Immerse yourself in the history and science behind BrainLit. Learn how the idea behind BioCentric Lighting came to life and how developing lighting systems can change human health and wellbeing for the better.
Creating the perfect personal light
The science of BrainLit
The amount and type of light around you affects you more than you can imagine. Working in an office with only artificial light for the majority of the day is a new experience for the human biology and in recent years, its detrimental effects on our health have become apparent.
BioCentric Lighting is BrainLit’s innovation to solve this societal issue. The system is based on our ever expanding knowledge of the circadian rhythm and how light not only has an impact on it, but basically controls it. Not to mention how it differs from person to person. The research continues, and for the BrainLit team, it is rewarding to be able to provide tools for researchers to accelerate their studies of light to gather more knowledge of the impact of light and how it varies for each individual.
– We are all different chronotypes, morning persons, evening persons and every variation in between. The quality of our sleep also changes with age, the older we get, the worse our sleep gets. Early on in BrainLit’s research, it was obvious that we had to address individual needs, BrainLit founder Tord Wingren explains.
Lack of proper sleep is in turn the trigger for many harmful conditions. Depression, type 2 diabetes and obesity are more commonly found in people with a late chronotype, or evening persons. Recently the discovery of how our sleep can be beneficially affected by light conditions was made, and the fact that it is strengthening our immune system has been increasingly emphasized in recent years.
–There are still gaps in our knowledge, but more and more information becomes available. In 2002, a special type of receptor cell was discovered in our eyes. These rare cells are tremendously sensitive to the shift in blue light during the day. In itself, that is enthralling, but since 2002 so much has happened in the field of chronobiology. We all have a biological clock in each and every cell and we have several cyclic systems. For instance, this means we should not eat at any given time, instead there are optimal times for nutrition, says Tord Wingren.
Not only this, but our daily cycles are not exactly 24 hours. Instead they vary from person to person, most having a natural day and night cycle slightly longer than 24 hours, but others having shorter cycles. This is regulated and synchronized every day – by natural blue light. Without it, like in an office environment, the cycles become increasingly delayed and turn more of us into evening persons. Getting enough sleep becomes ever more difficult and we are caught in a downward spiral.
Blue light depresses the melatonin levels while raising the cortisol levels. This makes us alert and efficient, but in the evening, we need as small amounts of blue light as possible to raise the melatonin levels again so we can sleep soundly.
–Research has proven how important getting just two hours of beneficial light every day is. Two hours of natural light in the morning are worth more to us than two in the evening, the early light gives us a resistance to poor light conditions later the same day, Tord Wingren tells.
The human biology has been impacted by light for thousands of generations. Only in the last couple of generations, we have been removed from the natural light and subjected to artificial conditions. Our different chronotypes may be a heritage from our distant ancestors, who already had different roles in society.
- The brightness could be dazzling, but the sun and sky concept, combining light panels and spotlights, eventually recreated the conditions of the sky light.
– Studies show there is a genetic component to the chronotypes. Among the cavemen, some had to stay awake late to keep the fire lit and watch for predators, says Tord Wingren.
Many thousands of years later, these chronotypes still have an impact on our daily performance. As they vary over our lives, so do the times when we are most efficient. For instance, teenagers are infamous for being evening persons, staying up late and being hard to wake in the morning.
–So why are they forced to do math tests early in the morning? How would they perform a few hours later, when their bodies are at their most efficient? There are studies of athletes to find out the best time of day for everyone to perform at maximum level and it differs up to 26 percent during the day. If you know the chronotypes in a team sport, you can use light to synchronize their biologies for them to achieve the most, Tord Wingren says.
BioCentric Lighting is the only way to achieve these effects in an indoor environment with artificial light. Tord Wingren has now lived with the idea for decades and with the actual system for years. But originally, even he was skeptical how it would perform.
– I was really hesitant when I tried the first prototypes, the luminaires needed fine tuning so they would emulate natural ambient light perfectly.
Tord in the BrainLit office.
– The brightness could be dazzling, but the sun and sky concept, combining light panels and spotlights, eventually recreated the conditions of the sky light. Nowadays I feel a tremendously positive effect on my entire wellbeing, thanks to this light. When I leave the environment where I have BioCentric Lighting, I immediately long for it, Tord Wingren concludes.
