HomeSmart CitiesSmart cities: When a light is more than a light and a bus is more than a bus

Smart cities: When a light is more than a light and a bus is more than a bus

There’s no master list of smart city use cases primarily because, in the right context, nearly anything could contribute to a smart city. However, some of the major ones that have seen strong adoption include vehicular connectivity for police cars, school buses and the like; security cameras for public safety; transportation-focused initiatives like digital signage at bus stops and interactive kiosks for more streamlined access to transit information; public Wi-Fi hot spots; and smart lighting.

Street lights in a smart city

Let’s take a closer look at smart lighting for a moment. Most any city needs street lighting, and street lighting infrastructure needs to be replaced incrementally. During upgrade cycles, increasingly inexpensive LED lights can be installed to cut back on overall energy consumption; similarly, sensors can be layered in so the lights are only on when they need to be. “For a lot of cities, that’s the first thing they touch,” CommScope Director of Smart Cities Morné Erasmus said, noting a clear cut path to return on investment, generally in the three to four year range.

In fact, the business case for smart lighting is quite bright. Juniper Research projects smart lighting investments can save cities $15 billion in energy costs between now and 2023. That figure contemplates both the switch to LED bulbs as well as the responsive, automated controls. To break that down, U.K.-based provider Telensa figures a cost reduction of around 50% simply by switching to LED; layering in the sensors can contribute an additional 20% to 25% cost reduction.

Juniper forecasts the number of connected street lights will grow on average by 42% per year amounting to around 70 million units by 2023. Similarly, ABI Research predicts annual revenue from smart street lights will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 31% to $1.7 billion in 2026.

Here’s the interesting thing about light poles–as a one-off use case, converting to LEDs and smart controls is a smart city application with a clear benefit and business case. But, given that light poles are generally in trafficked areas, connected to power (and in some cases fiber), and capable of supporting additional smart city-type equipment, a street light isn’t just a street light.

Echoing Erasmus’ comment, Juniper Research author Steffen Sorrell said the associated cost savings “mean that many cities will look to this as a first-stage smart city project. Choosing an open platform will be key here, as additional services can be launched from the same point, while simultaneously driving up third-party vendor competition.”

In San Jose, California, AT&T is working with the city on a street light project that’s more than a street light project. The estimated $1 million deal is geared toward efficiency gains for the city, better lighting, improved public safety and helping bridge the digital divide through connectivity. AT&T installed 670 controllers and 550 LEDs on existing street lighting infrastructure, as well as around 100 Wi-Fi extenders and digital infrastructure nodes, which attach to the poles and serve as a platform for multiple other types of sensors. The nodes are integrated into a single piece of hardware with baked-in edge computing. This can be used to study traffic patterns, pedestrian behaviour, parking and for environmental monitoring.

AT&T VP Mike Zeto, general manager of smart cities, said of the San Jose project, “By taking a programmatic approach to smart cities deployments, cities can truly optimize their investments in technology. Our smart lighting controllers will help San Jose reduce energy usage and improve efficiencies across the city–a win for the community and the environment.”

Buses of the future in smart cities

Let’s extend this idea of connecting a smart city asset to serve an immediate use case, then build from there. Instead of street lights, consider the humble bus. In New York City, transit officials wanted to let passengers pay their fare with a credit or debit card, which requires mobile connectivity.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Cradlepoint VP of IoT Strategy and Business Development Ken Hosac explained, noting Cradlepoint products are present in some 5,000 New York City buses traversing Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. “If you think about a bus, there are a variety of applications within the bus that need that connectivity.” Beyond the point of sale piece, “The bus of the future has digital signage on the outside to advertise to people on the street [also a revenue generator that can offset capex costs]. You have digital signage on the inside which is targeted at passengers with ads, bus information and perhaps live route maps. You have passenger Wi-Fi, which has really been proven to increase ridership.”

Then there’s also a surveillance angle. Cellular can be used to connect cameras pointed at the driver, the passengers and the door. In fact, Hosac said, “Buses in London have more than 20 cameras and they’re recording cars going by, actually doing license plate recognition. They have cameras pointed at the wheel wells because they had a problem with insurance fraud there with people pretending the bus ran over their foot. That bus environment…there’s a lot going on there.”

Another bus use case: Hosac shared the story of a young girl that was kidnapped in Santa Clara, California. Authorities issued an Amber Alert and facial recognition built into city buses identified potential profiles of the suspected kidnapper. That information was used to prompt panic alerts from drivers and a suspect was quickly apprehended.

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