Guest blog: An abundance of light

  • techUK techUK
    Wednesday04Sep 2019

    Guest blog by Ben Sutton, UK Marketing Manager at Schréder as part of our #techUKSmarterState campaign week

An abundance of light

Distributed everywhere across our urban landscape, lighting networks are now key enablers for smart city development. Recent improvements in control points are opening up data streams capable of transferring information on an unprecedented scale.

Light already plays a huge role in how we, as humans, feel and use public spaces. Installations can create artworks and landmarks while supporting our daily flow through spaces - offering the opportunity to draw people into new areas to engage with local businesses and culture.

But lighting has evolved and can contribute more to the future of our urban areas. Using it as a platform, we can build on top of the existing power and data connections to create the building blocks for open, fluid and capable smart cities.

Creating hardware platforms

‘Smart Cities’ has become an umbrella term for so many things that it’s losing its meaning. The focus needs to be on the value it can bring to us, the citizens. With the number of connected devices predicted to pass the 100 billion mark in the next few years, there is an opportunity and appetite to innovate by recording and reacting to information in every sector; from waste and security to air quality and transport.

As cities upgrade to LED technology, it can be easy to overlook opportunities to future proof products - yet luminaires have a projected lifetime of more than 25 years. Local authorities know the problems they are facing and are beginning to use lighting as a platform to meet the needs of local people – now and in the future.

Take increasing congestion; not only is it unproductive, it’s unsustainable and results in ever-worsening air quality. Using data to enable real-time traffic control through digital signage makes sense, but to many it seems unrealistic. To start we need to understand traffic flow, using sensors to monitor and provide insights.

We have seen the innovation Siemens has produced with traffic light systems that act responsively at junctions. The challenge now is how lighting manufacturers, contractors and local authorities can partner together to expand this capability.

Lighting products can already integrate EV charging, WLAN, 4G, 5G, CCTV, speakers and intercoms. The problem is not with hardware but with the agnostic approach to integration between technologies. Elements such as EV charging, particularly in residential areas, will prove critical as we work towards the government’s “Road to Zero” strategy.  These innovations, and subsequent changes to city infrastructure, will result in better public services at a reduced cost; savings which can be passed onto taxpayers.

Cities setting the benchmark

Lighting points clearly have the potential to drive city development. Barcelona, Masdar and Singapore have already been recognised as leading Smart Cities following the implementation of connected parking, traffic control, waste sensors and other data-driven service improvements.  These cities already use connected luminaires for city‑wide data collection and transmission – monitoring pollution levels, temperature and noise while ensuring the lighting network always operates at maximum efficiency. Emergency services are also more effective as traffic is moved out of the way in advance.  Traffic flow can be guided around roadworks, accidents, or terrorist threats in real-time and people can even be diverted out of a city at a moment’s notice. 

Following on from the installation of Britain’s first Wi-Fi connected streetlight in 2016 at Stadium MK, we are increasingly seeing an appetite for innovation. For example, at Queen’s Square in Crawley new lighting columns feature CCTV cameras, WLAN infrastructure for public Wi-Fi and an anemometer for measuring wind speed. These security and connectivity benefits have been welcomed by all and are being replicated in schemes across the country.

A collaborative, open future

The biggest challenge to the adoption of smarter cities is not the availability of technology, but the process of analysing data to provide real-world improvements. With many public lighting schemes falling under local authority control there may be financial limitations or a lack of technical knowledge on how to build and manage these new networks.

Increased collaboration between local authorities, architects, planners, designers and manufacturers will open the opportunity to reshape the UK’s open spaces - creating a more connected, sustainable and enjoyable future for all generations.

  • Ben Sutton, UK Marketing Manager at Schréder 

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