Paul Haddlesey 08 August 2017

The road to a smart city

With increasing urbanisation, local authorities need to be able to harvest and manage large volumes of data if they are to deliver the services required by their citizens. Utilising the street lighting infrastructure to gather key data will help councils deliver effective solutions aligned to their smart cities strategy.

One of the biggest challenges currently facing local authorities in the UK and beyond is how to balance the needs of the people and those of the planet in the face of a growing global population and increasing urbanisation. As cities grow, the environmental, economic and social challenges will increase pressure on a city’s infrastructure.

To meet these challenges, cities (and smaller conurbations) need to get ‘smarter’, hence we are starting to see more smart cities around the world and these cities can use technology as an enabler to achieve their smart city vision. Data is a valuable input as cities define how they need to work and run effectively, maintain financial stability and ensure safety for their citizens as well as an improved quality of life.

The investment decisions made today will therefore have a profound effect on what will be possible tomorrow. The right decisions will put in place many of the building blocks that will enable the smart cities of tomorrow. Setting up a street lighting infrastructure that is flexible enough to adapt to future data input needs will allow a city to modify its strategies as needed and be future-proof.

To put these issues into context, the United Nations report on World Urbanization Prospects in 2014 predicted that 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. In parallel, technology will continue to be central to the everyday lives of these city dwellers, allowing them to share information with each other and generate huge amounts of data in the process.

Equally, research has shown that many citizens are prepared to share their personal data with local authorities where it helps to address issues that concern them. Such issues include reducing energy consumption and pollution, easing traffic congestion, improving emergency and social services and cutting crime.

Moreover, this willingness to share data will almost certainly lead to an expectation that local authorities are able to utilise the data to deliver the anticipated improvements. On top of which, many local authorities are already sourcing other forms of digital data from citizens through websites and social media to gather information about a range of issues such as potholes, waste collection and failed street lights.

In addition, sensor technology is being used increasingly in many cities to provide streams of data about parameters such as air quality and traffic flows, creating even more data that needs to be managed. Thus, we are starting to see an open data movement in the IoT world with a higher value on data, sensors, and the use of smart technology.

Nevertheless, recent research has shown that more than 60% of people believe there is not enough public sector investment in digital technologies to create smart cities. As futurologist Dr James Bellini has observed: ‘City leaders will need to change their mindset from simply overseeing budgets to harnessing vast amounts of sensordriven data.’

Coping with all this data to integrate a wide range of innovations and deploy them intelligently is therefore a major challenge for the infrastructure of cities and towns – a challenge they must meet if they are to become ‘smart’. To unlock the real potential that such ‘big data’ offers, the systems need to be connected, open and scalable.

Clearly, starting from scratch to create such a system would be hugely expensive, at a time when local authority budgets are already being squeezed to an alarming extent. However, the arrival of connected LED street and amenity lighting creates possibilities that make use of an existing infrastructure that can be scaled up at relatively low cost and use open source protocols to enable integration between different systems.

Such systems also have the capacity to provide a fast return on investment through the energy savings delivered by LED lighting, along with more efficient delivery of services. LED lighting allows for 50% energy savings and up to 80% savings when using controls.

Making use of the public lighting infrastructure is an obvious choice because lighting is everywhere in our towns and cities. Converting all of these lighting points from simply providing a light output to becoming an input point for information – combined with integral asset management functionality – is therefore a relatively straightforward way to create a backbone for a smart city digital infrastructure.

For example, connected LED lighting – using universal sockets capable of accommodating a range of sensors – is capable of providing input on traffic flow, air quality, crowds, security risks, energy consumption, waste transport and many other critical functions.

In Los Angeles a Philips connected LED lighting system uses environmental noise monitoring sensors to improve emergency response by detecting the sound of collisions and alerting emergency services accordingly. Such an approach can also underpin moves to engage more closely with citizens and give them more say in how their cities develop.

In the Netherlands, Philips is working with the City of Eindhoven to introduce participatory planning that allows residents to be part of every step of a smart city project to improve quality of life. To that end, residents will be consulted for ideas about how smart lighting infrastructure should be employed over the next 15 years.

This initiative is combined with a number of pilot projects to demonstrate how such integration can be achieved, In the nightlife hotspot of Stratumseind, for instance, Philips worked with Eindhoven police to allow control room operators to adjust light levels in response to situations. This concept can be extended to use intensity, colour and dynamics as well as light levels to alter the atmosphere of an outdoor space.

Currently, only about 2% of street lighting is connected but this figure is growing rapidly as local authorities upgrade their lighting to take advantage of the benefits of LED lighting. Based on current growth figures, it is predicted that 30% of street lighting in the UK will be connected by 2030.

As these connected lighting systems grow, they create the perfect infrastructure upon which to build other services and underpin the digital backbone of a smart city. As such, the lighting network has the potential to go beyond illumination to help forward-thinking cities and towns become smarter and more efficient – and provide an enhanced service to their citizens.

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine. Click here to register for your free quarterly copy.

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