Many cities around the world are experimenting with intelligent lighting systems right now. The next generation of street lighting will be connected, and down your street, by the not-so-distant future.
We are no strangers to the applications of smart lights; smart parking has shown us how networked LED-based lighting attached to sensors can be used to monitor occupancy in parking lots, and improve parking management and traffic. However, expanding this application to cover an entire city would provide us with demand-driven lighting, reduced CO2 emissions and lower municipal electricity costs. Present innovations are already seeking to take this further by having networked lamps as nodes in multifunctional communications networks to create ‘smart cities’.
So what does this mean then, what is a ‘smart city’?
Now, I know there’s a certain similarity to a post-apocalyptic future with this, but assurances can be made that these smart cities won’t go all ‘Skynet’ and gain sentience. And then from pure existential rage or self-preservation, begin to hunt us down to the point of near-extinction.
Before, the main purpose of street lighting was to turn night into day by illuminating dark areas. Today, intelligent lights are tasked to fulfil many more functions than just illumination. Smart lights will be able to record and catalogue changes in traffic volume and feed the data into an intelligent transport system (ITS), or notify waste removal for garbage collection when waste bins require emptying, and they will even have gunshot detection and triangulation for public safety using acoustical sensors and software. Street lighting will be connected, no longer isolated but part of a networked urban infrastructure.
In a smart city every conceivable location and object will be connected: street lights, car parks, cargo containers, cars, eyeglasses, pens and watches. Each connected thing will measure various parameters in their environment and use the data to digitise the challenges we face every day - such as finding a parking space. Resting inside the beating heart of this new city is machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
M2M communication is the automatic exchange of data between networked devices either with each other or with a control centre. Again, people familiar with the Terminator might be demanding a reliable ‘safety lock mechanism’ to prevent such a network committing immoral or unethical acts. The fact is this network is not an artificial intelligence (A.I), but rather a super highway of data-packed information.
The solutions provided by smart cities are regarded as key in reducing maintenance and energy costs, offering better services to citizens and complying with the legal requirements of climate protection. It is intelligent street lighting that will play a central role in modern, environmentally-minded cities. Right now, in many cities across the globe, defective lamps roughly account for 20% of all citizen complaints, but new smart systems can automate the repair costs. Programmable light management systems, in combination with LEDs, can reduce electricity costs up to 70%. Cities will no longer be dependent on citizen complaints and inspection trips in order to identify defective lamps. The new system will be able to reveal the status of city lighting in its entirety from a single hub.
We have found that when things become smart, their range of functions expand. For example, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S, citizens can charge their tablets and smartphones on smart park benches. Simultaneously, these park benches are also measuring environmental factors such as noise levels and air quality. What this means is that cross-linked benches provide more than just seating accommodations. They have successfully mutated into measuring instruments for sustainable urban spaces and charging stations for devices. Similarly, networked streetlights become more than mere instruments for artificial lights; they become nodes in a multi-functional network of a living city.