May 06, 2016

streetlight

The OG Streetlight. Credit: Fernando Butcher / Flickr Creative Commons

If you think about how cities will change in the future, you might think about bike sharing or underground parks or urban agriculture.

But there’s something else that could make the future of cities much brighter.

Streetlights.

Yep, streetlights. But smart streetlights.

You may not have realized that streetlights COULD get a makeover, but apparently that’s exactly what’s happening.

In the U.S., the city spearheading this is Los Angeles.

“They are the first in the world to control their streetlights through mobile and cloud-based technology,” says Amy Huntington, president of Philips Lighting Americas, which was asked by the city to do a major upgrade on streetlights. “[There are] a lot of advantages to that, energy savings being one, but also a lot of value created beyond just illumination. With sensors and data, they manage their city in a very intelligent way.”

Here’s what that will mean, once this technology is in full swing:

If there was a street where a crime had been committed and you wanted to bump up their lights, you could do that remotely.

If there was a street where the lights were too bright on a night when there was a full moon, you could dim them and save energy.

And Huntington says there’s another side benefit:

“There are many, many cities where maintenance technicians drive around in cars and check status of lights. With systems like this, you can perform predictive and preventative maintenance. You know the status of every individual light pole. So it really drives operational efficiency within a city, makes so much more of the running of a city automated, and saves money.”

But LA’s street light revamp goes way beyond LED bulbs that you can adjust from a powerful-sounding, master control room somewhere.

The city also had the cell phone company Ericsson hide technology inside the poles that the lights sit on. And Huntington says that this technology has one, single aim:

“Better cell phone service for the people in LA without having to build gigantic towers. Because the street light is there anyway, we’ve found a way to modify the pole so that we can just make good use of the pole, put the Ericsson technology inside the pole, and then the city is paid for the use of that real estate.”

These are steps towards what technologists call “Smart Cities.” Cities of the future. Cities where sensors, data, and remote control is everywhere.

It may not quite be the world of George Jetson, but that cartoon was set 2062. So, we’ve got 46 years to work on it.

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