Why the City of the Future Depends on Streetlights

What if your neighborhood could warn you if a natural disaster was approaching? What if your  neighborhood could collect data that improved the quality of life of its residents? While it’s not quite possible yet, the groundwork is being laid and it all depends on streetlights.  Currently, a Copenhagen suburb is a test bed for a system of “smart” streetlights. These smart doc27s_drugs_front_street_el_paso_illinois


streetlights use sensors to save power by illuminating when motion is detected. While they may sound a bit common, these streetlights are smart enough to tell the difference between a car, cyclist and a person. They are also smart enough to not trigger when a bird flies by, for example. The lights are powered by LEDs, each one has an IP address that can send data back to the cloud, and each one has an attached solar panel. The sensors allow the streetlights to provide the appropriate amount of illumination needed for the object underneath the light. Since a car moves faster than a pedestrian the lights can queue nearby lights to illuminate in succession. The lights can also create halos around pedestrians to provide illumination without wasting energy which can save tons of money.  For example, the city of LA is currently upgrading to a similar system that will save them an estimated 10 million dollars.

Currently, there’s a smart neighborhood pilot in Lower Manhattan that uses public wifi from old pay phones and sensors from trash compactors to collect data on urban mobility and air quality. The goal for this project is to reduce pedestrian deaths and provide feedback on sustainability efforts introduced by the NYC Economic Development Corporation. While the Lower Manhattan project uses an existing network, this information could easily be collected through a smart streetlight network. This means that there’s tremendous potential for streetlights of the near future to provide wifi, to change color if there’s an emergency and to ultimately provide data that can improve the quality of lives.



Photo : By ParentingPatch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26562576







4 thoughts on “Why the City of the Future Depends on Streetlights

  1. This is so cool! You managed to answer each question that came into my head as soon as I kept reading (What if an animal sets it off? How much money will this actually save?). This is such a great idea; we always talk about how energy storage is a huge step, but cutting down energy use is its partner.


  2. I have always wondered how much money goes into providing electricity for street lights, especially in big cities like New York or Los Angeles. I believe that an initiative like this can really make a difference and provide not only additional funds to be used somewhere else in the city, but also provide very valuable data through the cloud that can help people keep improving this technology to be as effective as possible.


  3. With the weather we get in Chicago, I hope these lights don’t break or give out false alarms. Assuming they ever get to us. Also, as anyone heard of the new LED lights the Mayor Emmanual wants to start putting around the city?


  4. it’s awesome that some action on saving streetlights energy! I found that even during a sunny daytime, downtown Chicago is still turning all the streetlights on because the tall buildings keep the sunlight out. It seem waste a lot energy because people not really need it. It’s a greet innovation in city that could help this out ( but first we have to guarantee the safety without lights)


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