A bright idea
The story of BrainLit and BioCentric Lighting
No one knew it, not even BrainLit founder Tord Wingren himself, but the idea behind the company and BioCentric Lighting was born as early as 1987. The young engineer was working for RIFA, which would later become Ericsson Components, when he met a customer who wanted a solution for increasing the life span of fluorescent lights.
He got it. And Tord Wingren years later had an inspiration that would revolutionize indoor lighting in the form of BioCentric Lighting. Having led the Bluetooth project at Ericsson, he was already no stranger to implementing technological revolutions.
–When I met the same customer again, in 2011, I had worked with consumer electronics, systems development and wireless communications for years in between. The customer was still happy about his fluorescents and invited me to a discussion between him, some professors and some physicians about how light affects us, Tord Wingren recollects.
The discussion centered around the LED lights and their pros and cons for human beings, not to mention how the lack of daylight affects our biology. Tord Wingren was hooked. He took a leave of absence from his work, took courses, studied scientific reports and met research groups in Europe and the US, all to figure out how to use LED technology combined with his experience in systems development to recreate the effects of natural outdoor light – indoors.
– I knew so little about it, but the more I learned, the more I went all in. What struck me was the amount of detrimental effects of poor indoor light – and how much better this could be done. Also, the individual variation of impact from poor indoor light struck me. Having worked so much with technology and systems development, I saw an opportunity to improve life for every person working indoors, says Tord Wingren.
The addition of blue light completed the visible spectrum, enabling the artificial reproduction of every variant of color contained in natural light.
One crucial part of the puzzle was the blue LED, which was still a recent innovation and was awarded the Nobel prize in 2014. The addition of blue light completed the visible spectrum, enabling the artificial reproduction of every variant of color contained in natural light.
– Before the blue LED was readily available, it was impossible to reproduce pure white light, since it contains every wavelength. The closer you got to blue light, the more complex it got. With blue light available, the entire spectrum of natural light could be combined in a single luminaire. The challenge left was how to generate a high-quality light and vary it according to how natural light varies throughout the day, Tord Wingren explains.
The idea for the foundational first patent was born, and Tord Wingren filed it in 2012.
He then founded the company itself, and filed a number of applications in order to receive seed funding for development activities. Together with some of the professors at Lund University, Tord Wingren formed the first scientific advisory board around BrainLit and presented the BrainLit vision at exhibitions and conferences.
The Swedish innovation agency Vinnova approved the company’s joint application with Lund University for ICT-lighting. This became the first project to generate revenue for the company and in 2014, BrainLit’s first patent was registered in the US. The same year, BrainLit joined the Swedish Energy Agency, collaborating with a scientist team of scientists at Lund University on a project.
We could get standard hardware and use our own software to control it. Only then, after studying the field for three years, I saw what the product could be.
When Tord Wingren later met IT and electronics veteran Peter K Andersson, he introduced an off the shelf control system to address the first business opportunities. Even though this was not precisely the solution that Tord Wingren was searching for to implement his vision, it was perfect for getting things started. Thus, Tord Wingren in 2015 hired Peter K Andersson as the CEO and second employee of BrainLit.
– Peter instinctively realized that we had the groundwork of a scalable solution where we could get standard hardware and use our own software to control it. Only then, after studying the field for three years, I saw what the product could be. Eventually we found luminaires and sensors that could function together as a system, and thus, we had the complete solution needed to generate business, says Tord Wingren.
BrainLit also required a deeper understanding of light itself, so Truls Löwgren was hired as chief technological officer. The newly formed trio refined the configuration of the luminaires and the system to create a unique proposition for customers. These luminaires had to be tailor made, no one manufactured LED:s containing the mix and distribution of light to suit the very particular needs of BrainLit.
– The new luminaires were developed after our specifications. Then we only needed our first customers. Customers who would appreciate being part of developing something new and who were close enough for us to go over and have a cup of coffee with them. Being totally, brutally honest with us was important too, or we couldn’t improve our product, says Tord Wingren.
