over globes, downlights in household ceilings, fluorescent light fixtures in offices. Jake Dyson, son of renowned inventor Sir James Dyson, and an entrepreneur and inventor in his own right, has turned his attention to making a better light — and fixing the way that designers use light in home and office spaces alike.
“It’s not about seeing the light,” he tells Gizmodo. “It’s about seeing the result of the light.”
Jake Dyson spoke to Gizmodo on the eve of Dyson introducing its new, super-efficient CSYS task lighting into Australia. Rather than talking about the Dyson company or his own family history, we were treated to an education on the twin disciplines of engineering and design in lighting, and a lecture on how lighting in its current form across homes and businesses alike — designed with the humble, beautiful but inefficient incandescent globe in mind, and barely updated to suit the fluorescent tube, the compact fluorescent lamp, the halogen globe and the retro-fitted LED bulb — is all wrong.
Jake Dyson has more than 10 years of experience in creating new lighting systems and products that approach lighting differently, but the newest range of CSYS lights changes so many small things about the way that LED lights operate that they add up to an extremely significant improvement. “The biggest problem is that consumers are completely ill-educated about lighting technology. They were put off by LEDs straight away — they gave you a small blue spot on the floor, because the [brightness] measurement was at a single point.” Now, LEDs have wider coverage but variance in colour temperature is significant — and only gets worse over a bulb’s life.
Dyson’s chief engineering complaint is with the way that comparatively new LED bulbs have been built, and how their impressive life-span claims rarely stack up to reality. “In a typical LED product, the LEDs will be operating at a junction temperature of around 130 degrees Centigrade — which they claim will give you 50,000 hours of life. But you have to take the product apart and see how the LEDs are clamped to a heatsink to see if they’re telling the truth or not. Ours is running at 60 degrees, so we get 140,000 hours of life.
“If you equate that with seven hours’ use a day, you’re getting to the 40- to 50-year mark; the life-time use within the industry is based on seven hours a day, but we don’t think that’s realistic — we think you should be allowed to leave it on all night, and that people potentially use lights in office spaces for more than seven hours a day. So we benchmark on 12 hours per day — because our ability to cool the LED is phenomenal.” That cooling means that these are lights that will last a lifetime, and that won’t lose brightness and won’t change their colour temperature as excess heat cooks the LED and its phosphor coating from the inside.
The CSYS lights’ cooling system is ingenious, and the key to such long life. “Inside is a vacuum, and one drop of water. As soon as the LEDs get hot, that water droplet turns into steam and shoots to the cool end, taking heat with it. And as that travels down, it’s radiated off [the aluminium fins] and capilliary action takes the droplet back down to the heat in a constant process. This heatpipe has been designed specifically for the CSYS, to remove heat as fast as it’s created.” There’s a very specific length of heatpipe that works at peak efficiency before quickly becoming inefficient, Dyson says — too long and you’re wasting length.
The 8 Watt CSYS task light and floor light produce 560 lumens, a phenomenally large amount of light for their low power consumption and a more efficient conversion of electricity into light than any other LED globe on the market. “Every single component in the light is doing a function — there’s no excess fat. Even the power cable is the pulley. Because we’ve managed to get such an even distribution, we don’t need diffusers — which cut the efficiency by about 25 per cent. The LED has a 60-degree angle on it, so that little yellow phosphor blob acts as a lens, but there’s no side-spill because of that cone.”
Eight LEDs in the CSYS lights’ head are cooled by a half-metre heatpipe and aluminium fins that also form the entire length of the arm, and those LEDs are recessed so they don’t dazzle the person sitting near the light with their workspace illuminated. Every axis of the light’s movement — up/down and left/right swiveling — can be controlled with a finger’s push. It’s designed to be as functional a piece of equipment as possible, without the compromise of a normal lamp that spills light inconsistently into the user’s eyes or with uneven distribution across a surface.
Talking about the larger Cu-Beam suspension light, which hangs from the ceiling and provides targeted downward lighting, Jake Dyson is even more impressed with the engineering feat than the desk or floor lamp. “It’s a 100 Watt light, but it actually runs 10 degrees cooler. [The CSYS desk light] produces 560 lumens, but this is giving you 5700.” The LED is about the size of a 10-cent piece, and Dyson says that turning it on without a heatsink would completely destroy it within two minutes.
Other applications of this high-end grade of Cree LED use fans and active cooling, but Dyson’s heatpipes are more effective — and don’t introduce another potential point of failure, since fans start to fail at the 30,000 hour mark. Cooling is the key to both the CSYS and Cu-Beam lights, and with form following function they’re minimal and stark, but beautiful in the same way.
“For the power of the light on it, and the light that it produces, you’re saving 10 per cent more electricity on it.” Because that LED is cooled to its absolute peak performance, and is operating at the ideal efficiency, Dyson says, you get more light — and you can run that light for four, five, six times longer than a competing retro-fit product. “We’ve got the hardest job. But [our competitors] could do a much better job with their products, too.” The cooling solution on the Cu-Beam is designed to accomodate twice the heat dissipation of the 100-Watt LED, giving Dyson the option of using the same setup for future products.
Both the Cu-Beam suspension light and Dyson’s new range of CSYS task, clamp and floor lamps are part of a wider strategy by Jake Dyson and his family’s company to change the way that we think about lighting. Rather than a space lit with a grid of criss-crossing downlights and direct overhead lights, Jake says, the ideal lighting for any room is a combination of indirect lighting — upward-firing lights, reflecting off a ceiling and distributing luminance evenly around a space — and task lighting, focusing on the job at hand, whether that’s a kitchen table or a sofa, or an office desk or a corporate boardroom table.
The Cu-Beam, for example, has shutters that can be adjusted to focus the light across a specific geometric space — whether it’s circular, rectangular or square — to keep light out of the eyes of people sitting at a boardroom table, for example. For lighting up specific spaces at a luminance that’s comfortable to operate in — there are actually governmental recommendations on this — that’s where the task lighting comes in. And, from sitting in a room with Jake Dyson and interviewing him, it’s an extraordinarily effective combination.
Dyson’s CSYS lights aren’t cheap — they’re as much art pieces as they are feats of engineering. A desk lamp will set you back $850, and a floor lamp is $1200. The Cu-Beam, designed for offices and serious installations more than it is homes, doesn’t yet have a price tag, but don’t expect it to be cheap. But at the same time, don’t be surprised if you see them in the offices of the future, an office where fluroescent tubes have been banished to the trash and where ceilings are lit up by lighting rather than being sources of lighting themselves.
“What we’re trying to do — it’s not about seeing the light, it’s about seeing pieces illuminated and seeing that wonderful contrast. But it requires re-thinking the mechanism of a task light, and also providing very, very even illumination. And having that performance for a lifetime.”