Smart-street lights. This is typically not something that most of us pay much attention to, let alone give much thought on a daily basis. Candidly, street lights are one of those things in life that many of us take for granted.
I would go as far as to say, unless you live or work in a very rural area, you most likely benefit from street lights on a daily basis and you still probably take for granted the glow of these lights.
However, the rapid emergence of the IoT (Internet of Things) is transforming our everyday lives and perhaps it is time we reconsider the power streets light may cast on all that we do.
Think of it this way: street lights make driving at night safer; they also make walking around or just being outside at night safer and more convenient.
Cities, of course, know all of this, so they spend inordinate amounts of money keeping street lights lit every night of the year.
In fact, some estimates suggest outdoor lighting can command up to half of a city’s total energy budget, making street lights one of a city’s most expensive infrastructure assets.
But cities are under increasing pressure to find ways to operate greener. This means slashing energy use, but no one wants to sacrifice comfort and safety.
The answer is to find ways to become more energy efficient. And this often means turning to technology and the Internet of Things, which appears to be our knight in shining armor.
IoT-enabled lighting is one application of the technology that can deliver immediate energy saving results. There are several vendors that have come on the scene that are taking a leadership role in the street light arena. I have seen some great applications. One worth noting comes from Twisthink, www.twisthink.com. I have had numerous conversations with Bob Niemiec, one of the founders of the company who has a great vision of IoT. More specifically, he has a strong vision to apply street lighting and parking lot lighting to keeping citizens’ safe and feeling secure day and night within their community through the use of IoT technology.
Another vendor worth mentioning is Sierra Wireless, www.sierrawireless.com. Sierra points out that since many cities are already replacing traditional luminaires with more energy-efficient LED light fixtures, this creates the perfect opportunity to deploy wireless connectivity in street lights as well. Why is this a good idea? It’s what you’d probably expect.
Some of the other benefits of equipping street lights with IoT technology include:
- The ability to adjust lighting dynamically,
- The ability to detect outages faster;
- The potential to dramatically lower power consumption and costs.
Sierra Wireless’ says some cities can realize up to 80% energy savings by switching to smart-street lighting.
In one example, Philips offers CityTouch, a connected street lighting solution that’s been implemented in cities such as Los Angeles, Calif.; Siegburg, Germany; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
CityTouch is an example of an end-to-end street lighting management system that leverages an existing mobile network and integrates connected devices with Web-based applications.
For instance, the CityTouch connect application lets cities measure, manage, and monitor connected street lights securely and remotely in near-realtime via a map-based view. Philips’ CityTouch workflow application offers rich data visualization capabilities and lighting-related workflow management tools.
Imagine what a difference this data—and these data analysis and visualization tools—could have on a city’s operations.
The director of the bureau of street lighting for the city of Los Angeles, says for the 215,000 street lights in L.A., maintenance traditionally depended on crews who scouted the streets at night to identify outages. Thus, scout crews and the many thousands of calls about outages the department would receive from citizens each year would determine the outages each day. That is some 40,000 calls a year, to be more exact.
City officials were pretty confident IoT technology would beat scout crews and citizens to the punch by identifying outages as soon as they happen. And they were on were on the money with this one.
The solution improves customer service, makes people feel safer, and creates a more livable city. Because so many cities are having success with their deployments, smart-street lighting is still a key discussion point in the smart city and infrastructure space.
Recent news has included a partnership between Echelon Corp., www.echelon.com, and IBM, www.ibm.com, to bring IBM Watson’s cognitive intelligence technology to Echelon’s streetlight control platform: Lumewave. Another partnership that caught my attention is between Infineon, www.infineon.com and Eluminocity, www.eluminocity.com, in Germany. Infineon says approximately 9 million “light points” in Germany consume about 4,000 GWh (gigawatt hours) of electricity per year. Replacing street lights with LEDs could save more than half of that electricity.
In fact, the savings would be enough to supply more than 600,000 two-person households with electricity for a whole year.
What is so interesting about this particular partnership is that the companies are talking about street lights as if they’re more than just lights. A connected street-lighting infrastructure can serve as a foundation for many other smart-city applications, from digital signage systems and video surveillance to electric vehicle charging, public Wi-Fi, and beyond.
Smart-street lights can be equipped with parking sensors to help with parking management in dense city centers. They can also be equipped with sensors to monitor air quality or environmental parameters and respond accordingly.
Being able to adapt to the environment, by the way, means a street light could shine when it needs to and not shine when it doesn’t need to.
This also means it could adapt to changing weather conditions. Smart-street lights could even be used in the future to detect and deter crime by recognizing gun shots or identifying sounds typical of car crashes and alerting responders accordingly.
The possibilities seem endless; cities and vendors just need to think outside the box. And while street lights may not be something we think about as particularly high tech, they have the potential to be a critical piece of the smart-city puzzle.
In fact, smart-street lights might one day make up the backbone of many smart-city infrastructures.
As the global population grows and more people pour into cities, society will face new and unprecedented infrastructure challenges. Urbanization requires infrastructure, and, increasingly, infrastructure requires the IoT. The real question we all need to be asking is just how smart are our street lights? And if they aren’t smart yet, when will they get their smart?
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