Today, BioCentric Lighting can be found in New York and Hong Kong. But while the company is ready for the world market, its roots in the academic capital of Sweden, Lund, are still crucial to Tord Wingren.
– Many innovative companies start by aiming for the world market and go global immediately. That was not our philosophy. We figured that if we could succeed in our local market, we had a good foundation. The home market is really tough to break into, nobody wants to make the neighbor a wealthy person, Tord Wingren laughs.
As Tord Wingren tells the story of how BrainLit was born, the luminaires of BioCentric Lighting are all around him. Would the young engineer who came up with the idea have been happy with the end result?
– If the younger me could have looked forward in time, he would have been very happy with this. It’s just what I imagined! But I hope to be even happier in five or six more years, when this light can be seen everywhere, hopefully as an industry standard. It was a great experience to initiate Bluetooth and to follow it through its global success, but BioCentric Lighting will become even bigger. Then we truly can improve the quality of life for so many people, he concludes.
The constant quest for enlightenment
How the scientific advisory board keeps BrainLit developing
Science never sleeps, research goes on all day, every day. Thus a science based company like BrainLit must always keep up with the latest scientific findings, or risk becoming obsolete. For this reason, since the company was founded, it has developed its product around the advice provided by its scientific advisory board, tasked with keeping management updated and finding new ways to implement the technology.
Madeleine Selvander is one of the members of the scientific advisory board. As an ophthalmologist and former eye surgeon, she literally knows the workings of the human eye from the inside out. Not to mention how it is affected by light and what impact this in turn has on the rest of our biology.
– BrainLit’s technology is based on two different aspects of science. On the one hand, the technological base of LED lights, optics and nano technology to produce short wavelength light and recreate daylight conditions indoors. On the other hand, how our bodies react to the light gathered in our eyes, and our ability to analyse this, explains Madeleine Selvander.
Less than 20 years ago a new kind of photoreceptor cell was discovered in the human eye. The ipRGCs cell is a special type of ganglion cell found in a deeper level of the eye than previously imagined. This type of cell reacts to blue wavelength light, around 480 nm, and control our circadian rhythm.
– Indoor luminaires, for example lightbulbs, halogen lights and fluorescents, produce very little light with these wavelengths. When we lack this stimulus, we lose our sense of day or night. A day and a night equals 24 hours, but most people have a circadian rhythm slightly longer than 24 hours, so we need the light to set our rhythm or it will start lagging. For office workers, this means that they become evening persons, but still have to get up early in the morning and suffer from sleep deprivation, says Madeleine Selvander.
– We investigate scientific research that may become relevant for BrainLit and discuss new ways to implement scientific findings.
This is the foundation of BrainLit’s technological vision; providing indoor light with the quality of natural outdoors light and thus resetting our circadian rhythms instead of letting workplace conditions gradually wear us down. For Madeleine Selvander, who is not only an ophthalmologist but also has an engineering background, her first contact with BrainLit seemed determined by fate.
– I met Peter K Andersson, who was then the CEO of BrainLit, and he mentioned something about light and how it affects us. To be honest, I was very skeptical, but also intrigued and curious. If I was unaware of this, the same had to be true for many others as well. So I became persistent in telling them they needed help from someone younger – and maybe from a woman, she laughs.
Today, she is one of the experts of the scientific advisory board. Klas Sjöberg, chief physician of gastroenterology at the world renowned University of Lund is the chairman and summons the board every six weeks. The other members are Thorbjörn Laike, professor of environmental psychology, Lennart Minthon, professor of clinical memory research, Lars Samuelsson, professor of semiconductor electronics and Tord Wingren, the founder of BrainLit, who contributes in all areas from his unique perspective and vision.
– We investigate scientific research that may become relevant for BrainLit and discuss new ways to implement scientific findings. Often BrainLit has technological solutions that may be used in research, but no one has yet done that research. For instance, BrainLit has the patent and the technological solution for personalized light conditions, but the research on how personalized light differs from standard light is currently quite limited. This is mostly due to the problem of the individual variations and the challenge to get accurate data of the actual light they are exposed to, says Madeleine Selvander
Sometimes the technology is ahead of the science. In this case the scientific advisory board acknowledge the possibility to accelerate research by offering researchers the use of BrainLit’s technology to get more accurate data. But despite the wide areas of expertise gathered in the board, there are still subjects that need further exploration.
