Apr 25, 2017

LED streetlights can act as the ‘nervous system’ for intelligent cities. A glimpse of what may be possible

On the Road to Smart Cities
LED streetlights can act as the ‘nervous system’ for intelligent cities. A glimpse of what may be possible

By Rick Freeman

Every city has its share of challenges—some major, some minor, some easily addressable, others difficult to control. Each city’s situation is different, but on a grand scale, the costs of these recurring challenges add up. For example, cities are struggling to address costs associated with:

It is easy to dismiss some of these items as outside of our control. Aft er all, how can you control the weather or anticipate exactly how long it will take to commute? Increasingly, though, technology can help mitigate some of these challenges. The answer lies in smart infrastructure deployments and resource optimization that pave the way to intelligent cities.

Turned on to LEDs
According to a 178-city survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 73 percent of cities have already deployed LED streetlights and 81 percent have plans for future LED streetlight projects.

Connectivity is growing at an astounding pace, and cities need to consider how they will adjust—and ideally benefit—if they have not already. An estimated 50 billion machines will be coming online by 2020 as the Industrial Internet and Internet of Things are progressively adopted. As a result, we will soon be measuring data in exabytes (one billion gigabytes), instead of terabytes, and cities must be prepared to handle the massive scale of data being generated by human and machine-to-machine connections. This rapid rate of expanding connectivity may seem daunting, but if cities are ready for it, it can mean major opportunities for operational efficiency.

One specific area where connectivity has an opportunity to play a major role is with lighting. LED-based streetlights, specifically, are being tapped for an expanded role in connectivity. These often overlooked pieces of urban infrastructure are actually the ideal starting point for an intelligent nervous system for a city, as LED fixtures can be fitted with outdoor wireless control systems that enable these lights to “talk” with a server relatively easily. Varying sensors can be integrated into control nodes and data can be relayed effectively because every streetlight acts like a wireless signal repeater, allowing light posts 1,000 ft apart to reliably communicate. The result? Operational improvements and energy savings through utility-grade metering, asset management, remote dimming control for every fixture and much more.

Energy and operational efficiency is just the beginning, though. Lighting will soon be able to detect or adjust to environmental factors like human activity (or lack thereof), air quality issues, noise, seismic activity and additional ambient conditions to benefit citizens and city operations in ways many have never considered.

In an intelligent city, cloud-based operating systems will leverage LED streetlights to offer completely new control, service improvement and revenue-generating opportunities. Some of these possibilities are already being tapped; others are still aspirational, but feasible. Included here are a few examples of what we could see.

1. Lighting
Probably the most obvious place to start is with lighting. Interconnected LED streetlights offer a host of benefits over traditional street lighting technology, including:

2. Parking
Cities are already investigating how intelligent streetlights can act as parking monitors, detecting whether parking spaces are occupied or not. There are several useful ways this information can be employed:

3. Emergency Services
Weather-related routing of first responders is one benefit made possible by connected LED streetlights, but there are other ways emergency services could benefit:

4. Weather
We may not be able to control the weather, but we can use intelligent lighting infrastructure to gather information about it and make more informed decisions. Examples include:

These are just a few ideas of how interconnected LED streetlights could help usher in the age of intelligent cities. The world is only at the beginning of this intelligent journey, and we are already seeing some of it play out in progressive cities worldwide. If you represent a city that could benefit, start thinking about how you could be one of the pioneers defining where this connected future will take us. To some extent, we will only be limited by our imaginations.


Rick Freeman

Rick Freeman

Rick Freeman is general manager, intelligent cities, for Current, Powered by... More info »