Philips lighting company moving workers to Kendall Sq.

Royal Philips is consolidating its North American research and development efforts.
Todd Pearson
Royal Philips is consolidating its North American research and development efforts.

International lighting giant Royal Philips announced Tuesday it is consolidating its North American research and development efforts in Cambridge so that it can be close to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other Kendall Square innovators.

The company and school also announced a five-year, $25 million collaboration effort that will bring academic and company researchers together to work on health care and urban lighting technology.

Philips, headquartered in the Netherlands, will bring between 100 and 200 workers to Kendall Square, including some from existing research operations in Andover, Fall River, Framingham and Burlington, said Henk van Houten, global head of Philips Research, who was in Cambridge for an afternoon signing ceremony.

For its part, MIT stands to gain from Philips’s financial support and its deep market knowledge of the problems facing patients and cities, said Associate Provost Karen Gleason. Students will also benefit by getting to work on real-world problems.

The school and company, she said, have a “resonance on specific technical issues, but also on the approach to innovation.”

The company has not yet decided which research projects it will fund, but its interests range from miniaturizing ultrasound machines so they can slip inside patients, to smart street lighting that can sense pollution, redirect traffic and calm rowdy crowds.

“The world is asking for integrated solutions to challenges society is facing – not just smarter light bulbs or CT scanners,” van Houten said in an interview. “We need to work in a different way.”

He said the company’s primary interest going forward will not be in a single breakthrough device, but in integrating lighting, software serves into larger systems. “Lighting is going to be part of it, but not the entire story,” van Houten said.

In health care, Philips’s research interests are equally broad. The company range wants to develop solutions to help with disease detection and diagnosis, for example, being involved in patient care at the time of treatment to recovery at home. For example, van Houten said the company could help detect bleeding in women who delivered by caesarean section before it becomes a crisis.

MIT computer science professor Peter Szolovits will be the principal investigator on the medical side of the Philips collaboration. He said he’s eager to work with the company so that his work doesn’t sit on an academic shelf somewhere. “I would love for these things to actually have an effect on health care,” he said.

Also, Philips, which employs 100,000 worldwide, has access to far more patient data than he does, which could allow him to develop more accurate and useful decision-making tools. “Of course, people who are doing machine learning drool at the prospect of having access to that kind of data,” Szolovits said.

For its research into urban lighting, Philips principal collaborator at MIT with Alan Berger, whose research focus is on making cities more self-sustaining, for example, by reusing waste and finding unconventional growing spaces, such as along the sides of buildings.

Van Houten said Philips lights will have their own Internet addresses, allowing them to be easily networked and adjusted remotely – whether by color, brightness and direction. Lights such as those by Philips on the Zakim Bridge can help beautify cities, van Houten said. They can also be used to direct traffic, highlight open parking spaces, mellow out an agitated crowd, or redirected to improve safety on a foggy night, he said.

Karen Weintraub can be reached at weintraubkaren@gmail.com.