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Okay, I'm going to date myself here. But I can remember when the "Clapper" first showed up on television commercials. And my heart still skips a beat when I sing the theme song: Clap on (clap clap), Clap off (clap clap) clap on clap off… the Clapper.

Touchless Lighting Controls Deserve a Round of Applause!

Steve Maurer, IME
Okay, I'm going to date myself here. But I can remember when the "Clapper" first showed up on television commercials. And my heart still skips a beat when I sing the theme song: Clap on (clap clap), Clap off (clap clap) clap on clap off… the Clapper.

That was back in the mid-80s, and believe it or not, they're still around. Of course, they're much improved. Or so they say. The newest version sports two plugin receptacles, one that activates with two claps, the other with three. And they have an "away" mode, designed to immediately activate on any sound to turn on your lights, TV, or whatever is plugged in.

That may be good for home use. Maybe.

But when it comes to real lighting control, especially in commercial and industrial settings, you need something, well, more professional and reliable.

Enter the new era of touchless lighting controls. You might already be familiar with standard motion sensing technology. It's been around for quite some time.

But recent innovations make motion sensing even more effective for energy efficiency.

Two technologies for movement sensing
The technology used in most cases is passive infrared (PIR). The sensor detects the heat of movement to change the switches state. In occupancy mode, it looks for movement to turn the switch on, for example. In vacancy, it's watching for lack of movement (heat) after a set time frame.

The way it normally works is the sensor is divided into coverage areas and looks for heat changes between areas, indicating movement. While this is good, the one drawback is that there must be an uninterrupted line of site between the sensor and the person moving.

These sensors normally work best in relatively small, enclosed areas where there is plenty of occupant movement.
The other technology used is Ultrasonic (US) tech. It works by bouncing sound waves off objects, usually in the 32kHZ-45kHz range. When an object (person) moves through the space, the sensor detects a change in frequency and interprets that as movement.

Because this technology is not detecting heat, it's able to detect small movements, like typing, and does not require a direct line of sight. This makes it better for cubicle office spaces and restrooms with stalls. The main drawback is the limited range of detection. Of course, with both these sensing technologies, the number and placement of the sensors affects their accuracy.

But wait… it gets even better!
Some motion detectors use both PIR and US technology to sense movement. By using dual technology sensors, you can eliminate many false trigger events. In this scenario, both sensor types must activate to turn the lights on, for instance, but only one is necessary to keep them on. This dual technology offers the best performance overall, and is conducive to better energy savings.

However, for many sensors there are the problems of seasonal or weather changes (because of heat and air variations), furniture changes, and occupancy traffic changes. This often means that sometimes frequent sensor adjustments need to be made to ensure optimal operation. However, there are some sensors on the market that use Adaptive Technology to make these adjustments automatically.

When first installed, the sensor is put into a test mode where it "learns" its surroundings over a period of hours or days, finetuning its operation. The sensor can also be put into test mode whenever major seasonal changes make it necessary, if ever. This adaptive technology, combined with both passive infrared and ultrasonic sensing, means fewer false off events and even better energy savings for the building owner.

Not to mention that it's way easier on the hands! You don't need to clap your lights on… or off.
Photo courtesy of Hubbell Wiring Systems
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