Navigant Research Blog

Street Lights Are the New Smartphones

John Gartner — May 11, 2016

BulbsJust as cell phones have evolved into multifunctional digital information devices, the once humble street light is becoming a hub for monitoring a variety of urban activities and sharing data with networks.

Navigant Research identified this trend in its 2015 Smart Street Management report, stating that, “Smart street lighting is becoming one of the most attractive solutions for cities looking for an immediate effect on energy consumption and operational costs while also laying a foundation for a broader range of applications.”

As street lights are being upgraded to more efficient LEDs, pole owners are seizing the opportunity to add networking capabilities, sensors, cameras, and power management intelligence to leverage the lights’ distributed electrified reach to provide a variety of services across cities. The convergence of city management technologies with street lights was on display throughout the recent Intertraffic conference in Amsterdam.

Intertraffic Conference

Examples highlighted at Intertraffic included Streetline, of San Mateo, California, which is working with Cisco on using cameras fixed to street lights as a less expensive alternative to sensors to predict parking availability. According to Kurt Buechler, Streetline’s senior vice president, the cameras cost around $100 each and are connected to a cloud service that performs analysis on the collected data. Cisco is also working on integrating cameras and Internet of Things technologies to street lights in the Netherlands via its IT networks.

Also at Intertraffic, Spain’s Circontrol announced its Trilogy offering, which combines lighting, smart parking detection, and indicators that show parking availability. Circontrol also displayed an integrated parking facility energy management system that uniquely incorporates electric vehicle (EV) charging management. Intelligent transportation systems vendor Q-Free is combining its air quality monitoring technology with street lights in Medway, England.

EV Influence

Other companies taking advantage of the ubiquitous presence of powered street lights include BMW, which adds EV charging capabilities through its Light and Charge initiative. In the city of San Jose, California, the SmartPoles pilot project is using wireless technology from Ericsson and Philips’ energy efficient lighting equipment to reduce costs while providing more flexible lighting management.

The convergence of smart parking, traffic management, EVs, and environmental monitoring—often using connected street lights to collect and share data—will bring much more holistic views to smart city managers looking to understand the full effect of transportation on urban life. Standards for data collection and communications protocols are quickly evolving to enable this broader view and will be of growing importance as cities look to understand and mitigate the effect of increased congestion and urbanization.

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