– We will invite experts in chronobiology and how our biology is affected by the circadian rhythm and BioCentric Lighting. Together, we have a more than basic understanding of the functions, but to have access to truly deep knowledge of this intricate relationship… That would be so interesting! Madeleine Selvander concludes.
The man behind the system
– Dan Löfgren assures the customer becomes an enjoyer
Dan Löfgren, Head of Project Management at BrainLit, and his team have until today personally overseen and managed every installation of BioCentric Lighting except only two. That means he has supervised dozens of installations, from Hong Kong to New York and back home to Lund in the South of Sweden.
But his days of travelling the world to install BioCentric Lighting are now over. BrainLit is growing too rapidly for even Dan Löfgren to manage the ever increasing number of installations personally on site. Instead, he has developed a remote system where one of BrainLit’s certified local installment partners visits the customer for the physical part of the installation while he supplies the remote configuration through a 4G or 5G network.
The first remote installation was made in Finland without him leaving his workspace. It was a resounding success and will be followed by many more. Not only does this allow the BrainLit staff to do many more installations, minimizing the time the customer has to wait for the installation – it also saves time and money for the customer. In fact, BrainLit’s comparison to installing a traditional LED/HCL system shows that the remote installation of BioCentric Lighting saves the customer almost 50 percent of the monetary cost – and as much as 88 percent of the time consumed for the customer.
Despite this, Dan Löfgren says he will miss the direct contact with every single BrainLit customer that he had met until then.
–This automation is important both for the economy of the customer and for our environment since it decreases the amount of energy wasted.
– I have learned so much by visiting our customers myself, much of the coding of the control system has actually been made or changed because of customer input, the personal connection is invaluable. We are a technology based company in the front line of a vast paradigm shift. As such, we have a challenge to simultaneously be close to our customers and act as knowledge bearers. But me being everywhere at once is simply not scalable enough for our needs, says Dan Löfgren.
As soon as the decision to install BioCentric Lighting is made, Dan Löfgren is in charge of making absolutely certain that everything operates according to the customer’s requests. The standard control system is adapted to the particular requirements so the panel lights, spotlights, control panels and other components function optimally in this particular environment.
Finally, installing both motion detectors and ultrasonic detectors minimize the time the room is empty before the lights adapt and automatically dim themselves, thus conserving as much energy as possible.
– This automation is important both for the economy of the customer and for our environment since it decreases the amount of energy wasted. When we succeed, the customer will never consider the lighting at all. Never turn it on, never turn it off, never think it’s too bright or not bright enough. Just enjoy it, Dan Löfgren explains.
When the installation is complete, one crucial task remains for Dan Löfgren to make the customer a full enjoyer of BioCentric Lighting: teaching the customer how it works, and even more importantly, why it works. The system itself needs absolutely no handling by the customers once installed, unless they want to demonstrate it or just play around with the different pre-programmed settings. How the technology affects our wellbeing is a much more complicated process.
– At first, many notice the brightness because they are simply not accustomed to being exposed to so many lux indoors. We had a local customer where some employees had a lot of opinions, especially since one of them had an affliction of the eyes that made the light seem dazzling. But two minutes of explanation of how beneficial the light is for our biologies – and some fine tuning of the workplace – turned them into firm enjoyers, Dan Löfgren tells us.
The education part of the BioCentric Lighting experience is now also made available in digital form online. However, not every obstacle can be overcome. When asked of his biggest challenge at BrainLit, Dan Löfgren does not point out how intricate the programming of the first system was, when he did it himself as the fourth full time employee of the company. He instead reminisces about installing BioCentric Lighting at the Swedish consulate in Hong Kong.
– There was this elderly gentleman to whom everyone seemed to defer, but he never spoke to us. Having flown half way around the world to install BioCentric Lighting for this important customer, we were eager to please and nervous about having to fly back to do it all again. Finally finished, we went to lunch – and when we came back, every light was changed around his workplace and his workplace only. I still have no idea what his position was, but if the customer is happy, I’m happy, Dan Löfgren says with a fond smile.