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Smart Lighting will make the Cities Safer – just not the way you thought

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What is the one piece of infrastructure that cities have almost everywhere? You may say roads, yes the roads and transport network are the lifeblood of the city, but there is another piece of infrastructure that is on all of the roads, but also in parks and housing estates, guessed what it is yet? You probably take it for granted and barely even notice that it is there most of the time, although in recent years a lot of councils have been turning them off, much to the annoyance of local residents. Yes, you have guessed it, it is street lighting.

We have progressed a lot since the times when city employees would go around lighting candles every evening and then do opposite in the morning. Most cities now have extensive street lighting networks covering every area of the city – using light to keep citizens safer. But does the lighting of an area automatically make it safer, lots of research has been completed into this and at the moment the latest research is slightly inconclusive, but there is one thing that is definitely does, it makes us feel safer. And that is enough for me!

Smart lighting is here and has been here for a number of years, it is now a known fact that by switching from traditional light bulbs to LED that cities can save a lot of money and have a positive impact on the environment at the same time. Well, not quite positive, but a dramatic decrease in the carbon footprint of each street light.

In recent years electricity tariffs have increased dramatically, faced with this situation it is important for cities to employ the most energy efficient devices across all areas. Economic and energy saving is a priority for all cities & municipalities that want to be smarter, since light expenditure accounts for about 55% of their energy cost this is a great place for them to start.

Sensors can also be fitted to each lamp so that it is only activated when it is needed, triggered by human movement within a certain distance, to give the illusion to the person walking that all of the lights are on all on all of the time. This further decreases the carbon footprint of each lamp without compromising the service that the citizen is receiving. In city centres this may not have much of an impact as they are always busy, but in more suburban and less populated areas the savings here would be dramatic.

All of the features highlighted above are reason enough for cities to be embracing smart lighting technology, but there is another reason too and it takes me back to my initial point of utilising the infrastructure that is already in place. The street lights are on every street, in every park and on every housing estate, so why not use that to continue to increase safety.

By using them as an integral part of the overall city management system they can provide continuous streams of data that can be used by the city to offer better services and to improve the safety of the city for all citizens. The types of data that could be collected are numerous: air quality, traffic problems, locating trouble hotspots or simple footfall data to name but a few.

In this example, I will take a look at the trouble hotspots. Imagine you are the police and you know that in certain areas there are problems with street crime or gang violence, but you never know where this is going to happen until it does. But, now imagine that all of the street lights have sensors on them that allow you to detect human activity – this can be used as a heat map by the police that can see if large numbers are missing in certain areas or if there are people hanging around in hotspot areas. The police are then able to do go to the highlighted areas and hopefully prevent any trouble happening before it does. Such preventative policing saves time, money, improves the quality of life for all citizens and could in some instances save lives. Putting such systems in place would not cost billions and billions because the key infrastructure is already in place – cities just need to be smarter about how they use it.