Letting their light shine: Orem's small Illumra makes splash with switches, sensors
OREM — Light switches that are powered by the push of a button.
Solar-powered occupancy sensors that turn off the lights when everyone leaves the room.
Sensors that adjust office lights to match ambient lighting.
Illumra, a small Orem electrical engineering firm, has spent the past four years developing wireless, battery-free controls that save energy. Now, the company hopes to turn its expertise into success in the growing wireless communication field.
"We have been watching these folks for months as they have started to get some big-time customers," said John Pilmer, chairman of the Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum and president of PilmerPR. "They have been in bootstrap mode for 41/2 years, and they are starting to turn a profit."
Illumra is focused on staying small. The company farms out its manufacturing to local companies such as Wolf Electronix of Orem. And it is relying on original equipment manufacturers such as electronics wholesaler Leviton to sell the wireless, battery-free switches on which it pins its future.
Illumra also recently released a European-style switch to enter the energy-conscious European market, where wireless technology has been growing in popularity since 2002.
The company almost doubled its size when it hired four people recently, including Bob Carey, who styles himself as a one-man marketing department. And it made a splash at the recent Lightfair trade show in Las Vegas when it announced the release of a new solar-powered light sensor that can run indefinitely on a few hours of light a day.
"By reducing electrical light levels in a room and taking advantage of the ambient light, we could greatly reduce the world's $200-plus billion light bill," said Jan Finlinson, Illumra director.
The company's products are based on EnOcean technology, which uses ultra low power radio signals to communicate with receivers installed with light fixtures.
The wireless, battery-free switches are self powered, which means when the switch is pushed, that energy is converted into an electric pulse strong enough to send a signal to a receiver and turn on the lights.
"We are eliminating the need to run wires to the switch location," said Finlinson, one of a half-dozen engineers who make up the core of the company.
The technology can simplify a building retrofit, save construction and wiring costs and save energy, he said.
At the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, Illumra installed battery-free sensors on outdoor poles with LED dimmers. The lights would brighten when pedestrians were on the path but dim when no one was around. The net result was a 75 percent reduction in energy use, Finlinson said.
None of this is cheap. The products can't be purchased in retail stores, but a switch and receiver combination costs about $150 from Ad Hoc Electronics (www.adhocelectronics.com), Illumra's marketing division. A switch from the local hardware store runs less than 50 cents.
An electrician can install an Illumra receiver in a light fixture in about 15 minutes with no special expertise. The switch can be placed anywhere and requires no wires.
It takes about 20 seconds to "teach" a receiver to recognize a switch, and a second switch can be added that quickly as well.
Illumra operates out of a cramped office cluttered with boxes of wireless light switches and desks where its small group of engineers design products such as a self-powered key card switch that requires a card be inserted before the lights can be turned on in a hotel room. When the occupant leaves the room, he or she removes the key card, which doubles as the room key, turning off the lights and television and adjusting the air conditioning.
It's the kind of technology that pays for itself in less than two years, said Bob Carey, the company's one-man marketing department.
For more information, visit Illumra's website at www.illumra.com.
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