Building a big data network across a city can be an expensive project. But as forward-thinking cities such as San Diego, Paris and Glasgow have discovered, you don’t need to build a new IoT infrastructure. You can upgrade a network that's already there.
Consider our street lights. You might not notice them during the day, but you'll find them on every street and in every city. They have been lighting the way since the 17th century, powered first by candles, then by coal gas lamps, before electric arc lighting was introduced in 1875.
These days, most modern street lights use high-pressure sodium bulbs and photocells that switch them on/off automatically at dusk/dawn. For a long time, this was as smart as street lights got. But they're poised to get a whole lot smarter, changing the fabric of our cities, how they operate, and the way we live in them. In fact, you might never look at a street light in the same way again.
Today’s street lights already look a little different. Many areas across the UK are upgrading their lighting networks with more efficient LED bulbs. The new technology uses up to 70 percent less energy (saving money), focuses white light downwards (thereby reducing light pollution), and provides improved visibility compared to the dull, yolk-yellow glow of older sodium lamps.
Smart city systems don’t just show what’s happening today, they can also predict what might happen tomorrow, helping cities plan more effectively for the future
Bristol changed over 20,000 street lamps to save £1 million per year on its energy costs. While replacing 55,000 bulbs right across Gloucestershire will save £17 million over 12 years. (After the £22 million cost of installation, that is)[1
But more efficient lighting isn’t the sci-fi future of the street lamp. For that, you need to look at a city like Glasgow. Here, the addition of wireless connectivity allows the city’s operations
This connectivity, over 3G, 4G and ultimately 5G data networks, transforms street lights into smart city data gatherers and multi-functional IoT nodes. By capturing a wide range of real-time information – e.g. traffic volume, pedestrian footfall, weather, noise – and then plugging that data into an analytics platform, new solutions to old challenges can emerge.
In short: fresh insights can be gained into how a city really works.
The addition of a camera to a street light can augment a city’s existing CCTV technology, providing expanded coverage. Access to images and live video opens up intriguing 'situational awareness' scenarios, where traffic, crowds and even parking availability can be monitored in real-time via the cloud.
In Glasgow, 800 vehicle sensors generate 3MB of data per minute . Storing this data, and merging it with other datasets (such as weather, city events
Adding a microphone to a street light allows a smart city to potentially monitor noise pollution and to identify disturbances in real-time. In San Diego, 3,200 of GE's Current CityIQ nodes, powered by Intel technology, have been added as part of an upgrade to 14,000 street lights. Working with ShotSpotter, these nodes can even use their built-in audio sensors for gunshot detection, sending possible live-fire incidents to the authorities.
With space for HDR
Elsewhere, Telenor has rolled out upgraded street lighting in Sweden that includes traffic monitoring, presence detection and temperature reporting, all linked together using 3G networks. While in Paris, integrated street and traffic light systems are part of an IPv6-based multi-application network in the cloud that’s ready for environmental sensors, smart parking and water conservation initiatives.
We live in an increasingly data-driven world. Why not use it? By applying cloud computing, IoT and data analytics technology, councils hope to reduce traffic congestion, increase pedestrian safety, tackle crime and save money. Crucially, these smart city systems don’t just show what’s happening today. They could also predict what might happen tomorrow, helping cities plan more effectively for the future.
So take another look at the street light outside your door. There might be more to it than meets the eye.