Smart streetlights are making cities safer and more sustainable

As the adoption of smart city technology accelerates around the globe, developers and city planners are finding new ways to make existing utilities and city services — like lighting, public safety and waste management — more intelligent. 

Smart streetlights were some of the first devices and systems pioneered by developers of smart city tech. Increasingly, it looks like the next generation of smart streetlights may serve as the foundation for more complex systems and intelligent utilities that could make urban areas both safer and more sustainable.

How Cities Are Using Streetlights to Lay the Foundation for Smart Public Safety Tech

The streetlights themselves can be a valuable source of public safety data. For example, in 2020, the city of Cleveland announced it would be using a system of smart streetlights, equipped with a variety of sensors, like cameras and microphones, to monitor certain areas of the city for criminal activity.

In Pune, India, city planners have also begun to use smart streetlights to improve city safety. There, remote streetlight monitoring automatically alerts city officials to failing or faulty streetlights. As a result, workers can move faster to repair streetlights, reducing light downtime and improving traffic safety. 

In the future, with the further development of smart streetlight tech and greater adoption of the standard, smart city planners could find that smart streetlights deployed throughout cities may serve as the basis for a number of smart utility systems. This could include smart cameras, microphones and remote-controlled lights — all of which can improve public safety — from a variety of different vendors.

Making Cities More Sustainable With Smart Lights

Adopting smart streetlights could give smart cities the opportunity to swap current lights out for LEDs. LEDs are much more energy-efficient and long-lasting than standard lights on average. According to research from the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, intelligent and energy-efficient LEDs — in this case, demonstrated experimentally at a major Naval office in Maryland — can reduce energy consumption by 75% while increasing light quality. 

Because the LEDs do not contain mercury, unlike high-pressure sodium lamps commonly used in streetlights, they can also simplify hazardous waste disposal for a site, organization or city. Swapping exterior or interior city building lights over to LEDs could provide the basis for additional tech, as well as significant energy savings.

The same lights may also be outfitted with sensors tracking temperature, humidity and air quality, providing city officials with improved local environmental data. Researchers at the Chlamers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden have already developed experimental air quality sensors compatible with existing smart streetlight technology.

Because the streetlights can be remotely controlled, smart streetlights may also be dimmed or turned off as necessary, helping city officials optimize light energy consumption based on foot traffic.

Solar-powered smart streetlights — like those recently installed in Witsand, a neighborhood of Cape Town in South Africa — can further cut down on emissions, and even provide city services like free-to-access Wi-Fi hotspots. These hotspots can both provide residential access to the internet and also enable Industry 4.0 technology — like intelligent industrial sensors and robotics — in areas where other networking options, like 5G, aren’t available.

New Streetlight Systems Are Driving Smart City Tech Forward

The rapid advancement of smart city technology has opened up new possibilities for developers and planners. However, these same people are also faced with the challenge of integrating new intelligent systems and ensuring that urban utilities are energy-efficient.

Networks of intelligent streetlights could pave the way for more complex systems. Already, developers are finding new ways to advance streetlight tech and use these lights as an anchor for additional technology — like air quality sensors and security devices — that could make city services even more intelligent.

Written by Shannon Flynn, editor at ReHack.

Header image: Takashi Watanabe

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